VICTORIA’S Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney has failed to declare her support for the continued live export of sheep and cattle for breeding, fuelling fears that state Labor Governments might not defend these trades in the future.
Liberal MLC Beverley McArthur last week questioned Ms Tierney about her stance on the live sheep trade and whether she supported the ongoing export of breeding sheep and cattle.
Exports of beef and breeding cattle are ongoing from Victoria and the dairy heifer export trade was valued at $258 million in 2020-21, of which $180 million was retained by dairy farmers.
When asked in Victoria’s Parliament by Mrs McArthur if she supported the Albanese Government’s proposed live sheep trade phase-out, Ms Tierney said Victoria had not exported live sheep since 2018. However, Mrs MacArthur said there was a shipment of breeding sheep to Russia in 2019 from Victoria.
“Ruling out live exports will also rule-out this component of Victoria’s sheep industry,” Mrs McArthur said.
Mrs McArthur also questioned the Minister about the potential for the extension of the sheep export ban to cattle. The Victorian cattle industry employs 19,000 people and is a multi-billion-dollar industry, she said.
Ms Tierney said: “I reiterate that I am advised that Victoria has not exported live sheep for slaughter since 2018.”
Mrs McArthur said the minister’s absence of a response and “her inability to completely back Victoria’s cattle industry – is of major concern.”
“Cattle and dairy cattle are currently being shipped from the Port of Portland.
“The Labor Party’s position on live exports is more about a feel-good vibe and subservience to hardline anti-farming animal activists, than good sense,” Mrs McArthur said.
“The impact of banning live sheep exports could rapidly spiral into the loss of social licence for cattle exports – not based on science or animal welfare – but on a vibe.”
Export animal welfare is federal responsibility – Tierney
Sheep Central also asked if Minister Tierney supported the phase-out of live sheep exports for slaughter and of the live export of sheep for breeding, and asked if she had deliberately avoided making a commitment on live cattle exports in parliament.
Ms Tierney said she had always been and will continue to be a strong advocate for Victorian livestock producers.
“The former Liberal-National Government slashed funding for livestock biosecurity activities by half and cut vital frontline biosecurity staff by 42 percent putting the livelihoods of livestock producers at great risk.”
Ms Tierney’s office said regulations regarding the export of livestock is a matter for the Commonwealth Government.
“The welfare of animals being exported is a Commonwealth responsibility, while domestic animal welfare is the responsibility of state and territory governments.”
Federal Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, reiterated that the government’s phase-out policy is limited to the export of live sheep by sea.
“The government continues to support the export of live cattle by sea.
“The export of livestock by air, including for breeding purposes, remains unchanged.”
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said the Federal Government has made assurances that it does not intend to phase out live cattle exports, nor the export of sheep via air, which is how most breeding stock will be transported.
“However, if live sheep by sea is phased out despite its reform, then an awful precedent will be set and quite frankly would offer little comfort to cattle and air exporters.”
He said the WA Government has made it very clear that they support the live export of sheep out of WA given its importance to the state.
Mr Harvey-Sutton said the dairy cattle export and live sheep figures speak to the importance of the trades, particularly to farmers.
“I note that the Victorian minister has stated that they are supportive, but that regulation of live export is largely a federal government issue and our focus will be ensuring the federal government continues to support these industries.”
Industry bodies will not discuss the terms of a phase-out – ALEC
Mr Harvey-Sutton also reiterated his belief that Australia’s peak livestock and farmer bodies will discuss the trade’s phase-out with the Federal Government panel formed to make recommendations on the structure of live sheep trade phase-out.
He said the Victorian Farmers Federation and 25 other organisations signed a letter to Minister Watt indicating support for the live sheep trade and that its phase out represented “a red line for the entire agricultural sector nationally.”
“Yes, I do believe that signatories will not be engaging in discussions with the panel about what the phase-out looks like. Why else would they have signed the letter?
He said ALEC is maintaining its stance that it will not be engaging in a discussion about what form the transition might take.
“Absolutely we are, alongside the entire agricultural sector.
“We will also be explaining the damage this policy will cause nationally.”
On what ALEC says to suggestions the trade is in denial and that not engaging with the panel on phase-out terms would be letting stakeholders down on issues like phase-out timeframe and compensation, Mr Harvey-Sutton said the industry is “fighting this policy and we would be letting those stakeholders you refer to down if we didn’t fight it.”
“As we have previously indicated in correspondence to Minister Watt alongside 25 other agricultural organisations – this is an issue that affects the entire sector.”
However, Mr Harvey-Sutton said ALEC will be telling the phase-out panel about the industry’s “outstanding animal welfare performance since the reforms have come into place.”
Have your say on the live sheep phase-out here.
If you think you can phase out the farming community; go ahead and phase out the live trade.
The live sheep trade should continue. Nobody in the world does sheep as well as Aussie farmers. We don’t eat older sheep here. Numbers will explode like in the 1970s and will have to be shot again if there is of no live export.