FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has talked down the prospect of compensation for businesses affected by the proposed live sheep export phaseout.
Mr Watt today announced that consultation is now underway to inform how and when the Albanese Government will fulfil its election commitment to phase out live sheep exports by sea.
An independent panel will lead the consultation process, chaired by former chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Authority and senior public servant, Phillip Glyde. The panel also includes Western Australian agriculture expert Sue Middleton, former Federal Minister the Warren Snowdon, and former RSCPA CEO Ms Heather Neil.
When asked about potential compensation at the panel announcement in Perth today, Mr Watt said he wasn’t sure that farmers would go out of business as a result of the phase out.
“Obviously the export of live sheep would end, but as I say, we think there are some really big opportunities particularly when it comes to onshore processing and we want to see more value-adding in Australia.
“And I think that’s got a lot of potential here,” he said.
“But any issues around compensation, structural adjustment and those kind of things are exactly the kind of things that we are going to be asking the panel to give us advice and we’ll consider their recommendations when we receive them.”
Mr Watt said he believed the government had put together a balanced panel that represents the diversity of views and interests, including the sole WA representative in Sue Middleton.
“I think we do need to recognise that while Western Australia is now the only state that is exporting live sheep, this is an issue that has nationwide interest.”
On how he intended to get industry bodies on board with the phaseout, Mr Watt said the government was implementing an election commitment taken to two elections.
“So I think people have known for quite some time that this was our plan if we were elected and now that we have been elected we getting on and implementing it.
“Now that doesn’t mean the we are going to ignore everything that people have to say and there have been some pretty strong views expressed to me by members of the industry, but equally by people in the animal welfare sector, who would in some cases like to see this phase out occur immediately,” he said.
“We’ve made it clear that will not be happening but we will be listening to all views.”
Mr Watt said WA’s Agriculture and Food Minister Jackie Jarvis has said she will work with the Federal Government to get the best possible deal for the state.
“Which is exactly what we want to as the Federal Government too.”
Mr Glyde said the panel members had a broad range of experience in WA and the industry generally.
He said the most important thing in the process would be for the panel to listen and feeding back to the minister and the Federal Government the best way to implement the phase out.
“What is the best way to transition the industry from where it currently is to a new and brighter future.
“With that in mind we are very keen to engage with all the stakeholders that are involved in this, whether it be the people who do the producing on farm, the people who do the transporting, feedlotters, people who are involved in the overseas trade, the overseas destination markets,” he said.
“We need to talk to all of them.”
Mr Glyde said panel planned to hold a lot of face-to-face meetings and virtually to try cover all these issues.
“We also have a process for receiving written submissions for people who can’t make those sort of meetings.
“We are trying to get around to cover everybody, because the most important thing for us is to listen, to reflect back what the real on-ground experience is and bring forward the knowledge that people in the industry and with animal welfare interests have,” Mr Glyde said.
“The four of us, as the minister has said, are well qualified to do this task, but we don’t have all the information.
“We really do need industry and others top engage very carefully calmly and faithfully ion this process, because this will determine the future of the sheep industry in WA and also more broadly across Australia.”
Mr Watt said starting the consultation process is an important step towards developing a considered and orderly implementation plan that advances animal welfare, examines the needs of impacted individuals, businesses and local communities and identifies opportunities for future sheep industry growth.
“Phasing out live sheep exports by sea is a complex issue that will impact farmers, businesses, our trading partners, and the communities that participate in the trade.
“I am also conscious that the wider Australian community is interested in the phaseout, including those that want to see animal welfare maintained and improved,” he said.
“My priority is to ensure the phaseout occurs in an orderly way, with consultation and proper planning.
“Farmers and other industry participants need time to prepare, and that’s why the phase out won’t take effect during this term of parliament,” he said.
“I encourage all stakeholders to participate and provide input into how and when the phase out should be implemented, including what’s needed to seize new opportunities, such as expanding onshore processing and exporting more of our high-quality sheep meat to the world.
“I will continue working closely with industry to ensure all animal welfare standards are maintained, as expected by the Australian community.”
Live exporters and WA pastoralists unbowed
Australia Livestock Exporters Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said it looked like the minister has sought to have a balanced panel with a range of expertise.
“We will engage respectfully with it regardless of its membership.
“We will be using the panel as an opportunity to put forward extensive evidence about why the trade will continue,” he said.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia condemned today’s announcement and said it’s time the minister started listening to WA producers instead of eastern states animal rights activists.
“Minister Watt’s plan to ban WA live sheep exports comes from an ALP election commitment that arose as a result of a scorecard created by animal rights organisation Australian Alliance for Animals, and not through any consultation with Western Australian sheep farmers,” Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said.
“For the minister today to stand up and tell Western Australian sheep farmers, who are the nation’s largest exporter of sheep, that they should accept the views of those who are not only opposed to the live export trade, but to all livestock production, shows a dazzling lack of understanding of the importance of the live sheep trade, and is an insult to those whose livelihoods depend on it.
“Live sheep exports are the cornerstone of the WA sheep industry, which contributes over $1.4 billion to the Western Australian economy,” he said.
Mr Seabrook said there are about 5250 sheep farm businesses in Western Australia that employ tens of thousands of workers – including stockmen and women, shearers, transporters, feed suppliers, veterinarians, and stevedores.
“Shutting down this trade will only see a collapse in sheep values and would decimate producers and regional communities in WA.
“Any suggestion that the trade is on its last legs is misleading, as the only decline that the trade has suffered over the past three years comes not from a lack of demand from our overseas customers, but from high livestock prices, limited supply, COVID, and reduced shipping timeframes due to the current moratorium on exports during the northern hemisphere summer months,” he said.
“It is clear that Minister Watt and his eastern states animal activist supporters have little, if no understanding of the importance of the live sheep trade to regional Western Australia.
“And asking Western Australian sheep farmers to partake in this Clayton’s consultation process is insulting and akin to asking them to partake in their own execution.”
Alliance for Animals welcomes panel formation
The Australian Alliance for Animals welcomed Agriculture Minister Senator Murray Watt’s announcement on the Government’s plans to phase out the live sheep export trade.
Alliance for Animals policy director Dr Jed Goodfellow said the formation of an independent panel to lead the transition process was encouraging news.
“What all stakeholders want in this debate is certainty and we look forward to engaging with the panel over the coming months on that task.
“The Independent Panel includes a diverse mix of expertise, and we expect they’ll work with all stakeholders to ensure an appropriate transition away from live sheep exports within a reasonable timeframe,” he said.
“Live sheep export has been a source of profound suffering to Australian livestock over the years and has reaped untold damage on the nation’s clean, green agricultural reputation.
“Recent regulatory reviews have only confirmed that it cannot be conducted in a humane manner and phasing it out is the only way of protecting animal welfare consistent with Australian values,” Dr Goodfellow said.
“This announcement will be welcomed by many Australians, including the 2 million plus supporters of the alliance’s member organisations.
“We will be encouraging all Australians with an interest in animal welfare to participate in the consultation process so that the panel and the Government is under no doubt as to the public’s overwhelming support for the phase out.”
More information about the phase out of live sheep exports be sea, including details of how to participate in the consultation process is available on the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website at haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/Live-Sheep-Phase-Out
The panel will provide its report to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry by September 30, 2023.
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