THE shock factor was in full swing at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) 2018 Convention in Perth last week when marketing consultant and political crisis specialist Toby Ralph took the stage.
Mr Ralph said the live export industry as a whole was a “dead man walking” and while sheep were at the top of the list, the activists within the “outrage industry” wouldn’t stop there because they also had cattle and goats in their sights.
While not everyone of the more than 100 in attendance agreed with everything he said, they welcomed his openness and honesty.
Mr Ralph said the failure of the industry to stand up and promote itself and its animal welfare successes was the reason that it had lost its social licence to operate by the broader community.
“Can it be saved – very possibly,” Mr Ralph said.
“But it will be a very expensive, very complex thing which would take extraordinary action, and the industry, since 2011, has consistently proven that it is just not prepared to take that action.
“Farmers are rugged individualists, they don’t act collectively.
“You don’t act as an industry.”
While live export was in the spotlight Mr Ralph said there was a larger issue at stake.
“The whole of agriculture is under pressure,” he said.
“Respect for farmers is evaporating.
“Seventy per cent of people live in our eight cities.
“The National Farmers’ Federation back in 2017 did a study and they found that 83pc of people believed that agriculture and farming had little or no relevance to their lives.
“Now that’s an alarming figure for such an important thing.”
Mr Ralph said the only way to win against activism was to target “middle Australia”, those who don’t care either way but when shown the facts are reasonable enough to understand the issue and support the truth.
“You need to target the large group of persuadables, not the others.
“Tell the truth – if you are guilty say sorry and fix it – and tell your story about all the good things you do.
“People will listen if you tell the truth.
“Ironically if Australia exits the live export trade, animal cruelty will increase.”
Mr Ralph said it was an argument that hadn’t been put to the community but it was true.
“The story of live export has not been told and that is why you have lost your social licence,” he said.
“You can’t hang off and hope that by lobbying politicians you can save the industry, that is not acceptable to the broader public.
“Win back the public – or neutralise yourself with the public.”
PGA president Tony Seabrook said he had been asking producers to donate $1 for every animal sold in WA during the year to go toward a fighting fund to sway public opinion.
“The industry does not seem to want to defend itself,” Mr Seabrook said after mentioning that he shouldn’t have to be chasing people up for money when it’s their industry he was trying to defend.
“We will fight – we just need you to give us the wherewithal.
“I don’t know the way forward.
“We have a fight on our hands – if we don’t fight we are dead and buried.”