EARLY impressions from science-based community attitude research indicates economic arguments for the livestock export industry are abstract to the average person on the street.
Community acceptance, or the much touted 'social licence to operate', is far more likely to come where people see an industry listening to concerns and working hard to change.
Voconiq is an independent company, developed within the CSIRO, which uses cutting-edge scientific methods to gather and analyse community sentiment and beliefs around an industry.
The livestock export industry's research body, LiveCorp, has hired the outfit to dive deeper into the endless surveys which find Australians don't support their industry.
Voconiq's chief executive officer Kieren Moffat presented a snapshot of the pilot data from what will be a three-year project at the industry's annual conference, LIVEXchange, in Townsville last week.
Emerging from the research is a contest of ideas where the majority of people believe the industry makes an important economic contribution, particularly to farming communities that produce livestock for export.
Still, 32 per cent say livestock exports should be stopped.
Mr Moffat said it wasn't unique to the live-ex trade that economic arguments weren't related to acceptance and trust.
"We live in a country where we feel like we can cut industries out entirely and still survive as a nation if we fundamentally disagree with something," he said.
Mr Moffat explained his company's brief was to go beyond the loudest voices and find what the middle 90pc of the community are thinking.
"We've done this work all over the world and we see the same patterns time and again," he said.
"At either end, the people really anti or really supportive have a big platform, while those in the middle are typically absent from the conversation.
"Often those at the ends say they represent the wider community."
Community attitudes matter because they are powerful in shaping way regulators and policy makers form decisions and when trust is degraded, freedom to operate is reduced.
When a community rejects an industry practice, the threat is existential, Mr Moffat said.
Room to improve
The pilot data shows that acceptance of the live export industry overall is actually sitting in the middle of the scale - not terrible but room to improve.
It varies by gender, with women less accepting, but there is no relation to age.
Trust in producers is high but less so for exporters and the regulator. Still, both sit higher on the trust scale than the Federal Government.
He said there was very strong agreement that the agriculture sector had a critical and fundamental role to play in the Australian economy and way of life.
This was important to understand because when the live-ex industry is attacked on social media 'it can be easy to feel like everyone hates you, but that is not true,' Mr Moffat said.
Interestingly, 81pc agree livestock exporting improves the diet and nutrition of people in other countries.
Regardless, a significant portion still want the trade stopped.
More than half believe conditions for animals on live export ships are not in line with Australian animal welfare standards.
The big areas of the supply chain where people had the most concerns were transport and in-market processing.
People had high confidence in practices at the farmgate.
"However - and this is interesting - 36pc agree the live-ex industry listens to and respects community opinions and 46pc say the industry is prepared to change its practices in response to community concerns," Mr Moffat said.
"This is important because responsiveness to concerns is a driver of trust across many industries.
"This is solid sentiment to be leveraging and building on."