THE FEDERAL Agriculture Minister has come under fire for comments he made in an interview last month, in which he reassured Australia's cattle industry it would not also be targeted by Labor's proposal to phase-out the live sheep trade.
While highlighting some of the differences between Australia's live sheep and cattle trades, Mr Watt said there was a "big difference" in terms of the economic contribution each industry made.
"It's not the only factor to consider-the animal welfare issues, the loss of social license - are factors as well, but we can't ignore the fact that the live cattle industry is a key economic industry to northern Australia," Mr Watt said.
Speaking on the topic in State Parliament recently, Liberals WA Agricultural Region MLC Steve Martin said Mr Watt's comments demonstrated if the scale of Australia's sheep trade were bigger, the government would not have made its proposal to phase out the industry.
"Somehow, it is about the money... it is about the size of the industry," Mr Martin said.
"The economic contribution made by the sheep trade was $85 million last year, which is apparently not much money.
"The social license apparently depends on the scale of the industry.
"The cattle industry is fine because it produces hundreds of millions of dollars, so it is okay, but our sheep industry in Western Australia will suffer because it is small and a long way from Canberra."
The Nationals WA Agricultural Region MLC Colin de Grussa said the greatest problem facing the industry was around the social license concept.
"A lot of that is because, quite frankly, people do not understand what farmers do," Mr de Grussa said.
"Farmers and producers are busy doing what they do and they are very good at it, particularly in WA.
"However, what farmers are not actually very good at doing is telling that story and putting together the needed resources in order to tell that story.
"This is an issue on which the Federal government, distanced from WA, has made a policy decision based on an election commitment, not any science or empirical evidence, if you like - and industry now has to react to that."
Mr de Grussa said the Federal government had also sent a "pretty bad message" to Australian businesses, including those outside of the agricultural industry, as it demonstrated the government could make a decision to close down an industry.
"It starts making people a little bit nervous," he said.
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