SUBJECT: The suspension of live trade to Indonesia 2011

SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE JOEL FITZGIBBON:  We all regret the pause but out of period came the world’s best animal welfare system, something that has put the sector on a sustainable footing.

HOST:  And that’s something we have heard you say many times before, with respect…

FITZGIBBON:  I have heard Barnaby Joyce say it as well, basically.

HOST:  And my question was do you think the Government’s decision-making at the time was reckless?

FITZGIBBON:  No, I would never describe it as reckless.  I think at the time there could have been more consultation with the sector, both the NFF and the various cattlemen’s groups, and look, I think if that had occurred we might have even had their endorsement of what the Government was trying to do.  And what the Government was trying to do was address an issue which was of great concern in the broader community in a way which would put the sector back on a sustainable footing.  Look, the Howard Government suspended sheep trade in 2006 and did nothing during that period to address the core of the problem.  The pause in 2011 was regrettable but some good things did come from it.

HOST:  At that time though did the former Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig actually consult with Caucus before he made the decision?

FITZGIBBON:  I recall that there were discussions in Caucus and yes, I can tell you the Caucus Committee was far better attended for a couple of weeks there than it usually is.

HOST:  Was Caucus united in support for the ban?

FITZGIBBON:  No, I wouldn’t say it was united.  But no one really challenged the final decision in the end, because effectively it was a matter for the Prime Minister, but many people from rural seats, including me, including Warren Snowdon, were very busy highlighting the importance of the trade, it’s contribution to the economy, the number of jobs it creates, the number of people who rely upon it, and urging the need to make sure whatever we do, to have a live trade sector well into the future and I think despite all the pain of a very difficult process, we did just that.

HOST:  So at the time did you support the ban?

FITZGIBBON:  At the time I found it difficult to believe that there wasn’t a way of working in partnership with the sector in the first instance.  Now we did work in partnership with the sector in designing and introducing ESCAS of course so that was done.   It is easy in hindsight.  But my time in the Parliament, and that is more than 18 years now, I’ve not seen an issue so exercised the minds of constituents.

HOST:  Are you sorry for the decision that was made?

FITZGIBBON:  As far as I had responsibility at that time, yes I am happy to say that I regret the incident, and I have said that publicly including as Minister.

HOST:  Did the Prime Minister at the time, Julia Gillard, fully support the decision as well, fully support the ban?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I obviously was not a member of Cabinet at that time so I am not privy to discussions in Cabinet.  But my experience is that Cabinets never make a decision without the approval of the Prime Minister.

HOST:  So can you say blanket yes or no at the time, in your capacity at the time, I know you weren’t the Agriculture Minister, but did you support the ban?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I have answered your question on a number of occasions in the best way I can.  These issues…

HOST:  It is an easy question though.  Yes or no?

FITZGIBBON:  These issues don’t come to a vote.

HOST:  But personally?

FITZGIBBON:  I spent all of my time  making sure that the decision makers of the day were fully aware of the likely impact this would have and the importance of the sector.  Now my main focus was making sure that whatever we do, that in two, five, ten, twenty or thirty years’ time that we have a live trade sector and I think that the system we put in place has delivered that.


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