THE former Federal National Party leader and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce stole the stage at the WAFarmers Live Export Public Meeting in Katanning, WA, on Friday.
Mr Joyce called out the “ban it” movement as a group of “zealots” who would stop at nothing to see all live exports banned - not just sheep exports.
Cheers of support for Mr Joyce erupted across the Ram Pavilion at the Katanning Recreation Centre from the more than 1500 attendees who came from all across the State for what has been described as the biggest gathering of the industry in WA for many years.
Mr Joyce, a Dorper sheep breeder from NSW, said the issue of live exports was “very close to my heart" and he would have made the trip even if there were less people in attendance.
“It wouldn't have mattered if there were five people, I would have come across,” Mr Joyce said.
“But it looks like we have got over 1000 people.”
Mr Joyce, who delivered his message in well under the allotted time, said the turnout was a real show of force and highlighted to the rest of Australia the seriousness of the issue to WA producers.
“We have to send a message to Canberra,” he said.
“And I'm happy to be here to be a part of that.
“That we are going to stand behind this industry - and this industry is not going to die - this industry is going to grow.
“Somewhere we have got to form a line.
“Somewhere we have got to start pushing back.
“And we can - we can at this meeting at Katanning.”
Mr Joyce said the meeting was the start of a movement that would “go right across the nation”, where producers would “fight” for an industry that was good for the whole nation.
“I think that what we have to do quite clearly is make sure that we send a clear message that we are not going to be put to the saw by zealots,” he said.
“We are over, in this nation, being put to the saw by zealots.
“Whether it’s the sheep industry, the fish industry, or the cattle industry, we are over zealots who want to put us out of business.”
He said the live export industry helped to prop up regional economies with funds going back into local businesses like hairdressers, mechanics, school teachers - “it goes back to all those shops in those towns”.
Mr Joyce said a lot of goods were imported from China and other nations and it was important for the country that exporters were supported because the industry had helped establish “terms of trade” with other nations.
“We have to stand up for people who put something on a boat and send it in the other direction,” he said.
“That is the message that we must send - if it wasn't for people putting things on a boat we would have nothing in this country, we wouldn't have any terms of trade.”
Mr Joyce said “what we are up against is zealotry and they are not going to stop just with the live sheep game - that's not where they are going to stop”.
“These people haven't got a partial religion they have got an absolute religion.
“They want to close the live sheep game and where are they going to go next - we all know where they are going to go next - live cattle.
So we can win - you have to believe in yourself.
“I've heard people say, ‘no, they just want to end the live sheep trade’ - but it doesn't work like that.”
Mr Joyce said it was important for producers to believe that their voice could make a difference and the battle could be won.
“I was there when they closed down the live cattle trade,” Mr Joyce said.
“We fought back and we won.
“I was in the Eastern States when they closed down the greyhound industry - they closed it down and then a couple of politicians lost their seats and it started up again.
“So we can win - you have to believe in yourself.
“The energy must go on beyond this shed and we must be part of the process.”
Prior to the meeting State Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said in a doorstop press meeting at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Katanning, that it was “inconceivable” that Mr Joyce would be invited to speak at the meeting considering what he had done to the industry while being the minister.
“I just find this absolutely inconceivable, that this man who has overseen the destruction of this industry has the cheek to come here - unless he is here to give an apology,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Now Barnaby is saying I don't want anything to be shut down, well what Barnaby did was shut down the animal welfare unit within the Department of Agriculture.
“He shut down the animal welfare advisory committee.
“He shut down all of the architecture in the Federal government around animal welfare and that has led to this disgraceful situation that we saw occur under his watch - with these vessels having appalling performance.
“So he really has to accept that his approach is the one that has been responsible for the demise of this industry.
“I think he has just an enormous audacity - a lack of self awareness to have presided over this debacle and now come here and sprook himself as the hero.
“People like that are not your friend.”
Ms MacTiernan’s message to the public meeting was one of introducing the idea of establishing a Plan B for the WA sheep industry if or when a ban on live exports is passed by a future Federal government.
She announced, as part of the strategy, that the State government would loan $5 million at low interest to WA Meat Marketing Co-operative (WAMMCO), the State’s biggest sheep processor and Katanning employer in order to upgrade its equipment.
“This will enable them to introduce the next generation of equipment into meat processing,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“We believe that developing our meat processing capability here in WA is absolutely part of the solution.”
We believe that developing our meat processing capability here in WA is absolutely part of the solution.
She also discussed the need to change the flock genetics from a Merino dominated breed to a multi-purpose Merino that could cater for wool as well as sheep meat - which could be processed locally and sent to export markets in frozen or chilled form.
The reaction to her announcement by farmers didn’t go well - with shouts of “what about fixing Plan A before working on Plan B”, and “get off!”.
One farmer called on Ms MacTiernan to step aside and let someone else represent the industry if she wasn’t willing to get behind them in their time of need and support their industry as it was.
Cheers from the crowd highlighted the lack of confidence the industry has in the minister as well as the State government to represent them.
Despite the overwhelming support for Mr Joyce from the crowd Kukerin farmer Simon Williamson said he was still uncertain.
“We want and need live exports to continue,” Mr Williamson said.
“I’m not convinced that anything will come out of the meeting.
“Their (politicians) actions will speak louder than their words.
“If they act on it and continue supporting the industry then I’ll believe them.”