FEDERAL Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is holding his ground against heavy beef industry backlash over funding of close to a million dollars to train Vietnamese abattoir workers.
He says the money is a sensible way of investing in valuable Australian live trade markets and maintains his government has not forgotten the Australian processing sector.
In the wake of the announcement of the $950,000 funding aimed at ensuring international animal welfare and food safety standards in the Vietnamese supply chain, Australian processors and meatworkers - in a rare show of unity - lashed out.
They slammed sending money overseas while, in the words of the peak processor organisation the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) “access to labour and government-sponsored training in Australia is severely constrained.”
With processing plants across the country running well below capacity, and indeed complete abattoir closures piling up, the sector was “crying out for support” and has listed access to labour as a key issue.
Red meat is now the largest trade-exposed manufacturing industry in Australia, given the shift offshore of so many of our manufacturing businesses.
Processors have warned that as the dry sets in further and greater numbers of livestock are offloaded, their struggles will be even more acutely felt across the wider supply chain, particularly at the farmgate.
AMIC boss Patrick Hutchinson said the processing sector purchased 85 per cent of Australian cattle so “to invest Australian taxpayer funds in skilling labour overseas when our local industry is struggling for those skills is maddening.”
But Mr Littleproud said the situation was not that simplistic.
It was not about trying to do Australian workers out of jobs but rather an investment in maintaining the live export market in Vietnam, which was coming under enormous pressure from South American countries, he said.
It was about bringing Vietnam’s beef supply chain up to the standards Australians expected, he said.
Mr Hutchinson acknowledged the value of the live export trade, describing it as “the lifeblood of northern Australia.”
“This is not a live ex issue, it is a government investment in agriculture issue,” he said.
“The government is playing favourites. We’re asking for equality around this.”
Processors will now turn their attention further afield than the agriculture department to try to garner government support for their multi billion dollar industry and a solution to its labour shortage.