SKY PM AGENDA
TUESDAY, 14 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Live cattle exports; Shenhua coal mine.
DAVID SPEERS: But first we are going to start will the main story of today and that's Indonesia's slashing of the import quota of live cattle from Australia. The Shadow Minister for Agriculture joins us now. Thanks for your time Joel Fitzgibbon. Can I just start by asking do you blame the Abbott Government in any way for this decision to slash the live cattle imports.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: By this its own admission David it didn't see this coming and I think most of your viewers understand how complex the relationship is and how hard you constantly have to work at it. I know from my experience as Minister, Kevin Rudd and I - in the period he was back in the top job - we were working hard at that and I think there has been an air of complacency here. Certainly the relationship has been under strain in recent years at a more general level. So I think this has been a case of the government asleep at the wheel.
SPEERS: Well again, back to that question, the government asleep at the wheel, complacency your words there, is therefore the Abbott Government at least in part to blame for this decision.
FITZGIBBON: Oh absolutely David. This is a two-way deal and again, it is a relationship which requires a lot of care and maintenance and attention. And Barnaby Joyce is always running around the country claiming how well he has done in terms of the live trade sector. Well if he spent a little bit more time focusing on it and a bit less time boasting about what's being taking place over the last 12 months or so, then we’d be doing much better I'm sure.
SPEERS: Well ok, but just to unpack that isn't there a bit of pot calling kettle black here when Labor are the ones who actually suspended the live cattle trade altogether. I know you’d since said that was a bad decision. But when it has comes to this relationship Labor has got its own scars.
FITZGIBBON: Well it was a decision though David that did a couple of things. It put the Indonesian trade back on a sustainable footing and it also allowed us to open up new markets. In other words, diversify our trade markets and render us less dependent on Indonesia. It's funny isn’t it, but back in 2011 Barnaby Joyce and others were saying that Indonesia is north of 50% of our live export trade and nearly 60%. But today, in an explanation about nothing, he said that it was worth about 10% of our live trade or our beef trade. So it's lies, damn lies and statistics - he's been quite selective in his statistics. The fact is he's taken his eye off the ball. Today he went missing. He has no relationship currently with his Prime Minister and that strong working relationship with the Prime Minister is important in terms of our relationship with Indonesia and indeed our trade deals.
SPEERS: Alright but when it comes to relationship is with Indonesia the two things that arguably have upset the relations the execution of the two Australian drug traffickers and Australia's reaction to that and the boats policy as well. Correct me if you I'm wrong here, but I don't think you disagree with how the Australian Government approached either the Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran issue or indeed the boats policy. You're one of the few who’ve said that Labor should embrace the boat turn backs.
FITZGIBBON: No, David I'm not talking about the broader diplomatic relationship. What I'm saying or reminding people of is the fact that the Indonesian politicians in terms of the beef market do constantly and regularly come under domestic pressure to build self-sufficiency. So knowing that, the Australian Government has to give them a helping hand. Now Rudd and I announced a 60 million dollar beef partnership arrangement with the Indonesians so they could lift the productivity in their abattoirs and in their feedlots, lift education standards, lift sanitary standards so that we could both grow the Indonesian market, the domestic market and grow Australian market in other words, work together and capitalising on increasing demand in Indonesia.
SPEERS: (Interupts) Is that still in place that program?
FITZGIBBON: I'm sorry?
SPEERS: Is that program still in place?
FITZGIBBON: I've seen, other than one education program cattle run by the Northern Territory cattle council, I've seen little evidence that Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Andrew Robb have progressed that project. Now that's a real concern. We can have a win-win here - the Australians and the Indonesians - but it needs work. And again, the work obviously hasn't been done and when I talk about the relationship, that's what I'm particularly focusing on.
SPEERS: Alright. So just to get down to the nuts and bolts here, you’re saying what the Australian Government should be doing is acknowledging that Indonesia's president wants to become self-sufficient on live cattle but finding ways that we can what, drag that out over a longer the period of time, keep some skin in to the game so to speak when it comes to our exports?
FITZGIBBON: Well the red meat and cattle partnership program, Rudd and I promoted and put in place and fully funded, allowed the Indonesian politicians to say to their domestic audience- look we’re working with business and the Australian government, we are building more employment in our own domestic sector, we will be producing more cattle more productively but at the same time, because of runaway demand we will be importing more and more Australian cattle. That’s the approach, and that’s the approach which Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott obviously haven’t been promoting and following and as a result, by their own admission today, they did not see this thing coming.
SPEERS: Is there any chance, do you think, that Indonesia will one day become self-sufficient when it comes to live cattle or is that really a pipedream?
FITZGIBBON: Well that’s very difficult to assess. One, you’d have to know with certainty what demand will look like in ten and twenty years. You'd have to know what capacity the domestic sector - both abattoirs, food lots etcetera - have to expand over that same period of time, how much they can lift their productivity, but certainly, with Australian assistance, both with the government level and at business level through partnerships, they can dramatically lift their output and that would be a good thing both for Indonesia and for Australia because it wouldn't mean that we wouldn’t be necessarily exporting more I’m sure we would be because we do know that that demand is going to continue to grow.
SPEERS: As you know a lot of people today are saying, were using this as another reason to say we should end live cattle, live animal exports all together. What’s your personal view on this Joel Fitzgibbon, the future of the live animal export trade?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think it has a strong future David and the demand in Asia is very strong, not only in Indonesia but in Vietnam and increasingly in China. What many people don’t understand is that many of our producers in the far north don’t have the capacity, because of climate and lack of feed etcetera, to grow cattle to slaughter weight. So what they do is they sell them into the Indonesian market, markets like Indonesia where the Indonesians put them in their feedlots and fatten them to slaughter weight. You take live trade out and you take away the livelihood of hundreds and hundreds of farming families but what you also do is take out a point of competition in the domestic market which would be disadvantageous to Australian producers right across the country. So it’s an important trade to Australia and yes I do believe it has a future.
SPEERS: Final one, you mentioned the disagreement between Barnaby Joyce and others over the Shenhua mine. We heard Mike Baird, the NSW Premier, say this afternoon, no worries about the impact on water for the Liverpool Plains farming. What is your view on this, is there going to be an impact on prime agricultural land if this mine goes ahead?
FITZGIBBON: I note that Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt and Barnaby Joyce can’t even agree on the question of whether this is on prime agriculture land so that’s not going to give reassurance to local farming communities. I haven’t seen all the water modelling and all the application documents but I did listen to Tony Windsor who of course has enormous local knowledge and some of the things he’s been saying did raise alarm bells in my own mind. I mean we never take a zero tolerance approach to extractive industries but we’ve got to be very, very cautious in an area where we’ve got such rich agricultural soils and water resources. So I think the extent to which Greg Hunt has conditioned the approval is a concern in itself. I mean this new idea that he can just stop a project if something goes wrong is certainly a new one and one I don’t have much faith in, but I was surprised by the robust nature of my Mike Baird’s response.
SPEERS: That it’s fairly emphatic, do you think this is a clear sign that they are going to give it the tick?
FITZGIBBON: Well to listen to Mike Baird you’d swear there was very, very, very little risk to the water tables in the Liverpool Range and therefore our agriculture sector more generally and given what I’ve heard Tony Windsor and local councillor Tim Duddy say, it’s a very stark contrast. And I think I heard Barnaby Joyce talking about events already that have caused leakage from coal mines into water tables and I’d like to hear more about that, but it’s a big contrast between the robustness and confidence in Mike Baird’s comments and indeed Greg Hunt’s comments, and what locals on the ground are saying.
SPEERS: Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture Minister, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure David.