Another unacceptable incident in the live trade sector made an already busy week considerably busier for me last week.
Video emerged showing the cruel way sheep were treated on board a ship bound for the Middle East.
Like Members of Parliament across the nation, I was inundated with expressions of concern from my constituents. But as the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, it fell to me to respond on behalf of the Opposition. My response was clear: business-as-usual will not cut it. The industry must work to higher standards and face swifter penalties when those standards are not met.
Over the past 20 years the sector has had many chances and the patience of politicians and the community has worn thin.
My first step last week was to reach out to the Minister for Agriculture. I was determined the matter should not be one subject to political opportunism. We've had more than enough of that in the past and community disappointment has been the outcome.
To his credit, the Minister accepted my offer of bi-partisanship and we look to be on track to imposing significant new standards, regulations and sanctions. I view it as a last chance for the sector.
I know that many who hold concerns about the industry will not be fully satisfied with whatever the Minister and I achieve together. They want the trade banned all together. Given the nature of some of the footage and suffering we've seen, who could blame them? In various interviews last week, I said that if we were starting from scratch we possibly wouldn't countenance a live trade sector. But many farmers and employees rely upon it.
Understandably, people ask me: why can't we slaughter them here? It's a fair question and we should certainly strive to export more higher-value frozen and chilled beef and lamb.
But there are markets in which customers only want live animals. In the cattle industry, there are producers in Northern Australia who can only grow cattle to well below slaughter weight because the local climactic and feed conditions. The argument goes: if we don't supply these markets with our higher animal welfare standards, another country with lower standards will.
That's a reasonable response to a point, but I believe we need to begin the transition.
Community concern will continue to grow and no matter how hard we try, I suspect the next story is not that far around the corner.
This opinion piece was published in the Maitland Mercury on Wednesday, 18 April 2018.