Live Export

New Livecorp chief takes helm in rough waters

James Nason, 09/08/2011

New Livecorp chief executive officer Rob SuttonUniting all sectors of the billion-dollar live export industry will be an immediate priority for the new chief of Livecorp.

Former Austrade national agribusiness manager Rob Sutton brings extensive public and private sector experience in agribusiness and trade development to his new role as chief executive officer of the levy-funded service-delivery organisation.

He took over the role from Cameron Hall who departed in June after six years in the role to join Landmark in a senior management position based in Melbourne.

For the past eight years Mr Sutton has led Austrade’s global agribusiness team, working with Australian agricultural exporters to develop new trade opportunities all over the world.

His final posting with Austrade was in Jakarta where he worked closely with the live cattle industry as the head of the Australia Indonesia Agribusiness Investment Taskforce.

Prior to working with Government Mr Sutton amassed substantial private sector experience, including developing Woven Image Pty Ltd, a large textile design and manufacturing business with offices in 10 countries and a customer base that includes Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Earlier in his career Mr Sutton worked in corporate advisory services with Price Waterhouse, in strategic planning with the BOC group and was a director of the Australian Scientific Industry Association.

When he saw the Livecorp position advertised earlier this year, the live export trade was sailing in far smoother waters. By the time he started in the role in July, the industry was battling to stay afloat in the roughest seas it has yet experienced.

The Federal Government’s sudden ban on all live exports to the major market of Indonesia following public outrage over video footage of animal cruelty in the market left hundreds of live export-reliant businesses without an ability to earn income and many teetering on the brink of collapse.

Buoyed by their success in forcing the temporary closure of a $320m per year market, animal rights groups have stepped up their campaigns to permanently end the trade with a national advertising blitz ahead of a parliamentary vote on the future of the trade on August 18.

Despite the challenging circumstances Mr Sutton has inherited with the role, he says he is relishing the opportunity to work with business and Government to move the “very important and great trade” forward.

He has already hit the ground running, travelling to Indonesia with MLA chairman Don Heatley and Foreign Affairs minister Kevin Rudd in early July to negotiate new import permits from Indonesia, and meeting with stakeholders at all levels of the industry in Darwin last week.

He has also instigated a review to examine how the industry arrived in its current situation, and the community concerns that surround the trade, and then to build a strategy that can take the industry forward.

“It is an important industry,” he said from Darwin last week. “It is a $1.8 billion contribution to the Australian economy.

“Indonesia is a major market and next door neighbour, this struck me as a very important project, both in the cattle industry, and going forwards obviously strengthening our sheep export trade as well.”

The industry had a clear path forward in building OIE compliant supply chains and progressing towards closed systems in the 29 markets it currently supplies, he said.

He stressed that it was a big job, and it was important people recognised the major capital investment and cultural and political sensitivities involved in transforming an industry of that size.

As a levy based organisation, Livecorp only earns a levy-income when livestock are moved overseas.

It is funded by exporter levies at a rate of $0.0096238/kg of live cattle exports (the equvalent of $3.36 per 350kg beast), and $0.60 per head of sheep and $0.50 per head of goat exports.

Like every other business in the trade, the Indonesian ban has significantly reduced the amount of revenue available to Livecorp to do its work this year, meaning it must find ways to do more with less.

“There is a long term commitment from the industry to make changes and I think the community needs to be aware of just how difficult those changes are,” Mr Sutton said.

“We are reaching deep into the customers’ supply chain, and of course these are sovereign countries, so we’re actually asking our customer to manage their product in ways that historically and going back to biblical times they have had totally different ways of managing livestock, and we’re asking our customer to change that.

“That is a great goal and it will result in improved animal welfare.

“As we make these changes we will have a world class export trade.”

Meat and Livestock Australia and Livecorp spent more than $2m on welfare related research and development, he said, ranking them among the largest animal welfare research groups in the country.

He rejected suggestions by a visiting European animal welfare spokesman who last week described Australia’s live export trade as the “worst in the world” because of the long distance travel involved.

“I’m always amused by these guys who fly in from another country for a week, with a lot of advice on a major $1 billion trade which has world class standards,” Mr Sutton said.

“Let’s be quite clear.

“Australia and Indonesia are next door, they’re our neighbours, they are our friends, it is really important to build long-haul stable supply chains, and Australia has a major part to play in that.”

A key initial focus of his work, Mr Sutton says, will be to unite the industry.

“We have a lot of members spread across the country – exporters, producers, helicopter pilots, truck drivers, vets, stock feed operators – and I think the great opportunity is to form a united voice,” he said.

“We’ve tended to view the industry as a silo of individual producers and exporters, and I think long term, for the economic contribution of this industry to be recognised, it is vital that we unify those industry groups and have a common voice and a common message across the country.”

The three main priorities for Livecorp, he said, were to work hard on keeping the trade open, improving industry communication and focusing on practical trade development and promotional activities around the world. 


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