NORTHERN Territory cattle industry leader David Connolly has come out in support of live sheep exports as the livestock export trades consider their future under a federal Labor Government.
At the LIVEXchange 22 conference in Darwin yesterday, the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association president put the case for opposing the Albanese Government’s commitment to phase out live sheep exports.
In his wide-ranging presentation, ‘NT – the pastoralists’ perspective,’ Mr Connolly said despite being “fiercely apolitical” the NTCA was one of the only agricultural groups to publicly state its concerns about the potential election of a Labor federal government, because of the party’s stated policy and track record on live exports.
He said the Australian Labor Party’s policy and election commitment to phase out live sheep exports is “wrong” and would create “more harm than good.”
“Whilst there are few sheep in the Northern Territory and this is a trade we are not financially invested in, we support producers being able to access this market, especially in times of drought and financial difficulty.”
Referring to the Gillard Labor Government’s live cattle export ban in 2011, that was subsequently found to be unlawful with a potential billion dollar-plus compensation bill, Mr Connolly said: “I ask the government why, based on what evidence, why make the same mistake twice?”
“This is an industry that has done much good for Australia and much good for the people of the Middle East.
“It has put food on the table of those who would otherwise have gone without,” he said.
“To remove it due to pressure from mostly uninformed animal welfare groups will be a regression and should never be seen as progress.”
Agriculture Minister Watt ‘a welcome change’
Mr Connolly said while the NTCA remains concerned about some of the Federal Government’s policies “on several other fronts some of our fears have proven to be unfounded.”
“Minister Watt has proven to be a welcome change to the agricultural portfolio and we have been more than satisfied by his management of biosecurity threats to Australian cattle both at home and in Indonesia.
“I personally have found Mr Watt to be communicative and collaborative and responsive to our concerns and about our industry,” Mr Connolly said.
“He, like us, has a direct respectful and honest approach to the business.”
Federal Minister for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Murray Watt was unable to attend the conference due to Senate Estimates commitments, but in an earlier video address he said a “sense of partnership and collaboration would deliver the best outcomes whatever issue we’re dealing with.”
Mr Watt said just as he had supported the industry in not closing Australia’s borders to Indonesia over Foot and Mouth Disease concerns, “I commit to stand alongside you and work collaboratively on the concerns the industry faces.”
“The Albanese Government strongly backs the future of the live cattle industry here in Australia.
“It’s an important export earner, it’s an important job creator and it plays a crucial role in delivering food security in our region,” he said.
“On that basis, I look forward to working with you, hopefully I’ll be able to make it in person at the next conference, but have a good one in my absence.”
Banning cattle exports would be ‘a small step’ past sheep
After his conference presentation, Mr Connolly said banning live cattle exports would be a “small step” for the Australian Labor Party once it phases out live sheep exports.
Mr Connolly said he accepts Mr Watt’s words of support for live cattle exports.
“I think he believes that’s the truth, I trust Murray Watt. I believe that he believes that’s right, I don’t think that that’s what his party thinks.”
And if the ALP moves against live cattle exports, “he (Mr Watt) like us will see that we’ve all been betrayed,” Mr Connolly said.
“But I’m saying we can see it coming, it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a small step, if they take sheep then why?” he said.
“My point is, why take sheep, what’s the difference with cattle?
“Years ago, cattle exports was on the nose, well now it’s not on the nose and there has been improvements and so there has been in sheep,” he said.
“So my point would be why take sheep, it’s well on the improve, the industry is working hard to improve it and the trade needs to stay there for more than just Australian sheep graziers; it needs to be there for all those who are inexplicably linked to the process.
“And the second point is, if they take sheep it’s only a small step to cattle,” Mr Connolly said.
“And if we think a Labor Government doesn’t want to get rid of live export for cattle we’re drunk, they’ve already tried once.”
Mr Connolly believes more can be done to retain live sheep exports.
“I think we’ve got to sit down and talk to government and show how the sheep business is not just linked to sheep farmers and sheep exporters, it’s linked to the whole of the rural businesses in WA.”
Similar to the reach of the live cattle export business in northern Australia, Mr Connolly said the live sheep trade is also “a big octopus.”
“This business is entwined with all of the businesses in the Northern Territory because all of the businesses benefit from it.”