SUBJECTS: Live export; Funding of abattoir workers training in Vietnam; Red Meat Industry Plan.
LEON BYNER: Let’s talk to the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, can you clear the air now, you guys are going to go to the election, what will your policy be specifically on live animal export?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Leon. Just give me a moment to go through a few ideas. First of all, we are committed to a strategic Red Meat Industry Plan. A plan to lift farmer profits, a plan to add more value here in Australia, to create more jobs here in Australia, in fact, to create jobs right along the supply chain. You know, exporting quality products, chilled and frozen red meat into those Asia markets in particular. We want a better deal for farmers, a better deal for the economy and more jobs for Australians and of course better animal welfare standards. We don’t to force a transition or force this live sheep sector out of business. We want to work with the sector towards that transition.
BYNER: But the Government would say that, so really you are on a unity ticket it seems Joel?
FITZGIBBON: No please let me finish. David Littleproud talked the talk earlier and he has gone missing. He hasn’t been heard of for a week. The Prime Minister never says anything. We believe and understand it will take not months but years but it should not take anything like a decade. We need to begin this transition now and do it in an orderly way so that our farmers aren’t adversely affected. In fact, I think they can benefit from it. So let me be clear. We see a future for sheep meat producers. We see a bright future for meat processing here in Australia. We see a bright future for jobs in that industry, but Labor does not see a future for the live sheep export sector.
BYNER: Alright, next question. How do you feel about us using foreign aid money to train people to do things in another country in the way our standards would suggest. But we are not doing it here?
FITZGIBBON: I am not comfortable with it Leon. I have been consulting with meat processors because you can’t talk about the transition of doing more here if the processors don’t have the capacity and the markets aren’t there. So we have to develop the markets and build that capacity in meat processing. The biggest challenge facing the meat processors, or one of the biggest challenges, is lack of labour. That is why they are importing so many foreign workers to work in meatworks. Surely the Australian Government has the wit to address this problem to ensure we put Australians into those jobs and we build that capacity so we can transition out of live sheep exports.
BYNER: I haven’t heard your side say anything about the $146 mill. By the way, a fraction of that will be used for training in the slaughtering of animals in Vietnam but a lot of that money, most of it will be used for other jobs and assistance. Now we have an unemployment rate in this country 700,020 people are currently seeking fulltime work. You get what I’m saying don’t you?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely and I can absolutely appreciate community concern. We spend foreign aid in many ways. You can hand money over, we can help other countries develop their economies to create local jobs and lift living standards and hopefully avoid poverty and wars and all the things that go with a broken economy and failed states. You’re right, some of that money is going to train meatworkers in Vietnam. Nothing like the $147 million, but some of it, I think I heard (inaudible).
BYNER: Yes that’s correct, but the rest will go to training in other work endeavours.
FITZGIBBON: Yes, it’s something we are doing for our foreign aid programs in many, many countries Leon but what we aren’t doing, I mean people wouldn’t mind so much if the Government had a plan to train workers here to create jobs in meat processors to export a high quality product. If we were doing both I think the community would accept it but we are doing it overseas and we are not doing it here.
BYNER: So are you going to the election and if will you are going to be say if you vote for us we will be doing the training here?
FITZGIBBON: We are going to say, we are going to have a Red Meat Industry Plan, and that cuts across vocational education, and training, workforce capacity more generally, things like energy costs, meat inspection and quarantine costs, the list is very long. It has to be a whole of government approach, we need six or so Cabinet Ministers around the table with their various responsibilities developing a plan that creates meat processing jobs and the jobs that go with it, here in Australia.
BYNER: Do you have any intel at all? We were told from the Minister’s Office that there is an investigation going on, and these things take time. But as Dr Hewson pointed out yesterday, “Leon, there have been offences previous to the one we are aware of on 60 Minutes, nothing has ever been done”. Nothing. No charges ever laid. No fines. Nothing. What does that tell you?
FITZGIBBON: What it tells you, it can mean a number of things, or all of the above. You have got a culture that has been created by Barnaby Joyce which just gave the industry an unconditional pass. And it is the Minister who creates or sets the culture in his or her department; you have got a cultural problem. David Littleproud has four reviews going on at the moment, some of which won’t report until after the election, very conveniently. People want action now and that is why we’ve called on the suspension of the trade until at least that northern summer review has been completed. Something that has been rejected. I have said up until now, we will do the right thing and wait for the review, it is not that far away now, I am hoping it is due Monday or Tuesday. But as I said, the industry itself has admitted this week, one of the key exporters, there are some circumstances where you will have high mortalities which are completely out of the control of anyone including the exporter. Now, for me, that’s time to talk about a transition, he is saying you cannot, in a sustainable way, export sheep live and guarantee high animal welfare standards .
BYNER: Joel, thanks for joining us. The Shadow Agricultural Minister.