AUSTRALIAN Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) chief executive officer Alison Penfold predicts about 700,000 head of Australian cattle will be sold into Indonesia this year with the help of some encouraging promotional techniques.
Ms Penfold told last week's WAFarmers conference she was amazed at how far the industry had come in recent years and was pleased by the optimism and market opportunity returning to the cattle market.
She said the challenge remained to push similar changes within the sheep trade.
But a continual focus on improving welfare standards and demonstrating to the community that the industry including producers and exporters placed a high value on welfare was still very high on ALEC's agenda.
Ms Penfold said profit enabled good welfare and that the industry continued to make significant improvements on the ground.
Embracing a "social licence" would enable the live export trade to build trust with the Australian public.
Social licence has been defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval and broad acceptance within the local community and other stakeholders.
Ms Penfold said one of the big issues the industry faced was how to address the divide which exists between community expectation and industry performance.
She was quick to take responsibility.
"I don't think we get far by blaming the antagonism of radical vegan or professional activist agendas this is a distraction away from the main issue," Ms Penfold said.
"I also don't think it's right to blame others for the community's response to the trade.
"The livestock trade accepts we have the responsibility for changing community expectations.
"The industry continues to operate on the premise that it's supplying a legitimate need with a legitimate product in an economically viable way and with reasonable welfare within the boundaries of its control."
Ms Penfold said the problem for exporters was that what had been reasonable and unnoticed in the past was not only broadly considered unreasonable within average social expectations but was often seen as unconscionable and intolerably cruel.
She said activists had been very skilled at getting their message across and it had eroded the reputation of exporters and drawn-down the public's good will for producers.
She said a veil of secrecy around the trade had been exploited by activists groups.
"Positive messages and value propositions will not offset the negatives when the negative issues aren't being resolved or seen to be resolved," Ms Penfold said.
"Positive messaging gives rise to a communication phenomenon called the 'reinforcement effect'.
"It takes place when the public cherry picks from the available facts to suit and reinforce their already-formed opinion."
Ms Penfold said the live trade industry must understand such influences on community attitude and address them by adopting a social licence to operate strategy.
She said producers wouldn't be keen to hear that ALEC wanted to implement a further piece of red tape but it was needed in order to deal with public perceptions very quickly.
The community assumed that more regulatory control would exert more control for "too risky" exporters, without knowing about its effect on customers, the agricultural sector and export markets.
Ms Penfold said moving into a proactive and innovative state where industry is forecasting changes in community attitudes and making the most of market opportunities by bringing the community along with it, was essential for the industry to progress.
"I'm not saying we don't already have a social licence to operate because our assessment suggests we do have community support for the trade," she said.
"But most of that is vested in economic returns for the producer rather than exporters themselves."
She said mitigating outrage was a key feature of the live trade's ongoing success.
There was a need to build trust through the increase of company transparency, quash uncertainty surrounding good welfare, demonstrate fairness through acceptance of blame for supply chain issues, demonstrate control by adopting accountability and focus on responsiveness to omit outrage by the community.
Ms Penfold said these things could be achieved by continuing to drive welfare improvement along the supply chain through research, development and extension.
Some industry-changing projects are taking place, including the development of a salmonella vaccine to omit one of the main causes of mortality on sheep vessels, the better identification of shy feeders early in the supply chain and an app for stockmen to identify and treat diseases onboard.
Ms Penfold said there was a need for better communication about the trade, better controversy management and earning of trust from the wider community.
"We're not about phasing ourselves out," she said.
"We are trading animals as a commodity.
"But there are a whole swag of areas where we have common interests with the community welfare being just one of them."
Ms Penfold said a social licence agenda would only add to the live trade's strong future which included new and emerging market opportunities.
"We are addressing welfare and making real progress on the ground but without investing in our social license to operate it will be difficult to take the Australian public along with us," she said.
"It's an important journey for anybody involved in agriculture in this country whether you have concerns about live trade or not.
"The fact is a strong live trade and a strong box trade means better farm-gate returns and better options for growers."