LIVE sheep exports survived a sustained attack in Federal Parliament today as a motion supporting concurrent debate on a Private Member’s Bill to phase the trade out was narrowly lost in the House of Representatives.
Despite the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council yesterday announcing a self-imposed moratorium on Middle East shipments during three months of the Northern Summer, Labor and crossbrench MPs are continuing with a campaign to end the trade.
The motion from Centre Alliance’s Senator Rex Patrick called on the Federal Government to legislate to phase-out long-haul live sheep exports; and that the resolution be communicated to the House of Representatives for concurrence.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, his predecessor Barnaby Joyce and MP Andrew Broad led the Coalition’s resistance to the motion, while Ms Sharkie, the Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon and others sought immediate action on the motion to debate legislation for phasing out the trade.
The motion and an amendment from the independent Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie that it be considered immediately by the House of Representatives was voted down, effectively delaying consideration of her Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 (No. 2), possibly until next year. The Sharkie Bill mirrors the compromise Private Member’s Bill first introduced by the Liberal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley earlier this year. It proposes a five-year transition plan to phase out the industry, assist sheep farmers and build up the meat processing sector in Australia.
Ms Sharkie said with two days left of Federal Parliament this year MPs had a chance to debate and resolve the live export issue with a vote on her Private Member’s Bill, but the Federal Government chose to “kick the can down the road and put it off until next year.”
“The way this government is travelling they may not have the time to deal with my Bill next year and they face the very real risk of dealing with another piece of legislation, a less measured and reasonable piece of legislation that could well be voted on by a very different looking parliament.
“We have a chance to value-add to our sheep industry, to build up our meat processing industry and create jobs in regional Australia and we should be acting now to introduce a sensible transition process that supports our farmers,” she said.
Ms Sharkie said the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council’s recent self-imposed three-month moratorium on shipments during the Northern Hemisphere summer is just delaying the inevitable transition away from long-haul sheep exports to the Middle East. ALEC members are proposing a moratorium on Middle East live sheep shipments from June-August next year.
Senator Derryn Hinch also this week said the proposed moratorium would not change his legislative plans to phase out live sheep exports.
“The deadly heat stress months for exported sheep to the Middle East is not three — it’s from May to October.
“Still, the three-month moratorium is a start.
“I promise we will get the total ban (with a five year phase out) through Parliament next year.”
Before parliament today, Mr Fitzgibbon also said Labor’s plan to end the Middle East Northern Summer trade remained the same.
“A Shorten Labor Government will put an end to the northern summer trade at the first opportunity and will phase out the balance of trade while helping sheep meat producers make the transition to more domestic processing.
“We will continue to be guided by the science which says the northern Middle Eastern summer trade and animal welfare standards are incompatible,” he said.
“The Morrison Government must now allow the House of Representatives to express its will on the future of the live sheep trade.
“A vote to phase out long haul live sheep exports must be held this last sitting week.”
WAFarmers president Tony York said the moratorium will mean no shipments of Australian sheep will depart Australia for the Middle East during the highest heat-stress risk period, which will take effect 1 June 2019.
“WAFarmers are confident this moratorium will provide certainty to sheep producers and the wider community and will aid in growing a strong, sustainable nine-month-a-year live sheep trade,” he said.
WAFarmers livestock president David Slade said WAFarmers are supportive of the moratorium if the exporters cannot guarantee the welfare of the sheep over the summer period.
“Not shipping during the northern summer period is a sensible way forward with the current ship designs and ventilation systems.
“This decision by exporters permits the industry to plan ahead and realign their production and selling options,” he said.
“Shipping over a designated nine month period will allow the industry to meet contract arrangements.
“Without confidence that the trade will continue, regional communities will suffer as jobs disappear,” Mr Slade said.
He said although farm gate returns will have an impact on farmgate returns, it would allow the industry time to test new welfare standards to further improve the standards.
The RSPCA said it cautiously welcomed the moratorium as a first step in protecting Australian sheep, but exporters’ “last-ditch promises by live exporters to ‘re-set’ their practices must be viewed with the scepticism they deserve”.
However, the RSPCA said the moratorium must cover the entire highest-risk period of May to October and it must form part of a measured plan to phase-out the practice for good.
The RSPCA said ALEC’s announcement “was a strategic move by the live export industry to attempt to salvage its shattered social licence, and is intended to forewarn the few remaining live sheep importers, so they can plan to stockpile animals in the lead-up to the Middle Eastern summer next year.”
The ALEC announcement was also an attempt to pre-empt the looming release of reviews of live export standards (ASEL) and a new heat stress risk assessment (HSRA) model; both of which are likely to confirm that good animal welfare and live sheep export as we know it are incompatible, the RSPCA said.