25/05/2016 8:35 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Barnaby Joyce Links Asylum Seeker Boat Influx With Labor's 2011 Halt On Live Exports

'What does this have to do with refugees, Barnaby?'


Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has defended his comments linking Australia's suspension of live cattle exports under the Labor Government in 2011 to the subsequent influx of asylum seeker boats.

Appearing on Sunrise on Thursday morning, Joyce said he didn't view the two issues as linked, but the suspension of live cattle exports made negotiations with Indonesia more difficult when more asylum seeker boats arrived.

"I'm just stating the bleeding obvious. You don't want to basically... insult another country by overnight ceasing the supply of a major requirement of their dietary intake which is meat," Joyce said on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday night, appearing alongside Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Green's Leader Richard Di Natale at the regional leaders debate in Goulburn, Joyce said that the cessation of the live cattle industry was "around the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats".

The debate followed the Labor government's release of its animal welfare policy -- that includes the reintroduction of an independent watchdog -- minutes prior to the debate taking place.

Joyce turned to the Gillard Labor government's decision to suspend exports in 2011 when Australia was one of the largest meat suppliers to Indonesia.

"They accepted us as a reasonable trading partner, we proved overnight that we weren't. We created immense bad will in the region that we live," he told the audience.

"And now, tonight, with the release of the Indepedent Office of Animal Welfare... the Labor party announcing that they are going to crab walk towards closing it down again.

"This was disastrous for us the first time, it will be just as disastrous the second time.

"When we closed down the live animal export industry, it was around the same time that we started seeing a lot of people arriving in boats around Australia."

Joyce's comments were met with dismay among the crowd as the ABC's moderator Chris Uhlmann offered the Deputy Prime Minister the floor to stand back from his comments.

"You are suggesting that the Indonesian governments unleashed the boats in response... Do you genuinely believe that those two things were linked?" he asked.

And Joyce did not back down.

"I think that our capacity to have a strong relationship with Indonesia is affected by them relying on us as reliable suppliers. It is absolutely the case that we created extreme bad will with Indonesia when we closed down the industry."

Di Natale was quick to seize Joyce's remarks: "What does this have to do with refugees, Barnaby? I'm not seeing the link."

While Joyce wouldn't directly say one caused the other, he reiterated that "the Greens and Labor Party created immense bad will".

Di Natale was quick to shoot back: "Why then did the Indonesians last year dramatically cut back the number of cattle we were receiving? What did you say to them to cause that? You must have said something very nasty."

"We went into close negotiations and they expanded it again. That's how you fix problems," Joyce replied.

Labor's Fitzgibbon said a ban would not happen again under a future Labor government, instead referring to regulatory improvements.

But the Greens leader recommitted to his party's policy of ending all live animal exports, arguing the welfare of animals could not be guaranteed once they left our shores. "It's cruel, it's got to stop," he said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has labelled Joyce's comments "ignorant" and said foreign policy should be left " to the grown ups".

Independent candidate Tony Windsor, who is running against Joyce to reclaim the New England electorate called the Deputy Prime Minister and "unfit leader" who "insulted our nearest neighbour".

"Now what Mr Joyce did last night was prove that he is unfit to be in a leaders' debate."