Date of publication: 23 October 2018
The anti-live export campaign in Australian is driven by millions of dollars of international funds to shut down a legitimate trade undertaken by one of the world’s leaders in setting commercial livestock animal welfare standards.
The outrage has made it imperative that Australian producers work hard to ensure the Australian public is aware of the reality of what closing the trade would mean. Not only will it impact on the viability of Australian farm businesses but there are the jobs of the thousands of truck drivers, stockmen and women and others linked to the trade that will also be impacted.
On a global scale, the two million sheep coming from Australia to the Middle East under our strict welfare standards will be sourced from other countries which have virtually no enforceable standards. We will be simply condemning millions of sheep from another country to a supply chain which has mediocre animal standards compared to what Australia offers; a fully transparent system based on world’s best practice.
It is not good enough to take the moral high ground and see no evil when it comes to the sheep we condemn to replace our live trade. Sheep which will face a very bleak journey with no standards or protections on offer.
If the animal resistance outrage movement is successful they will not stop there. A quick perusal of the web will see the long list of targets they have in their sites. This is alarming that some consumers are viewing commercial farming as ‘evil’ when the purpose of commercial production systems and trade agreements is to help and support countries to achieve food security. This is particularly pertinent with Australia’s livestock exports, which plays a significant role in food security around the world.
The industry needs to get serious about meeting community expectations and positively building social capital to ensure our long term social licence to operate. We cannot expect state-based sector bodies like WAFarmers to go out rattling the tin asking their members to kick in fighting battle to battle. Unfortunately the industry cannot expect state-based sector bodies like WAFarmers and other State Farming Organisations to call upon their members to fund marketing activities to educate the general public.
The Australian agriculture industry needs is a relentless, long-term campaign which puts social licence as a top priority. WAFarmers believes that this campaign should be funded by our national based levy system, which collects over $110 million annually from our livestock producers.
As the former High Court Judge Michael McHugh’s detailed in his carefully constructed definition of the social licence from the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry: “In the last 40
years, many countries in the Western world have increasingly recognised that social institutions – whether industries, corporations, businesses or organised sports – must answer to the wider community for their behaviour and that they have a ‘social licence’ to operate only as long as they perform in accordance with public expectations”.
To achieve this expectation, WAFarmers believes it is imperative that at least 10 percent of levy funds is allocated annually to build and maintain our social license and to help shape public expectations. Similar to BHP Billiton Ltd Think Big campaign, the livestock industry needs an advertising campaign that tells the Australian community who we are and what we do.
We need to put a face to the people who are working in the yards, driving the trucks and shearing the sheep. The women and the men who make up the 1.6 million people who are directly supported by Australian Agriculture.
We need to remind people where their food and fibre comes from and that we use the land in a responsible and sustainable way to produce the things they eat and wear.
We need to reiterate that if Australian farmers do not produce the food and fibre, someone else will and it will come at a cost to the environment and the animals that are part of the entire supply chain. Whether we are importing or exporting, the world needs Australia to be taking the lead as we maintain the highest regulatory standards and compliance systems across the supply chain.
$10 million a year is required to run the TV advertisements and print and social media campaigns that are positive and proactive. We need to stop being reactive and stop expecting state-based volunteer sector bodies to try and do what our national compulsory levy based organisations should be doing. MLA have a responsibility to step up and put forward a 10 year $100 million plan of community engagement or take their part of the responsibility for the inevitable loss of first the live export trade and then whatever comes next out of livestock production in Australia.
Levy based organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia should be collaborating with state based groups like WAFarmers and Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA to develop a coordinated national campaign. We need a national strategy that engages the local community level, the media and influential opinion leaders. It also essential that our strategies to have direct engagement with groups that are strongly opposing the trade.
We need to find the influential opinion leaders not directly involved in the live export trade, who are familiar with the benefits the trade brings, and are sufficiently well-informed to speak authoritatively on these matters. Our story is a good story but it is a complex story which will take time to tell.
We need to talk about how Australia has implemented world-leading standards for animal welfare including exporters being responsible for livestock welfare through the entire supply chain to the point of slaughter. No other livestock exporting nation had adopted similar standards that impose a significant cost on Australian livestock exporters and producers. If things go wrong, we make changes, increase standards and resolve any issues.
What we do not need is more behind closed doors meetings with politicians followed by feel good press releases put out by both sides talking about working together. The MLA strategy of executive going down into the depths of Parliament house to engage politicians has failed. It is now time to engage with the community, and the consumers of our meat and wool and the people who vote.
As marketing consultant and political crisis specialist Toby Ralph recently told the PGA of WA Conference; the live export sector is ‘hanging on by its fingernails’ and in desperate need of recapturing public trust. Mr Ralph stated that political lobbying is insufficient to keep the trade operating, but that public trust must now be won back and that’s difficult and hugely expensive to do.
On a positive note, Mr Ralph pointed out that the industry has a complex but good story to tell and has abjectly failed to tell it.
WAFarmers represents the farmers affected by any disruption to the live export sector. Both WA state farming organisations are actively raising funds and allocating resources to print advertising campaign and social media campaigns ready for the upcoming Federal election. This is but a drop in the ocean compared to what Toby Ralph has suggested the industry needs to do, which is $5 million to have any hope of swaying public opinion on this issue. And that’s only just the beginning. These sorts of dollars are way out of the league of any state farming organisations.
WAFarmers are calling on MLA to allocate 10 percent of their collected levies from growers, which is around $10 million, to address the largest risk the industry has ever faced, our social licence to operate. We look forward to MLA responding to the needs of the industry for positive outcome for the future of the agricultural industry.
WAFARMERS LIVESTOCK PRESIDENT