AUSTRALIAN Livestock Exporters’ Council chair and former Labor Agriculture Minister Simon Crean has weighed into the red meat industry reform debate, saying the sector needs to speak with a single strong voice like the Minerals Council of Australia.
Addressing the Wagyu Edge conference in Adelaide on Friday, Mr Crean said many Australians would be surprised to learn just how large the red meat sector in Australia is, now worth $20 billion.
It was also Australia’s largest trade exposed manufacturing sector.
But collectively that strength was under recognised.
And, while the industry liked to say it was united, the current red meat industry structure, formed in 1998, effectively reinforced the opposite – a siloed structured which encouraged each sector to focus on its own sectoral interests.
With a review of the Memorandum of Understanding that underpins the existing red meat structure underway, Mr Crean said the industry had to take the opportunity to create a more effective voice for the entire red meat supply chain.
“We have got to be braver”
“While every sector within the industry has got to have the right to determine what works best for them within a revised structure, we have got to be braver than that,” Mr Crean said.
“We have got to acknowledge that we’ve all got common challenges as well as common opportunities.”
The indsutry also had to speak more effectively to all of Government, not just to a single minister.
The Red Meat Advisory Council was effectively an advisory council to one minister, the Minister for Agriculture.
“What the indsutry really needs is a voice as an industry to Government,” Mr Crean said.
“Not just to a single portfolio but to recognise it is a value added and services indsutry as much as it is a commodity industry.
“And it needs to be something like the Minerals Council of Australia.. especially where there needs to be integration along the supply chain.
“It needs to be able to speak with one voice, and not just to a single minister, and not just advising
“It needs to be able to make the compelling case to Government and Governments as a whole.
“That is the challenge at the moment for where the industry has to go.”
He said the red meat supply chain needed a single voice and single body that could be a truly representative entity with a mandate to represent the entire supply chain to the whole of Government on matters such as trade, carbon emissions, workforce challenges and national issues around climate change.
Issues “which at the moment, individually, seperately, we’re ill equipped to deal with,” he said.
“That body is befitting a $20 billion industry, you can’t deny it.
“But in not having it, you are denying yourselves a more effective voice.”
Mr Crean said he accepted that individual peak industry councils have to work out how they fit within the structure.
The Wagyu indutry for example had already made its own decision. It had established its own body, it had to inter-relate from time to time with MLA, especially on issues related to research, market development and market access, but it did not see its position being represented by Cattle Council of Australia, for example, even though there were common memberships and issues between the two bodies.
Thw two live export industry bodies – the peak council ALEC and the export-levy funded service organisation LiveCorp – have recently made a decision that they could be more effective by forming into a single body.
“It is up to the peak industry councils and they all sit on RMAC, they ahve to work out the strategy that is required for them.
“But for us as a livestock industry and an export industry, we are a small component, but we have a peak council and we have a service provider, with essentially common memberships and both organisaitons perating with small and nimble teams.
“But within the red meat structure, our membership has determined that our approach going forward as a peak industry bodies is to merge the two functions, merge the two bodies, so that we’ve got better interconnectivity.
“There are models that are precedent of this, it will result in legislative change
“But I think it is an important indication that so far as the research and the development and the market knowledge between our two bodies, we are best placed to undertake the necessary research, the policy deveopment, the articulation of that policy for the livestock industry in conjunction with the producer bodies.
“That is the structure we’re seeking to develop with a single body representing them at the national level.”
Maintaining community trust is vital
Mr Crean left the audience with a final clear message – trust is everything.
“In all my time in politics and the trade union movement and and leadership roles, no industry has succeeded, no group has succeeded, if it loses trust.
“You have to have that trust, you have to build it, you have to regain it, and you have to keep working on it.
“But similariy no industry that I have ever been invlved in has gained traction by standing still
“You know that better than most in this industry
“That regardless of whether we’re in the live sector, the Wagyu industry, it is imperative to evolve as a collective red meat body.
“Colectively we have a strength that is under recognised, collectively we have a responsibility to manifest and realise that strength in a more effective way.
“Any supply chain is only as strong as its wekest link, and if the weakest link is exposed, it will drag down aspects of the other.
“That is why we (the live export industry) are investing in what the production sector has invested in – control and traceability mechanisms, we’re investing in the foundation that is important to sustaining and growing this industry.
“But take this on board in terms of what industry restructing is about.
“It is not just about the future of the live industry, not just a question of the Wagyu industry, this is fundamentally about one of the great industries this country has built, and the demand for which is only going to increase.”
Mr Crean said the Australian livestock export industry has taken serious steps to stem the loss of trust caused by the Awassi Express animal welfare crisis in April 2018.
These steps included:
- Moving from a position where the measurement of a shipments’ success was mortality rate to measurement based on animal welfare indicators;
- Suppoting independent observers on all voyages;
- Introducing dehumidification controls and testing on vessels;
- Investing in training and infrastructure in markets to mitigate impact of stress;
- Advocating for an Inspector General of Live Animal Exports, which has now been legislated by the current Goverment;
- Increasing space allocation for livestock on voyages;
- Imposing a voluntary moratorium on live sheep shipments to the Middle East between June and August at the height of the northern hemisphere summer;
- Progressing with the development of the Livestock Global Assurance Program;
- Introducing a mandatory Code of Conduct applicable to all ALEC members with severe penalties including suspension of membership for exporters who breach the code and bring the industry into disrepute;
- Development and endorsement of an ethics committee independent of the ALEC board.
The recent development of the Sheep Collective, soon to be followed with the Cattle Collective, had been another important development, shining a light on how vital the industry is not just to Australia but to driving animal welfare improvements in overseas markets.
Animal activists saying Australia should get out of the trade ignored the fact that there were 100 other countries that would export animals in Australia’s place, and none had the world-leading animal welfare standards Australia required.