Luke Hartsuyker – the Assistant Minister to Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce – and Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council Chair Simon Crean on last week’s supply chain tour in the NT.LUKE Hartsuyker is open to meetings for talks with animal rights groups and sworn enemies of the nation’s live exports industry like Animals Australia, while conducting his new ministerial role.

Mr Hartsuyker has been appointed Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s Assistant Minister, in the Turnbull government ministry.

The NSW MP’s ministerial job includes focusing on the government’s animal welfare policy and the live animal export trade which prompted his first ministerial visit last week to the Northern Territory for an extensive tour of supply chain facilities.

It was hosted by Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council Chair Simon Crean; a one-time Labor senior minister and parliamentary foe of Mr Hartsuyker and the Liberals/National Coalition.

Mr Hartsuyker said his excursion involved touring the full range of supply chain elements from “paddock to ship” while hearing stakeholder views.

It started at Consolidated Pastoral Company’s Manbulloo station near Katherine, and took in a feed mill and cattle export yards including Cedar Park about 100kms south of near Darwin.

He finally observed the loading of a live cattle shipment onto the MV Greyman at Darwin Harbour, destined for Indonesia.

Mr Hartsuyker described the live export industry as being “very important” to commercial and employment opportunities, especially in northern Australia and was impressed by its size and scale.

“It’s a significant employer and it’s a generator of significant wealth for northern Australia in particular,” he said.

“Certainly the industry representatives that I spoke to were focussed on ensuring we retain the integrity of the system.

“We were looking at the importance of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) to ensure that the industry continues to succeed into the future and is maintained into the future.

“Australia has a reputation as a leader in animal welfare and industry is very focussed on ensuring we retain the reputation.

“It was certainly a great way for me to inform myself of the width and breadth of an industry I had not had a detailed exposure to, in the past.”

ESCAS was implemented in response to the Indonesian live cattle exports crisis in mid-2011 and has helped boost Australia’s reputation as a leader in global animal welfare standards, along with added industry supply chain investments.

However, Animals Australia, which helped engineer the snap Indonesian market suspension, continues to campaign for a permanent trade ban in tandem with RSPCA Australia and other groups, like meat worker unions.

That opposition intensified when controversial video footage was broadcast on ABC television during the federal election campaign, of animal welfare issues in the Vietnam market, sparking a departmental investigation and exporter suspensions.

Mr Hartsuyker conceded his new role would require being “fully informed in this matter” and the different agendas of the various players, which helped prompt his decision to tour facilities first hand.

He said live exports can become a “very political and emotionally charged” issue but stressed the government’s regulator role helped to ensure approved animal welfare rules were complied with.

“Industry has certainly indicated their wish to promote the long-term viability of the industry, through the appropriate practices,” he said.

While Animals Australia lobbied heavily in Canberra to ban live exports around the Indonesian crisis, their presence has been scant following the change of government at the 2013 election, while RSPCA’s level of ministerial access has also been reduced.

But Mr Hartsuyker did not rule out meeting with more extreme groups, with hardened views on animal rights, rather than animal welfare, with a desire to ban live exports, in his new position.

“As a minister and member of parliament, I will meet with a wide range of stakeholders so I’m not ruling groups in or out,” he said.

“I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak with industry to view the procedures and processes that they have in place and hear basically their philosophy with regards to ensuring the long-term sustainability of live animal exports.”

Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association CEO Stuart Kemp welcomed the new minister listening to informed views during any discussions with various groups about the live animal trade.

Mr Kemp said a factual public debate was healthy “no matter what industry you’re in” and cautioned against any political decisions, driven by emotions or assumptions.

He said the live export industry was striving for constant improvement and “sometimes you need a little outside perspective to keep you in focus”.

“We’re not going to ignore outside feedback and put our head in the sand but we do encourage healthy discussions,” he said.

Mr Kemp said the Assistant Minister’s visit provided a welcome opportunity to give an insight into the size of the live export industry and the professionalism of people involved in the supply chain, utilising new technologies and innovations.

Animals Australia was contacted for comment but did not return calls.

Mr Hartsuyker said as well as generally assisting the Deputy Prime Minister, his ministerial role also included; natural resource management and Landcare; food and labelling issues connected to Food Standards Australia New Zealand; and farm labour issues like the backpacker tax.

He also has an oversight role looking at emerging industries with significant growth opportunities like kangaroo, buffalo and crocodile.

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