QUEENSLAND LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan will have a singular focus when he spearheads an Australian government trade delegation to China to try to seal the deal on kangaroo meat exports.
His prime goal will be opening up trade to help generate jobs and spark commerce for drought ravaged regional communities.
Senator O’Sullivan departed on Thursday for the week-long China program partnering with government representatives and industry groups such as the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia.
The Association also support the mission’s aim to add the potentially lucrative Chinese market to the current list of 70 export destinations for Australian kangaroo meat exports.
“I want to continue the work that’s been done by this government in the area of trade opportunities that will provide economic stimulus to many of our rural and regional areas; particularly those suffering from the drought,” Senator O’Sullivan said.
“A lot of effort has gone into the export of kangaroos and these discussions with China have been happening since 2009.
“We think we’re at the pointy end of discussions now and we’re looking forward to resolving any issues, if there are any, with our friends in China, with the proposed prospect of opening the trade.
“We currently have no kangaroo exports into China but we have export protocols with 70 countries and most recently we opened the trade up into Argentina.
“But we’re just hoping this will help to reinvigorate some of these little regional economies that really need all of the help we can give them.”
Senator O’Sullivan and his delegation will meet with Chinese business interests who want to import boxed and frozen kangaroo meat.
They will also hold talks with bureaucratic officials involved in the protocol process for approving the meat product’s importation from Australia.
Senator O’Sullivan said federal Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane would then raise the matter “at a minister-to-minister level” in a separate visit to China.
A flexible industry
The advice the Senator has received from the kangaroo meat industry is that opening the Chinese market would kick-start up to 4000 additional jobs.
He said that employment would be geographically specific to places like St George, Cunnamulla and Longreach in Queensland, which would “benefit for certain” from the Chinese market.
But he said the kangaroo meat industry was also “flexible in its decentralisation plans” and could locate freezer boxes wherever they chose and wherever there’s volume.
“A lot of the people who will be uplifted by this, in terms of jobs, might not necessarily be employed at the moment,” he said.
“There’s going to be a major boost for the shooting, processing and transporting areas of this industry."
While Senator O'Sullivan was going with the full support of the Australian government and diplomatic trade office in Beijing, this was an initiative he had taken on himself.
“As a backbencher I don’t have any particular status but I go with the support and blessing of the PM’s office.”
Senator O’Sullivan said he’d also held talks on his plans with the Department of Trade and Trade Minister and the Agriculture Minister and his Department who are all “very supportive of the initiative”.
'It’s about jobs in the bush'
Latest available data shows Australia exported $21.8 million in kangaroo meat in 2013-14 equating to about 4.7 tonnes – a 36 per cent increase on the previous financial year.
The European Union currently makes up the largest market share or 49pc of all kangaroo meat exports worth $13.5m in 2013-14.
Senator O’Sullivan said exporting kangaroo meat to China would create “substantial” export income but he stressed his focus was “very, very simple and very, very singular”.
“It’s about jobs in the bush for people in communities currently struggling with the downturn in business from drought and other factors,” he said.
“Opening this trade will put cash in the pockets of employees and this labour force is there - ready willing and able.
“These communities can also cope with an increase in employees and we know in Longreach a couple of hundred homes are already vacant.”
Senator O’Sullivan said kangaroo meat was a very versatile product with demand in China for prime cuts - more loosely referred to as restaurant cuts.
He said China would also look to value add elements of the kangaroo for human consumption as it was one of the leanest protein meats available.
Like with all meat processing there will also be off-cuts and trims and other elements of the carcass to produce other products, like pet food, fertiliser meal and so on, he said.
'Irresponsible' to expand exports: Greens
Greens animal welfare spokesperson and NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon poured cold water on Senator O’Sullivan’s trade mission, saying it was irresponsible to expand kangaroo exports into China.
She said it would have a detrimental impact on stressed populations of native wildlife and provide very few jobs in regional Australia.
“The commercial kangaroo industry is using the jobs and economy argument to try and justify their industry at a time when it is coming under more criticism as unsustainable and destructive of native wildlife,” she said.
“The way to stimulate local economies and boost jobs growth in drought affected communities is by ending the live export trade in cattle and sheep and opening up abattoirs in regional areas to meet the growing demand in boxed, chilled meat.”
Senator Rhiannon said the Greens were calling for a moratorium on the commercial kangaroo industry.
She said many kangaroo species are in “real trouble” and there needs to be serious engagement with the data and science.
“It is neglectful to allow the commercial kangaroo industry to expand into China,” she said.
“This industry, made up of just a few exporters, profits out of shooting native wildlife beyond its capacity to reproduce.
“It is negligent in the extreme to encourage wildlife destruction during drought when most species are severely affected.
“The science shows kangaroo breeding ceases during drought, and population numbers go into steep decline.”
Roo numbers have exploded
Senator O’Sullivan said on the contrary, the roo industry was “very sustainable”.
“Kangaroos numbers have quite literally exploded over the past couple of decades because we’ve put in improved pastures and improved water reticulation for them to get access to water,” he said.
“And as we’ve had to destock or lightly stock properties, the kangaroos have had less competition for vegetation.
“You can’t destock kangaroos so whatever goodness and nourishment is left there is theirs, unchallenged.”
Senator O’Sullivan said health and safety considerations for kangaroo meat exports would need to be satisfied like they are with any country, including China, for a processed food product.
He said other sensitivities would also need to be satisfied including ensuring the process Australia engaged in locally, in culling numbers to meet export demand, doesn’t apply pressure to sustainable kangaroo populations.
“At the moment I suspect about 100,000 to 150,000 kangaroos per day are dying from implications of drought,” he said.
“There have been massive culling programs happening within the limits of the cap due to the stress these very unusual levels of kangaroos are having on pasture and competing for available pasture with sheep and cattle.
“At last count we had some 36 million kangaroos just in the state of Queensland.”