MEATWORKERS have condemned comments attributed to agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce suggesting he plans to do ‘everything in his power’ to expand live cattle export opportunities out of Australia.
Minister Joyce was caught in a media storm earlier this week when he drew connections between the 2011 Indonesian live export market closure, and a rise in asylum seekers from Indonesia.
He drew fire from the Australian Meat Industry on Friday after the Inverell Times last week reported him as saying he would “do everything in his power to build on the seven major, and two minor new live animal export markets that we have opened since September 2013, including opening more markets and strengthening the sustainability of the industry.”
The AMIEU said almost 600 local meatworkers from Townsville’s JBS meat processing plant had called on North Queensland MP Ewen Jones, the member for Herbert, and minister Joyce to secure local jobs for the sector, following his plans to expand live exports.
The AMIEU said the actions would further put local supply at risk.
“Plans to expand live exports will jeopardise North Queensland’s last major meat processing plant and the broader Townsville economy,” AMIEU spokesman Matt Journeaux said.
“Today we have written to Mr Joyce on behalf of our members and their families, calling on him to support local jobs and explain why he plans to expand live exports at the expense of the Townsville meat processing industry,” Mr Journeaux said.
The Minister’s announcement came less than two months after the plant endured an extended 16-week shutdown as a result of supply issues, during which staff were forced to take unpaid leave.
“With more than 600 local jobs on the line, Mr Jones has turned his back on Townsville in a clear case of conflict of interest. Voters have every right to question where their local member’s loyalties truly lie. Is the Member for Herbert committed to strengthening his electorate or has he fallen to the narrow interests of an industry that contributes nothing to the community he is supposed to represent?” the AMIEU spokesman said.
“The national cattle herd sits at its lowest point in 23 years and is expected to keep falling. Meanwhile, the volume of live exports has steadily increased, placing additional downward pressure on the number of cattle available to the Australian beef processing sector.”
Big impact on regional economy
Mr Journeaux said the people of Townsville were worried about the future of the local meat processing industry and the effects further shutdowns will have on local jobs and the broader community.
“At full capacity the JBS facility directly employs 580 workers and processes 216,000 head of cattle per year. It injects $25 million in wages into the local economy, which in turn creates another 2300 jobs. Every dollar generated by the local meat processing industry flows through our economy resulting in $400 million of direct economic benefits to the region,” he said.
“The Turnbull Government’s crusade for unrestricted live export growth means our abattoirs are getting a smaller slice of a shrinking meat pie. For every additional head of cattle loaded onto ships bound for foreign markets in Asia or the Middle East, more local jobs are lost.”
“Live exports have a direct impact on job losses in the supply chain, not to mention the flow-on effects for the region’s small businesses and local economies.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed in the NSW New England district, where Bindaree Beef operates a large export beef plant at Inverell.
The Inverell Times last week reported that the Greens candidate for New England in the upcoming Federal election, Mercurius Goldstein, had said that the ‘number one thing’ the people wanted to talk to him about was supporting the livestock industry, by bringing the cattle down from the north and processing them in the New England.
“What we know is that for every 400,000 head of cattle we can bring down from the north, it’s $200 million into this regional economy. A beast that is processed here in Australia is also worth 20 percent more to the Australian economy than one shipped off-shore,” Mr Goldstein told the Times.
He said such a move would “keep Bindaree Beef strong, re-open the Gunnedah meat plant, get the Armidale meatworks up and running and get Coonabarabran back on its feet.”
“I put this to a roomful of truck drivers in Tamworth at the Road Transporter’s Forum, and they much preferred the domestic processing option over live exports,” Mr Goldstein said.
“Will Barnaby Joyce, and Tony Windsor for that matter, commit to ending the live export trade?”
Minister Joyce, the sitting member for New England, left little doubt about his stance on the issue, the Times reported.
“Not only will I not be committing to this demand from Mr Goldstein, I will do everything in my power to build on the seven major, and two minor new live animal export markets that we have opened since September 2013, including opening more markets and strengthening the sustainability of the industry,” Mr Joyce said.
“Our live export sector is a small, but fundamental component of Australia’s red meat sector, as evidenced by the damage done to the whole industry when the Labor/Greens/Independent alliance conspired to ban the trade in 2011,” he said.