LEADING federal politicians from normally warring political factions have put down their weapons, albeit momentarily, to spruik the value of bipartisanship to serve the red meat sector’s interests to overcome sector-wide challenges and boost the national economy.
An event hosted by the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) at Parliament House in Canberra last night launched a new state of the industry report which said the Australian red meat industry feeds 24 million Australians, provides 405,000 Australian jobs and generated $15 billion in export revenue, supplying more than 100 global markets.
Its core message of Australia being a leading global trader in beef, sheepmeat and goatmeat markets was forcibly reinforced to a host of federal political representatives and leading farm industry figures, who also sampled some of the sector’s best products.
RMAC Chair Don Mackay said up until a few days ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was due to attend the launch event but was a late apology.
However, his speech also pointed to recent political bruising saying his industry had to recognise its shortcomings and “accept where there were errors”.
But he didn’t believe it deserved the level of “disproportionate commentary” that had accompanied it in more recent times, during the Senate inquiry process into competition issues in the beef supply chain.
“What we do have is a wonderful industry where 99 per cent of the activities in this industry are terrific so we can’t be brought down by the little bits,” he said.
“We can’t and we should not impose regulation or dilute our extraordinary integrity systems to seek to take it to that lowest common denominator, at the expense of the bulk of industry.
“Like all industries, we need to accept that poor performers will fail and the better performers will rise and grow and that’s how an industry like ours will continue to improve.”
However, solid advice was passed on by senior politicians who spoke at the event in Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
Mr Joyce said he wanted to avoid being “parochial”, given the red meat sector was the nation’s largest trade exposed manufacturing industry, that employed half a million people and helped bring divided political factions and others together.
“Farmers are interested in it, blue collar workers are interested in it - it’s a job that they all do - so it’s something that can bring together people across the political aisle, in Canberra,” he said.
“If we stand behind this industry, we make it stronger and that is a great outcome for our nation and it’s something that we should work together to provide.”
Mr Joyce said the new report showed the Australian red meat sector was a world leader “but we do it in our own peculiar way”.
He said one of the biggest frustrations he’d experienced as a livestock producer was the lack of return on the product he delivered to saleyards but that was no longer the case.
Mr Joyce said beef returns were at about 47pc and about 53pc for sheep which meant he had a better connection to the outcome by “getting more money back into my pocket”.
He said the report also showed red meat producers were now “making a dollar” because the globe wanted to buy their product due to a protein deficit and were looking for quality.
“The Indians are chasing mung beans and chick peas and vegetables and other forms of proteins, to our near neighbours, to the Indonesians, to the Malaysians, the Chinese, the Europeans we’re dealing with and the Americans,” he said.
“They chase our red meat protein and this gives us the capacity to get that money back through the farm gate and give dignity back to peoples’ lives and dignity back to peoples’ lives on the farm and therefore dignity back to peoples’ lives in the little towns that live off the money that spins around.
“And that’s something that should also join us across the political corridor and it should make us part of a common purpose to try and make this thing work.
“We’ve had our blues in the past on live cattle but that’s all behind us - we’ve put that behind us and we’ve got other things now to move on with.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the state of the industry report was a reminder about the red meat industry’s success.
He said the sector’s opportunities were “enormous” but its challenges were also “fairly significant”.
“And the list runs very deep – market access, workforce issues, visa issues, quarantine and inspection issues, regulatory costs – the list goes on,” he said.
“And overcoming those challenges will require a whole of government approach and government working closely with industry leadership; including of course all of those who are represented in the room this evening.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said there was no doubt, “the key to our competitive advantage is our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe food”.
“That’s what our customers are looking for and we should protect that with every part of our being, at every opportunity,” he said.
“If we’re going to fulfil all of our aspirations as a sector, we need to be the best we possibly can be at every point on that value chain, we need to ensure that every player along that value chain is as efficient and productive and as profitable as it possibly can be.
“We can’t be seeing people along that supply chain as enemies of one another.
“Producers need efficient and productive processors and processors need quality, productive and efficient producers and so on and so on and I don’t believe we can reinforce that point enough, or too much.”
Mr Ciobo said he liked to think the government had aided the red meat sector’s strong performance – as indicated in the report – by helping to open new export markets, not just for live exports, to sell Australian product.
He said the fact Australia was able to put its best foot forward, with a high quality protein that was in many respected, unsurpassed and unmatched around the world, “makes it an easy sell” on the global trading stage.
“I’m confident through a commitment to quality assurance, to good supply chain management, and of course to the ethical treatment of animals, which we’ve seen Australia be at the absolute forefront of, we will continue to have an excellent reputation globally, and continue to set the pace that the others must follow,” he said.
“For that I want to congratulate RMAC and all constituent bodies for your leadership – and I’m pleased to fly flag for industry while I’m abroad.”
Mr Joyce said the new report indicated the red meat sector was something the nation should be proud of and it also acknowledged those who’ve worked hard in the industry.
He said the report should also be used to acknowledge the way the industry “brings us together”.
“Whether you’re a boner in the meat works, or a cockie on a block, or a person trying to flog the product overseas, this is a great industry, a great industry and our nation is at the top of its game,” he said.
“I’m hoping we continue to build on this strength and to continue to take it to the next step.
“There is competition out there and there are people who will want to knock us off.
“I remember I had the Argentinians in my office and they said, ‘you guys have really kicked a goal in the agricultural sector – that’s incredible, you’ve done great things – how did you do it?’
“And I remember saying to them, ‘I’ll tell you how we did it – none of your business’.”
The ‘State of the Industry Report: The Australian Red Meat and Livestock Industry’ was compiled by Ernst & Young - engaged on the instructions of the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).
RMAC said the report was commissioned by MLA at its request and that of its member councils.
They include the Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Livestock Exporters Association (ALEC), Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA), Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC), Goat Industry Council of Australia and Sheepmeat Council of Australia who were also represented at the event.