BARNABY Joyce says shutting down live animal exports would be an “idiotic” move, given more than 100 other countries, that don’t possess regulated animal welfare standards like Australia, which is a global leader, would simply fill the void.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister made the comments while spearheading a post-budget political blitzkrieg in regional Australia, featuring various policy announcements or re-announcements.
Flanked by Nationals’ members in agricultural and regional backdrops, Mr Joyce also spruiked big budget funding announcements like the $8.4 billion for the inland rail project and $28.5 million to establish the $4b Regional Investment Corporation (RIC).
He was also forthright in turning about media questioning on hot button issues like the budget and decentralisation, into political attacks on the Labor opposition, while blazing a verbal trail through Queensland, NSW and Victoria, mostly in Nationals’ seats.
He will continue the post-budget bush voyage through northern NSW today in the Cowper seat of his assistant minister Luke Hartsuyker and the Lyne and Page electorates.
At the Gracemere cattle saleyards in Central Queensland last Friday, Mr Joyce talked-up the budget’s $8.3m allocation to implement the Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) - an agricultural policy commitment made in last year’s election campaign like the RIC.
He said the LGAP would work with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) as an independent auditing body, to ensure compliance with the ESCAS system, while improving market access.
“We’re the global leaders in making sure that we look beyond our shores to how animals are treated,” he said.
“With over 100 countries that export cattle live, we’re the ones that care about how cattle are handled in other countries and this is going to help us do that.
“Other people are always trying to shut down the live cattle trade but that would just be idiotic because we’d just have another 100 countries that would take our place.
“What we should be doing, and we do, is to improve and increase the way animals are treated, away from our borders, by the ESCAS system, and this (LGAP budget allocation) assists that program.
“I’m a huge supporter of the live cattle trade and want it to grow.”
Nationals Capricornia MP Michelle Landry joined Mr Joyce for the media announcement alongside Flynn Nationals MP Ken O’Dowd and said Australia exported almost $1.8b worth of livestock in 2015-16, across an industry that generated domestic employment of up to 10,000 people.
A statement from Mr Joyce said an ESCAS performance report released in January 2015 demonstrated that more than 99 per cent of Australian livestock were exported without reported incident since the system’s introduction.
At the media conference, Mr Joyce also took aim at Labor leader Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech in saying the inland rail was a good idea.
“But so is Christmas,” Mr Joyce said.
Mr Joyce said agriculture was a major pillar of the national economy but Mr Shorten only mentioned the word agriculture once in his budget reply speech and only one farmer was talked about - an overseas goat farmer.
“I thought it was a joke because he’s a pretty funny man and I couldn’t get to sleep last night laughing at all of his jokes but he’s got to take this game seriously and understand how agriculture works,” Mr Joyce said adding the sector grew on more than 27 per cent last year.
Mr Joyce also made a weekend announcement at Wodonga in regional Victoria that 10 Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) staff would be relocated there, from June 1 this year, as part of the Authority’s commitment to expand its regional presence
Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie said the co-location of the Wodonga office of the MDBA, with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to create a Centre of Excellence would provide a great opportunity for collaboration.
She also said regional Australia were the “big, big winners” out of this year’s budget in areas like the inland rail, regional infrastructure and education.
“I could go on and on and on about the benefits for regional Australia out of the federal budget,” she said.
Mr Joyce said his party’s decentralisation policy had already impacted agencies like the Grains Research and Development Corporation and had now led to 10 staff from the MDBA coming to the growing city of Wodonga.
“It’s only right and proper that some of the largesse of government, from the taxpayers –should flow back to Wodonga and that should flow back to Victoria, and it sits on back of a budget where we’ve made a massive investment of $8.4b in the inland rail,” he said.
“Other governments have talked about this - but we are actually doing it and delivering on it.”
Asked if the MDBA’s headquarters could be located at Wodonga instead of Canberra in future, Mr Joyce said “we take it one announcement at a time (but) we’re copping enough flak from the Labor party already”.
“Lots of people want to decentralise including people in Labor party seats; they definitely want decentralisation out of Sydney, out of Melbourne, out of Canberra into their areas,” he said.
“This is a policy that the Australian people want and even people in the big cities think it makes abundant sense.
“We have more people wanting to go to Wodonga than we have positions in Wodonga; now that reinforces the belief in decentralisation.”
Mr Joyce said about 30 MDBA staff are moving out of Canberra into regional offices in Wodonga, Toowoomba and Adelaide within the next two years.
Independent Indi MP Cathy McGowan says the transfer of 10 MDBA jobs to Wodonga was “another win for Indi”.
“It is fitting to relocate the agency in the heart of the basin,” she said.
Mr Joyce and Senator McKenzie also announced the budget had included a $50m Export and regional wine support package and $10m in wine tourism and cellar door grants
Senator McKenzie said the Wine Equalisation Tax rebate would also be gradually reduced, integrity measures strengthened and eligibility criteria tightened.
The WET rebate cap will be reduced from $500,000 to $350,000 effective from July 1, 2018.
Mr Joyce also announced over 42m for biosecurity projects in the horticulture sector with Victorian Nationals MP Damian Drum backing the move to support fruit growers in Shepparton and an additional $30m for farm concessional loans in Victoria and another $15m for the same in Queensland.
Alongside Nationals Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien and cane farmers at Maryborough in Queensland last week after the budget, Mr Joyce said the Coalition government had already lent $664m in concessional loans, to support farmers.
He said the RIC would be implemented to capitalise up to $4b in a regional based bank based within the Agriculture and Water Resources Department’s structure, to look after farmers impacted by drought, floods and the dairy crisis.
“People have always thought that it was a pipe dream but we’ve delivered on it,” he said.
Maranoa Nationals MP David Littleproud also joined his party leader to reveal an $8m pledge to support water management in the Great Artesian Basin through infrastructure improvements.
“The Great Artesian Basin directly supports more than 180,000 people in more than 120 towns and 7600 businesses in regional and remote Australia, many of which are located in Maranoa,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Uncontrolled bores continue to threaten secure access to water across for not only communities, pastoralists, irrigators and mining industries but also the health of important ecosystems dependent on groundwater.”