THE Albanese Government’s live sheep phaseout panel has compounded criticism of its Western Australian consultation process by seeking completion of an economic and agronomic impact report by 30 June on the trade’s demise.
The commissioning of such a report, that would normally take 6-12 months, comes as the panel conducts ‘targeted consultations’ across the state with little or no notice to many industry stakeholders.
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has labelled Labor’s live sheep export phaseout panel a “sham”, after revelations the panel gave late notice over the weekend for town hall meetings in WA this week, making it almost impossible for many farmers and industry to attend.
Impact report due by 30 June
Sheep Central has been told the phaseout panel sent out an email request for submissions on the impact report at 5pm AEST on Friday 14 April, with a response deadline of midday on 20 April for a start date four days later. The final report would be due by 30 June.
The panel wants a detailed economic and agronomic assessment of the impact of a phaseout and how to best proceed to provide guidance to the panel in their recommendations to Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt.
The panel is also seeking written submissions by 31 May and aims to report to Mr Watt by September this year. The independent panel’s final report on the phaseout of live sheep exports by sea is scheduled for public release in late 2023/early 2024 before development of an implementation plan.
Sheep Central was told the impact report requested had three sections. These included an impact assessment on different types of farms of a short, medium and long-term phaseout; an industry-wide supply chain analysis encompassing processors, end-markets and sheep commodity pricing, and; an agronomic impact assessment over the three time frames, including likely flock and cropping composition change impacts on farm sustainability.
A Sheep Central source said each of the separate report sections would be massive undertakings for a consultancy.
“A report of this nature, at a very minimum, even if you devoted all your time to it, is a six month report at the tightest, but I would be more inclined to think you should be taking a year or maybe 1.5 years,” one consultant said.
ALEC would welcome an inquiry
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said the government and department have approached the phaseout process with haste and it’s astounding how poorly it has been done.
“The panel is consulting on shutting down people’s livelihoods and communities.
“To do so in such a shambolic way is downright contemptuous,” he said.
“ALEC hasn’t been included in the panel’s plans.
“There has been no note takers or formal recording of any of the panel meetings that we are aware of,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
“Will participants to an economic impact report have to repeat the entire process of consultation again?”
Mr Sutton said Mr Glyde has admitted the process was rushed and had left the panel with “not much time to get across the detail”.
“If the chair of the panel feels rushed, then imagine how farmers and people in the industry are feeling.”
Mr Harvey-Sutton said ALEC would certainly welcome some form of inquiry into the consultation process.
“WA producers deserve an answer to how this could happen.
“It is vital that the industry has an opportunity to be represented fairly,” he said.
“The phase-out process so far has been a ‘tick-a-box’ exercise with a pre-ordained outcome, based on bowing to activists, rather than a serious examination of the facts and the reforms the industry has made.
“A phaseout is unnecessary and we don’t support it.”
Witch hunt on the panel RSPCA representative
A WA sheep producer who attended the panel’s York consultation on Monday after receiving two hours’ notice, walked out due to its poor organization and domination by a few loud speakers.
“Everybody found out through social media (Facebook and Twitter), there was nothing put out by the panel.”
The Livestock Collective has been posting consultation meeting times. The producer said panel chair Philip Glyde ran the meeting without an independent facilitator and explained the forum’s had not been promoted because the panel didn’t want to bother people during a busy time of the year or be an impost.
“When people turn up with a head full of steam with a couple of hours’ notice, you are not going to get a productive meeting and there is a lot of emotion going on.
“It turned into a bit of a witch hunt on the RSPCA representative,” the producer said.
“There should have been an independent party chairing the meetings properly, so everybody could have their say properly.”
The producer has been supplying sheep to the live export trade for decades, but this year, like many WA flock owners, is overstocked with stock and facing diminished demand from the trade and a processing sector with inadequate capacity.
He supported the industry stance to not discuss the trade’s phaseout with the panel, but believed if live export was to banned, producers needed to be given a minimum of 15 years to adjust.
“So people can transition to either other breeds of sheep or transition out of sheep.
“Because if this happens by 2025 like they are talking about, the flood of sheep into the abattoirs is not going to stop and the price will fall,” the producer said.
“There will be no confidence in the market, people will not hold onto sheep because the money is not there.”
The producer supported the need for an impact report, but was dismayed at the proposed timeframes.
“How is that possible to get a detailed report, especially when they are not promoting or conducting these meetings properly?”
“These four panelists have been given a poison chalice,” the producer said.
“It comes across to me that the government has sent four people out to tick the box and say that at least they’ve done some consultation, which is very poor at best.”
The producer said lack of confidence in the industry has led to a shortage of shearers in the last 12 months.
“I have friends who are three months behind in their shearing and we can’t get rid of sheep.”
The producer was also concerned a lack of wool production would lead to the loss of WA’s wool selling centre.
“That’s why I say we need at least 15 years in a phaseout so the people in those industries can phase their way out of it.
“The government is never going to compensate us,” the producer said.
“What’s the hurry, why are we trying to get this done in two years? I’ll tell you why, because it’s political.”
One WA live export trade source told Sheep Central the panel’s approach to the consultation process has been “quite lackadaisical” with panel member Sue Middleton contacting a few WA grower groups.
“I wonder if they even have made contact with “individual” representatives within the shearing or livestock transport fraternity also to get empirical evidence also of what this policy means to them aside to the views they may have heard from their collective peak body representatives last month here in Perth.
The trade source said the whole process “starting with the rushed approach by government/them to organising industry meetings last month makes this look more and more like a ‘Claytons’ consultation and a tick the box exercise.
“The folly of the Government’s announcement and Phillip Glyde’s subsequent statements in this space is almost laughable given it wasn’t so serious with peoples futures and livelihoods on the line.”
Public online forums coming
A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry spokesperson said the independent panel is conducting targeted consultations this week with a range of stakeholders in regional Western Australia. The consultations were not intended to be public forums.
“In addition to these meetings, the panel will hold public virtual forums in May.
“The details and dates of these forums will be shared on the haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/live-sheep-phase-out website shortly,” the spokesperson said.
“The upcoming public virtual forums will be held online to provide an open opportunity for participation by a larger number of stakeholders.”
The spokesperson said the panel has heard from a wide range of stakeholders.
“They are keen to listen to all perspectives so they can provide advice for the government’s consideration.
“Stakeholders are encouraged to participate in the consultation by completing the online survey or making a written submission at haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/live-sheep-phase-out”
The spokesperson said the dates and details for the public virtual forums will be promoted widely, including on the department’s website, via social media, and direct communication with industry and other stakeholders.
Consultation process is ‘contemptuous’ – Littleproud
Mr Littleproud said Labor’s actions in the phaseout consultation showed absolute contempt for the 3000 men and women of the live sheep export industry and reaffirmed The Nationals commitment to maintain the trade when re-elected.
Mr Littleproud said the meetings are by “invitation only”, with no public engagement allowed.
“Labor should know farmers in WA need to travel many hours to attend and most are in the middle of seeding. You cannot organise meetings as important as this with this sort of notice,” he said.
“If Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and the Albanese Government were so confident of their decision and the science behind it, then the Minister should front public meetings himself and make sure it was genuine consultation.
“He should now show the courage to do that.”
Mr Littleproud said panel chair Phillip Glyde has admitted that the phaseout meetings have been rushed.
Mr Glyde has also publicly admitted shutting down the live sheep export trade would adversely impact farmers, which makes Minister Watt’s process “even more contemptuous”, Mr Littleproud’s statement said.
“WA Premier Mark McGowan has recently indicated support for the live sheep industry, given its reform, so it’s important he now puts some skin the game and brings his east coast counterparts to account.”
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