FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has returned fire at criticism from former Labor Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig over the government's handling of live animal exports.
This week, Senator Ludwig blasted the Abbott government for “talking big” on trade and live animal exports to Indonesia but being “found wanting”.
He accused the government of being exposed by a recent agricultural trade delegation to Jakarta by Queensland and NT agriculture ministers, while Mr Joyce had not visited the region since becoming minister.
“The former Minister Ludwig, Senator Ludwig was a catastrophe, that’s the only word for it.”
But criticism from the Labor minister, who was in charge of the portfolio when his party controversially shut the live cattle trade to Indonesia in 2011, drew the ire of Mr Joyce.
“It’s like the man at the corner bar, giving an address to the temperance league,” he said.
“The former Minister Ludwig, Senator Ludwig was a catastrophe, that’s the only word for it.
“He really did not cover himself in glory – I don’t know whether he was overridden by his colleagues (on the Indonesian live cattle suspension) or whether he just didn’t get it.
“But what I do say is, the Labor party’s approach for agriculture has been hopeless.
“Right now they’re quibbling over whether they’re going to sign the Free Trade Agreement (with China) or whether they’re going to argue against it.
“(But) we’re doing our very best to get money into this nation, to bring the support back to this nation, to get the funds flowing.”
Mr Joyce said yesterday's announcement that the Chinese government had ratified the health protocol agreement for export of Australian slaughter and feeder cattle to China was an example of the Abbott government’s work for the farm sector.
He also cited the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper; seven new live animal destinations; and the three competed Free Trade Agreements.
Mr Joyce said the government's work was also “exemplified” by record prices for cattle and meat sheep, a notable turnaround in wool markets and stronger price outlook for grains like oats and chickpeas.
“We’ve dragged agriculture onto the front page and to the centre of government but what exactly is the Labor party’s agricultural policy?” he said.
“What is their vision?
“If they are the alternative government, what are they going to do?
“All we ever seem to get form them is quibbling about the work that we have done and sort of ‘gotcha moments’
“Now is the time that the Australian people should be seeing an alternative policy form Labor, if they’ve got one.”
Senator Ludwig criticised Mr Joyce for not doing enough after Indonesia cut its cattle import quota from Australia from 50,000 for the third quota down from 250,000 for the same period in 2014.
But Mr Joyce said he welcomed this week’s announcement of import permits by the Indonesian government for an extra 50,000 head of Australian cattle.
He said he’d also held discussions with the Indonesian ambassador this week and would visit Indonesia at the “appropriate” time, following their government’s ministerial reshuffle.
“I want to maintain our strong working relationship with the Indonesians,” he said.
Senator Ludwig declined to respond but Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Joyce should “spend more time reflecting on his own performance rather than Joe Ludwig’s”.
Mr Fitzgibbon said Senator Ludwig presided over a difficult period where trade to Indonesia was 100 per cent suspended for one month but Mr Joyce had presided over a period where there had been an 80pc reduction in exports to Indonesia.
“That’s in my view because Barnaby Joyce is complacent and cocky and took his eye off the ball,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Joyce often acknowledged the contribution of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) in opening up new live export markets which was a legacy of the 2011 Indonesian suspension and a legacy of Joe Ludwig.
“Barnaby Joyce always wants to look backwards as does Tony Abbott but I’m looking forward and all I know is the industry is growing thanks to what Joe Ludwig did at that time,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor’s policy would be revealed in due course and there would be “plenty of it”.
He said he made several recent speeches including at the ALP conference where he’d “enunciated some pretty detailed policy approaches”.
“No opposition gives detailed policy at this point in the cycle,” he said.
“You’ll have to wait and see what Labor’s policy is at the time but we won’t be dealing with matters on a day to day basis in knee-jerk form.
“Our ambition is to have long term strategic plans.
“We’ll produce a document which is far more big picture and far more strategic in its big picture approach and of course a document that faces the reality of a changing climate and has a real focus on sustainability issues and how we get productivity up again in the face of that changing climate.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said he’d retain “anything that’s good” in the Agricultural White Paper which he said contained some good initiatives but “won’t claim it as my own”.