Live Export

Can a Labor Act and Voice vote save WA’s live sheep trade?

Terry Sim, July 26, 2023

Nationals leader David Littleproud speaks at the Katanning meeting, listened to by fellow panellists, from left, ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton, Senator Slade Brockman, Member for O’Connor Rick Wilson and Gidgegannup farmer Tamara Michalek. Image – WAFarmers.

WESTERN Australian farmers opposing the potential loss of the live sheep trade and the impact of new aboriginal cultural heritage laws on farmland turned out en masse in Katanning on Monday.

WAFarmers president John Hassell said more than 600 farmers and industry people from throughout the state met at the Katanning Leisure Centre yesterday to oppose the Federal Government’s proposed phaseout of live sheep exports by sea.

The public meeting in the south-eastern centre was called by WAFarmers to also allow farmers to express their views on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, that came into effect on 1 July.

It was believed to be one of the largest farmer gatherings in recent years. It carried a motion supporting the live sheep trade’s continuance and motions opposing Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act impacts on freehold land. A panel discussion was also held with farmers, exporters and politicians.

Mr Hassell said there was “absolutely resounding” support for overturning the Australian Labor Party’s proposal to phaseout out the live sheep trade in its next term of government.

Although the organisers had intended the meeting to resolve how the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act could work, Mr Hassell said it was obvious farmers did not support the legislation, but felt strongly that “they need to throw it out and start again.”

“People want the awarding of freehold title to extinguish any kind of claims over their land.

“It (the Act) actually imposes all sorts of obligations on us.”

Mr Hassell said the 600 chairs put out for the meeting were full, with another 100 people standing and 400 apologies were received from people who could not attend.

WAFarmers hoped to take a delegation to Federal Parliament on 8 August to deliver the meeting’s motions and outcomes, he said.

“There will be a delegation … if it turns into a rally that won’t be a bad thing.”

Live sheep exports and the 2023 Australian Indigenous Voice referendum

The crowd at the Katanning live export meeting. Image – WAFarmers.

Mr Hassell said the meeting was told there are a number of marginal federal seats in Western Australia that should be targeted in the next election to gain support for retaining the live sheep trade.

“If we have to go down that path, then that’s probably what we are going to have to do.

“The reality is we’ve got to wait and see what the outcome is from the Voice, because that has a good chance of sinking the government in its own right, then we’re pretty safe with the live (sheep) trade,” he said.

Mr Hassell hoped the Voice to Parliament constitutional proposal did not get up and he said dividing Australia on the basis of race “is a despicable thing to do.” Mr Hassell said he received resounding applause when he addressed the meeting with “welcome to your country”, whereas WA Labor MLC Darren West was booed when he gave a traditional ‘welcome to country’.

“We’re sick of this division based on race, sick to bloody death of it and so, I think there is not a person in regional Western Australia who runs a property that wants to have division based on race – we want to move together to get support together,” Mr Hassell said.

“Our analysis is if the Voice ‘No’ vote gets up then the Labour Party is in serious trouble nationwide.

“If the ‘No’ gets up, I think we’ve got a very good chance of changing the Federal Government at the next election,” he said.

“I think there’s a higher chance of Labor being booted out at the next election if we have a ‘No’ vote.”

But he said if the ‘Yes’ vote won in the Voice referendum, it might mean a need for more activity in marginal seats to support retaining the live sheep trade.

“Either way, we may have to target these marginal seats.”

WAFarmers Livestock Council president Geoff Pearson said the Katanning meeting had a good representation of politicians, especially Nationals.

“They definitely supported the whole process and delivered well, so it was good to have them in the room.”

Mr Pearson said it was clear there was concern about the precedent that the live export sheep phaseout might set for all primary production and there was a need to potential for amendments to the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act.

“We’ll be on the steps of (federal) parliament on the 8th of August and presenting the motions from the floor.

“Wherever we go we’re seeing pressure from the existing government and it seems to be pointed at primary production,” he said.

“I think the attack on that is going to put the existing government under a lot of pressure and that maybe the catalyst.

“If they know that their position is vulnerable then they may have to start doing a backflip on some of their decisions to keep their seat, so that will be the angle for pressure into the government to make sure we hold them accountable for some of the decisions in rural and regional areas and the detrimental effects,” Mr Pearson said.

After attending the meeting, Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said Western Australians as a whole are “pretty grumpy’ about the impositions on the state’s farmers.

“We’ve seen that through the Voconiq research, where the community overwhelmingly supports farmers and I think it is really coming to roost in the west that their farmers are under attack on many fronts, with live sheep obviously being the one I’m principally concerned about.

“But I think the sentiment here in the west is very much one of disillusionment with the position that farmers are being put in and I think it (live sheep exports) will be an election issue for sure.”

Semi-retired WA sheep and cropping farmer Bob Iffla told the meeting it should focus on four marginal federal seats in Western Australia in the next election — Curtin, Hasluck, Swan and Tangney. Curtin was won by independent Kate Chaney with a two-candidate preferred swing of 15 percent against the Liberals, and the other three seats were won by Labor with two-party preferred swings of about 12pc.

Mr Iffla believed there was enough feeling against Labor over the Voice, the cultural heritage laws and the proposed live sheep phaseout to have an electoral impact in those seats in the next federal election.

“The feeling in that room (Monday) was quite electric really, it was calm and there sensible speakers, but underneath it they were pretty wild.

“We might have to hand out ‘how to vote’ cards on election day, but we need to start doing the work in those seats pretty soon,” he said.

Mr Iffla said he had also spoken to people in the eastern states who are very concerned about what is happening in WA with the new cultural heritage laws.

“I believe that they will looking at doing similar things … it will go national.

“It will be like a tsunami.”

Mr Iffla told the meeting participants they needed to “stand up and be counted” to ensure Labor did not win the 2025 federal election. He also suggested accessing the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund via the National Farmers Federation to finance the election action.

Nationals vow to sheep trade going ‘in perpetuity’ if re-elected

Nationals leader and Shadow Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud told the meeting that the live sheep trade would be continued in perpetuity if the Coalition Government was returned at the next federal election.

Mr Littleproud said when a Minister (for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt) shuts down the industry based on ideology without explaining why or the science and isn’t prepared to have the conversation, then that is a failure of government.

“I made it clear to (former WA Premier) Mark McGowan, made it very clear to him, this should be above politics.

“I didn’t invest as much as you did during that process, but I lost a lot,” Mr Littleproud said.

“And I wanted to make sure that this industry deserved the future that we had created for it.”

Mr Littleproud said to ban and phase out live sheep in entirety, Minister Watt must pass legislation – his export control orders to ban and the export of a product only lasts for six months.

“If they want to do it permanently, they must pass legislation.

“And so in Canberra, I’ve had constructive conversations with those crossbench Senators that can determine whether this gets through the Senate or not.”

Mr Littleproud suggested that Labor’s Western Australian Senators had “hidden and cowered in the corner” on the issue and not to waste time with the Greens.

“But let me tell you, the crossbench Senators will be pivotal in this.

“And we will be bringing (independent senator) David Pocock to this state to show him a ship, to show him the supply chains, to listen to your story, to listen, the courage of your way of life, the importance of it to not only Western Australia, but to our nation,” he said.

“And it’s imperative that the courage that you’ve shown up to here today flows through over the coming six to 12 months to make sure, to make sure that your story, your future is put in front of people like David Pocock and Jackie Lambie.

“We still live in a great country and you should have hope that there is still hope because we have this thing called democracy and whether it be the Senate or whether it be in 18 months, I can assure you that if we toss this mob out, your second way through is to make sure that a Coalition government’s elected, because we will make sure that this industry continues for perpetuity,” Mr Littleproud said.

The Katanning meeting also followed the release of an Utting Research poll in The Poll Bludger showing the WA Liberals led by 54-46 seats, representing a 15-point swing away from Labor since Utting’s May taken after Mark McGowan retired as WA premier and member for Rockingham. Mr Littleproud put the poll result down to the WA cultural heritage laws that were dividing pastoralists and indigenous Australians and represented an “over-reach” that can reach federally.

“Because (federal Environment Minister) Tanya Plibersek has a bill, a cultural heritage bill in her top drawer that she will run out nationally, and she has said this publicly … she has the bill … but she’s not prepared to show the Australian people until after the Voice referendum.”

The motions at the Katanning meeting

Motion 1: This public meeting convened by WAFarmers moves that ‘Western Australian farmers call on the Federal Government to recognise the importance of live exports to the states sheep producers and allow the trade to continue’. Moved: David Slade. Seconded: Steve McGuire. Carried.

Motion 2: This public meeting convened by WAFarmers moves that ‘The State Government to exempt freehold farmland that has been disturbed, developed or cultivated from needing to undertake further surveys once the property has been surveyed.’ Moved: Beryl Wilson. Seconded: Steve Fowler. Carried.

Motion 3: This public meeting convened by WAFarmers moves that ‘The State government amend the Act to recognize that Intangible Cultural Heritage identified across freehold farmland will not impose restrictions on land usage.’ Moved: David Slade Seconded: Ian McDougall Carried

Motion 4: This public meeting convened by WAFarmers moves that ‘Supports the notion that freehold property rights extinguishes cultural heritage.’ Moved: Bob Iffla. Seconded: Doug Clarke. Carried.

Motion 5: This public meeting convened by WAFarmers moves that ‘The State Government make all landholders equal under the law by removing the 1,100 square metre property limits on cultural heritage surveys.’ Moved: David Slade. Seconded: Ian McDougall. Lost.


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  1. Bruce Michael, July 30, 2023

    I would like to comment only on the debate over the effect the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act would have on farming businesses. I don’t live in Western Australia and I don’t know what’s being considered in the act, but I have 18 years of managing a large HRZ sheep property for a local First Nations group.
    At first it seems a difficult task, but in the end it wasn’t. What First Nations people want and what farmers want is the same, it’s the protection of their assets for the future. In our case, it was all about good farming practices and it came down down to one thing: reduction of soil disturbance and most farmers want to do that. To give a few examples, all our cropping and pasture renovation was direct drilled. We extended the width of all the gate ways to reduce erosion points and we made sure we always had adequate soil cover. We treated the 10000 acre property as one large cultural heritage site and I believed it worked.
    In the end, it became a marketing tool for us and now organisations like the Textile Exchange under their auditing systems like Responsible Wool Standard are starting to ask questions about First Nations peoples cultural heritage protection and it will become another marketing tool to put your product in front of other producers.
    Finally I ask this simple question, if you have a legitimate Aboriginal ( First Nations ) cultural site on the property you own — regardless if its freehold or another type of land ownership — does this not show that the First Nations people were the original owners of the land you farm on? And did you compensate them for taking that land? If not is it too much to ask that you, we or us at least compensate them in some way for that land and maybe just protect their heritage it could be enough for them, as I found out.

  2. Nicole Wallace, July 27, 2023

    It’s only farmers who want to retain live sheep trade. Everyone knows that it is a barbaric practice with the sheep eventually facing an unsupervised death.
    Australians are showing little empathy for these farmers and in fact are turning against them. Just have your sheep killed here.

  3. Dale Price, July 26, 2023

    I strongly support the motions moved.

  4. Katrina Love, July 26, 2023

    Hmmm… so 0.023 percent of the population of Western Australia wants Labor to ignore an election policy it took to two federal elections, and which over 70pc of West Australians support?

    Harvey-Sutton observes that the Voconiq research demonstrates that the public supports farmers, and we do, but he ignores the RSPCA research that indicates over 70pc of Australians, including those in WA and rural areas, support the Labor government’s commitment to end the live sheep trade. You see, supporting farmers is not synonymous with supporting the inherently cruel live sheep trade.

    Unlike the RSPCA survey questions, though, the Voconiq questions were arguably skewed to achieve a desired result, e.g.:

    Asking whether live exports should be stopped “regardless of the impact on farmers”. 42pc disagreed (up 5pc from 2019), which is not surprising. What if the question had been phrased “Should live animal exports be stopped if producers and associated stakeholders, i.e., feed producers, shearers and transporters are assisted in transitioning to alternatives and the expansion of the chilled trade is supported?” I’d suggest that 42pc would halve at least.

    In 2023, 64pc of participants agreed the industry supports the diet and nutrition to people overseas. So? So does the export of chilled sheep meat and, for that matter, chickpeas, and wheat.

    How about asking “Would all of Australia’s importers of live sheep (mostly oil-rich Gulf countries) die of starvation if they didn’t receive the 500k sheep we currently export, given our chilled meat export industry is worth about seven times that?

    Agreement that “conditions for animals on live export ships are not in line with Australian animal welfare standards” decreased from 53.7pc in 2019 to 39pc in 2023. Also not surprising given, the blatant lies industry has been spouting lately. On-board mortality rates are indeed down. Which begs the question if they can get mortality that low, why didn’t they do it earlier? But they fail to mention that there have been ASEL breaches — pregnant ewes/on-board lambing, insufficient space, dirty or absent feed and water, sheep loaded with terminal dog bite and shearing wounds to name a few — on 75pc of Independent Observer voyages. Imagine what’s happening when no one is watching and heat stress is observed in every month of the year.

    We’re talking about 500k sheep in a state with around 12 million in an industry that has already seen the sheep export numbers decline from over 65 million to under half a million in twenty years. Now is the time to end it completely.

    Labor has science, statistics, history, community support and the backing of every animal protection organisations on the planet on its side, and those who support the trade continuing are reacting emotionally and basing their arguments on misinformation.

    Oh and… the next poll should ask how people feel about sending Australian sheep for fully conscious slaughter and the ongoing ESCAS breaches in importing countries.

    • Glenn Nix, July 28, 2023

      The Saudis want a million sheep this season so the industry is not dying. Economics dictate that when prices drop up goes demand, and prices drop when the supply goes up. We have meatworks that can’t be close to meeting supply due to lack of workers, housing and the ‘nimby’ factor when it comes to new works. Trucks are not going east as fuel prices have doubled and they have plenty of stock over east. Our WA meat works simply don’t want young wethers or older ewes.

      Implementing policy made by ill-informed and the ignorant is not a way to run anything. Really, no-one voted, apart from your small cohort Labor, on the basis of the live sheep situation. They where voting against Scomo not being on a fire hose, being too religious and not woke enough. I am sure the average voter had no idea or cared enough to go through the fine print.

      I am sure your crew would want to shut down meatworks if you ever toured one and we know you don’t like trucks or sheep yards or emptying out stock for transport. Did anyone vote to kill more sheep in meatworks? I did not see that on the ticket.

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