PROTECTING Australian agriculture’s first-class health status and clean food reputation trumps the need to “lead by example” on free trade, says former politician and Junee livestock producer Bill Heffernan.
Mr Heffernan is renowned for his advocacy during his years as a Liberal senator on maintaining strict biosecurity protocols to protect Australian producers, which at times saw him in very dramatic situations such as standing over dumped Brazilian meat at a rural NSW tip.
He believes the beef industry should not be giving any support to more imported beef in the name of reciprocal access.
The benefits simply don’t warrant the risks, according to Mr Heffernan.
Japanese beef this year gained access to Australia and the United States, Vanuatu and The Netherlands are in line with applications.
Mr Heffernan believes the incentive behind bids by most of these countries to gain access to Australia is in market manipulation.
“If their beef is accepted by Australia, they can argue their case stronger in other markets where they get cut off,” he explained.
“Our entire prosperity in beef hangs on our clean, green reputation and we need to hold onto that at all costs.
“We can’t compete on price with these countries. We have a small herd and our kill costs are double these other countries.
“So we can’t give them a foot in on our market access built on our clean green reputation.
“Make no mistake, this is about them trying to neutralise our market status to give their beef exporters a leg up. It’s about them trying to lower our standards to their level.”
Australia was justified in closing its doors to US beef - despite the fact the US is one of our most valuable beef buyers - purely on biosecurity terms, according to Mr Heffernan.
“Quite simply, we say: When you have full traceability and can guarantee your product is disease-free, then you can come,” he said
“They can’t do that. They have no traceability system.
“Every time the US gets a BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease) case, they lose premium market share and it hits them hard.”
Mr Heffernan said Australia’s cattle industry also had to consider what it would mean to domestic beef consumption if “someone got a feed of beef that was BSE-affected.”
“Our consumers know when you buy beef here it’s disease free, it’s 100 per cent safe. That’s not the case in the rest of the world,” he said.
He said there was also the potential for countries like the US to swamp our market, particularly their producers enjoy subsidies.
“When the US tried this on before (attempted to gain access to Australia), they were in rebuild phase and their beef was quite expensive but now they have a flood of beef and we are about to go into a build-up phase so we will be less competitive price wise,” Mr Heffernan said.
“Free trade arguments will always be outweighed by the need to maintain biosecurity.
“Our geographical advantage, the fact we are an island, must be protected.
“We have to shut the doors to anymore beef imports and stamp out these bureaucratic mumbles about opening our borders to overseas meat.
“I guarantee there will be a permanent blockade at Parliament House if this talk about US imports progresses.”