NEWLY appointed Northern Australia Minister Matthew Canavan has accused rival Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus of undermining the live export industry.
Senator Canavan went on the attack over a proposed motion in the Senate by Senator Lazarus which warned about ongoing job losses due to drought in the red meat industry.
The motion called on the government to investigate and report on how Free Trade Agreements like the China/Australia FTA had altered the meat industry’s supply and demand patterns; effectively creating local job losses.
It asked for future trade agreements to be strengthened to stop the alleged job losses and for a government and industry working group to be established, to ascertain support levels needed to protect employment.
But Senator Canavan slammed the motion saying Senator Lazarus was threatening the northern cattle industry’s future and undermining confidence.
He said the motion should be opposed as it would spread “unnecessary uncertainty” in the cattle industry and implied FTAs and the live cattle trade itself could cause job losses.
“The logical end point of his motion - and if the Senate supported it - would be to ban or restrict exports of live cattle, in favour of processing in Australia,” he said.
“We saw how disastrous this was in 2011 for our entire industry.”
Senator Canavan said Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith had come out today stating that market intervention in Australia’s beef supply chain would be strongly opposed by beef producers.
“This motion would undermine confidence in the live cattle trade at a time when producers with cattle are finally getting strong returns after a long period of deflated prices,” he said.
Senator Canavan said calling into question the value of FTA’s and singling out the ChAFTA was “very much detrimental to our beef producing industry” but the removal of tariffs “will bring billions of dollars in extra value” to the economy.
In speaking for the motion, which passed on the voices, Senator Lazarus said 580 workers left a job-site outside of Townsville in November and hadn’t returned due to the lack of cattle.
“This pathetic excuse for a government has done nothing to protect jobs in Australia.
“As long as the overseas companies are being looked after, they’re very, very happy; ‘stuff the Australian workers – we don’t want their jobs’.
“But of course the foreign companies are getting all their cattle.
“We will be getting to a stage where we’re going to have to buy processed meat from where the cattle are being taken at three times the price.”
In a statement, Senator Canavan said Senator Lazarus probably had no interest in politics or primary industry when the Labor party banned live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 “but surely he has read something about the devastating impact that had across the north”.
Senator Lazarus also backed calls by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union today to cap live cattle exports from Australia which was denounced by live exporters.
“We can't begrudge the farmer for selling his live cattle overseas - but the government needs to step in and take on board the fact that while this is happening, hundreds and hundreds of Australians are left without any work,” Senator Lazarus told ABC Radio.
NSW Senator John Williams said Senator Lazarus - a former Palmer United Party Senator turned independent - was “way off the money and doesn’t understand the beef industry”.
Instead of sucking up to the meat workers for some votes he should get an understanding of the beef industry first,” he said.
“Glenn Lazarus was elected by conservative voters because Clive Palmer is not a leftie; he’s a capitalist.
“But Senator Lazarus is now voting with the Greens and the Labor Party almost all of the time.
“He’s a full blown leftie and now he’s now trying to stick up for the meat workers union when the real problem is the supply of cattle.”
Senator Williams said over the drought many female breeder cattle had been processed causing the current abattoir supply numbers to drop but recently the live export market had been “a great injection into the cattle price”.
He said with about 26 million head of beef cattle and 4.5 million dairy cattle the current national beef cattle herd had fallen below 22 million and some producers were also holding onto stock, given recent rains.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Alison Penfold said putting a cap on live exports was not the solution because live cattle export “is not the problem”.
She said tough seasonal conditions due to drought, high input costs and a sluggish global market for beef were key issues affecting decisions for not only northern abattoirs but for livestock exporters too.