WORK on the things that unite, spend less time on those that divide and be constructive: the beef and cattle industry needs to speak with one voice.
That was the message from the livestock trade’s Simon Westaway at a recent agriculture industry forum held in Queensland.
Mr Westaway took up the reigns as chief executive officer of the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council last year.
Asked by the audience at the Agforce event in Townsville whether he found it surprising, given he comes from a varied corporate sector background, that the beef industry speaks with so many voices, his reply was yes.
The question asker referred to the 2011 live cattle ban, when live exporters found themselves at odds with processors.
Mr Westaway said his sector was now talking with processors on this topic all the time.
“I don’t mind if there’s 50 or 100 organisations, we need to speak with one voice on the things we agree on,” Mr Westaway said.
“People say silly things to each other and of course it’s going to be reported.
“Have a bit of discipline.”
The idea of more unity and less fragmentation in representation has been a common call from beef industry leaders this year.
For the live trade game, which has worked very hard to address the concept of social licence, it’s a critical theme.
Mr Westaway outlined a comparison his organisation had conducted of 150 media articles on the live trade industry in 2011 and 2016, which shows the industry is having far more say in, and more control of, its direction.
There had been a shift in commentators and today, it was much more of a case of the industry driving its own direction moving forward, he said.
Clearly, there is strategy behind that and “getting out there and telling our story” is part of the deal, according to Mr Westaway.
“We do need a social licence, an underpinning of community support, to keep this business going and the good news is we have that,” he said.
“Despite the very proactive minority, the vast majority of Australians, especially throughout rural Australia and importantly in capital cities, are supporters of the trade because they understand it.
“People are becoming increasingly comfortable as we talk more about our business and make investment in systems.”
Animal welfare was a growing concern for consumers, he said.
“The biggest driver of concern is women, inner-city dwellers and people under 30,” Mr Westaway said.
“Our industry is working very hard to make sure Australia has the best livestock transfer standards in the world.”
Live export was “part of the business model” if you’re in the animal activist industry, he said.
It drives membership and fundraising for groups.
“As the cost of living has gone up, it’s discretionary income that determines if people donate to the likes of Animals Australia,” Mr Westaway explained.
“This is a household kitchen table discussion point. What we have to do is take that discussion out of the equation by showing we are getting on with the job.”