SKY News broadcaster Paul Murray says Barnaby Joyce was right in saying the snap suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia five years ago by the former Labor government prompted an increase in boat people arriving in Australia.
The Nationals leader was chastised widely for the statements he made to draw a link between the two highly sensitive political issues, during the regional leaders’ debate in Goulburn last week.
Mr Joyce said when Labor closed down the live animal export industry a lot more people started arriving on boats in Australia, about the same time, due to the “bad will” it caused with the Indonesian government.
“I think it's absolutely the case that we created extreme bad will with Indonesia when we closed down the live animal export,” he said.
On his self-named top rating current affairs program, Mr Murray said the Canberra press gallery had put forward one view of the topic - but he believed what Mr Joyce said during the debate was “right”.
“There is a correlation between the absurdity of a government’s decision to turn off live exports and Indonesia’s convenient attitude when it comes to people smugglers about how hard do they crack down on the ports (and) how hard do they actually try to kill off this trade,” he said.
Criticism of Mr Joyce focussed on alleged damaged relations with Indonesia but Mr Murray said an Indonesian government minister had actually promised a “tsunami of boats” if Australia continued to displease them about the executions of convicted drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, in 2015.
He said on one hand Australia was “terrible” for suggesting a connection between the live exports ban and increased boat arrivals but on the other hand the Indonesian government itself had made a threat to send more asylum seekers.
Mr Joyce clarified his comments when speaking to media after the live debate against Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Greens leader Richard Di Natale, saying the number of asylum seekers from Indonesia prior to the ban was 14,000 but 40,000 turned up in Australia afterwards.
“Obviously it didn't help our capacity in how we negotiate with a country when we've just shut down one of their prime mechanisms of getting protein into their diet,” he said.
Within a fortnight of becoming Prime Minister after the 2013 federal election, Tony Abbott led a delegation to Indonesia with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.
Mr Robb welcomed Indonesia announcing 75,000 head of cattle for the final quarter of 2013 following the visit but stressed more work was needed to repair damaged relations after Labor’s “knee-jerk ban” in June 2011.
After a $1 billion class action claim was announced in late 2014 by producers and industry members seeking to recover losses, Mr Abbott told a joint party room meeting in Canberra that Labor’s live cattle trade suspension was perhaps the worst decision any Australian government had ever made.
Commenting on the class action claim being lodged in court at the time, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said “perhaps we should have done things differently then”.
“But he said, “Today we can be proud that Australia’s world-leading animal welfare system has put the trade on a sustainable footing, giving us opportunities to grow and reach new markets”.
On My Joyce’s comment during the regional leaders’ debate, Mr Shorten said the National party leader was “loose and dangerous”.
“I just think the guy's talking rubbish,” he said while agreeing there was no correlation between the two issues.
Mr Shorten said at no stage, until the leaders’ debate, had anyone, “even our worst critics” tried to link the two issues.
“I think it's a really, really ignorant remark,” he said.
“You know, it's one thing if he (Mr Joyce) wants to have a fight with Johnny Depp about, you know, his wife's dogs Boo and Pistol, that sort of just makes us a figure of fun,” he said.
“But when he starts weighing into foreign policy, I think he should best leave that to the grown-ups in the room.
“Who benefits from what Barnaby Joyce is saying other than Barnaby Joyce?
“This is about politics.
“It's not about good, sensible policy, relations with Indonesia, the live export trade or tackling people smugglers.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Mr Joyce’s comments would not damage relations between the two countries, after she contacted her Indonesian counterpart and Australian ambassador to Indonesia to clear the air.
She said “The Deputy Prime Minister's comments have been clarified and we work very closely with Indonesia - we are working with them as we both seek to disrupt the people smuggling trade”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said there was no link between the Indonesian government and people smuggling and he counted Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as a “good friend” and “a great leader”.
He said relations between Australia and Indonesia have never been better than they are today.
“What we have had to do is recover a lot of damage that was done to our relations by the Labor government when they precipitously and suddenly stopped live cattle exports to Indonesia,” he said.
“That did enormous damage to the cattle industry across Australia but it was an incredible affront to Indonesia.
“Now the only point that I want to stress is that our cooperation with Indonesia, in terms of stopping people smuggling, is very, very strong - they are as committed to stopping that trade as we are.
“Most Australians I think were horrified by that live cattle ban, not least because of what it did to farmers in Australia and cattle producers, beef producers here in Australia - but it was also an outrageous affront to Indonesia.
“And we should treat our neighbours, our friends, and neighbours, with respect and I do and we do - we have a good relationship with them.”
Senior Liberal minister Christopher Pyne said Mr Joyce was merely pointing out that under Labor “we had two catastrophic relationship breakdowns with Indonesia”.
“One of course was the disastrous ending of the live cattle exports market, which hurt Indonesia and it hurt Australia, cost us jobs, and did lasting damage and second of course was opening up the borders again to people smugglers,” he said.
“Now Labor knows that they had a weak policy on border protection in the last government, they’re now trying to pretend they have the same policy as we (do).”
Senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese said Mr Joyce tried to draw a link between the two issues but was “caught out” and “exposed what a risk it is to have such an erratic maverick as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia”.
“He should stick to worrying about Pistol and Boo - that’s been the highlight of his career - picking on little puppies,” he said of biosecurity issue over the illegal importation of Johnny Depp’s pet terriers.
Quizzed about his comments again last week, Mr Joyce said the issue was “quite clear”.
“You don't try and fix one problem, which was the problem of people coming in here under their own arrangements by boat, by creating another one, which was the banning of the live cattle trade,” he said.
“You don't fix one problem by creating another one.”
Resources and Northern Australia Minister Josh Frydenberg said Mr Joyce was “making the obvious point”.
“You don’t go and insult a most important and critical neighbour such as Indonesia by undermining their food security by banning, after a television show, a $1.5 billion industry that creates 10,000 jobs - most of which are in northern Australia, many of whom are indigenous,” he said.
“What he’s made clear is the live animal export policy that the Gillard Labor government introduced, the ban on live animal exports, was a disaster at the same time that we were seeking greater cooperation from Indonesia on the very difficult diplomatic and strategic issue of border protection.
“Now, we’ve cleaned up both issues - we have ensured that the live animal export trade continues to strengthen and we provide food security to Indonesia.
“And - we’ve also got much better cooperation from Indonesia we’ve been successful in stopping the boats when Labor was very unsuccessful.”
But Animals Australia spokesperson Lisa Chalk attacked Mr Joyce’s comments as being “ridiculous” while minimising the trade suspension as having only been for five weeks, rather than a total ban – despite the order being for up to six months originally.
“Barnaby Joyce has once again shown that he will say anything to defend and promote the live export industry,” she said.
“It was a five week suspension to put safeguards in place so no further animals suffered the same horrific abuse exposed on Four Corners.
“It’s remarkable to suggest he would not have supported the same course of action.”
Ms Chalk accused Mr Joyce of falsely claiming the five week suspension damaged industry because since then “cattle exports have risen”.
she also rejected suggestions the suspension cut off Indonesia’s food supply saying live exporters loaded boats with cattle before the Four Corners May 30, 2011 broadcast.
“Barnaby Joyce would serve their interests far better by reminding them that in 2011 an outraged Australian community demanded the entire trade be ended and that they were fortunate that only a short five week suspension resulted,” she said.