Independent senator Nick Xenophon was asked to throw his support behind the live export industry by several producers at yesterday’s hearing.
The South Australia Senator has been a vocal opponent of live exports and has introduced a draft bill to Parliament calling for live exports to be phased out over a three year period and replaced by abattoirs in the north.
The Senator’s questions at each of the three hearings so far (Darwin, Canberra, and Broome) have focused on what Federal assistance producers believe is required to help their businesses through the impact created by the suspension.
One west Kimberley producer suggested the answer was simple – don’t support the long term ban: “Long term confidence in the industry would restore the value of land, which has obviously plummeted as a result of what’s happened.
“So Senator Xenophon, you would be in a position to restore a bit of confidence in the industry and improve land values by coming out and supporting the industry.”
Michael Thompson from Mundabullangana Station in the Pilbara also told Senator Xenophon he had the power to get the industry back on its feet.
“What the Government needs to do, if they’re going to prop us up and give us a little bit of hope, is to stand up and be counted and guarantee live export in the long term,” Mr Thompson said.
“That would be a great start and a good push forward to help with the healing process.
“Because at the moment we’re still fighting, and I’m not hanging shit on you Mr Xenophon, you’re still fighting your own battle over there, but just you and Mr Wilkie pushing bills through trying to ban it isn’t helping the cause, it isn’t helping the healing process.”
Another producer from the West Kimberley region said Australia’s on-shore animal welfare record was brilliant, but producers had been unfairly vilified by animal welfare activists.
The impact of the ban had been social as well as financial.
“I have my daughter ringing up from boarding school crying because kids are having a go at her about her dad being in live export, thanks to people like yourself Senator Xenophon.
“You’re basically portraying us as these evil, capitalist pigs living in the north just gouging profits out of poor sad animals that live miserably and die a horrendous death.”
Senator Xenophon replied: “I have always said that the way Australian producers look after their animals is world class and exemplary. The issue is what happens when they go overseas, I have always said that so please don’t suggest that I have ever said that about you or your industry.”
Northern WA livestock agent Andrew Stewart said the concept of replacing the live export trade with northern abattoirs was not viable or realistic option.
Meatworks across northern Australia had closed not because of the live export trade, but due to labour costs which had been forced up by competition from other industries.
This meant having works mothballed over the wet season was unviable due to the costs associated with having staff on the books and not working, Mr Stewart said.
He said the astronomical costs of freighting cattle and feed to the north to finish cattle for slaughter further undermined the economics of northern abattoirs.
“It is totally unviable on a large scale,” he said. “I therefore laugh when I hear politicians have a view that meatworks is the answer for northern Australia.”
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