WESTERN Australian farmers have been urged to fight plans to shut down live sheep exports to the Middle East as proposed legislation to end the trade within five years faces an uncertain future.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said Liberal MP Sussan Ley’s introduction of a Private Members’ Bill into Federal Parliament yesterday to phase out the live export of sheep is short-sighted and would destroy the Western Australian sheep industry.
He has urged farmers to fight for retention of the trade at the same time as the RSPCA welcomed the Bill and also pleaded for farmer support to end live sheep exports.
The Live Sheep Long-Haul Export Prohibition Bill would insert a new section in the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997 stating that a condition of a livestock export licence be that sheep and lambs not be exported from Australia by ship to any place in the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea or accessed via the water bodies during July-September, if the voyage is 10 days or more.
However, the Bill needs a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives to suspend standing orders to allow it to be debated and voted on. Neither Ms Ley nor her seconder Corangamite Liberal MP Sarah Henderson have said they would cross the floor to support a suspension of standing orders and parliamentary Labor support for the Bill is unclear until after by-elections for members affected by citizenship ineligibility.
Government stands against live export Bill
Former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said yesterday the second tier effect of a trade suspension would make people poorer “because their product is not worth as much as it was.”
He said the farmers supplying the live sheep trade were not the “wealthiest” farmers. If the trade was not viable, the market will shut it down, it doesn’[t need government, Mr Joyce said.
“If you shut down the live sheep trade, you are going to make people poorer – that’s what’s going to happen.
“If we’ve got to change the regulations, let’s do it – let’s not shut down the sheep trade.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament the government did not support the Bill.
“The government has put in a careful and considered approach based on science and that is why the government does not support the Bill,” he said.
Despite criticism he had deferred implementation of a heat stress assessment model for sheep, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud this week responded to the McCarthy Review of the northern summer live trade to announce tougher stocking, animal welfare and penalty rules.
These include an immediate reduction in northern summer sheep shipment stocking densities, a halving of the current reportable mortality level to 1pc, regulator movement to an animal welfare-based assessment model based on animal welfare rather than mortality and use of a heat stress method to potentially reduce stocking densities by 18-79pc.
An independent observer on all future sheep or cattle shipments during the northern summer will report daily to the regulator and new legislation would increasing penalties and create a new offence of profiting from poor animal welfare outcomes.
Littleproud live trade plan is “responsible” – PGA
Mr Seabrook said Mr Littleproud has a responsible plan that should be embraced and which will enable the continuation of the trade.
“I urge producers to get on board to ensure the fight to protect this industry continues.
“We cannot afford to have our futures destroyed by eastern states politicians,” Mr Seabrook said.
“Remember 1.7 million sheep worth $250 million are exported live from WA each year and shutting down this trade will see a collapse in sheep values and would decimate producers in WA.
“I encourage everyone – producers, politicians and the general public – to embrace these recommendations and work with us not against us to fix it not ban it,” he said.
WAFarmers also backs McCarthy
The WAFarmers Livestock Council president David Slade said it is important for the live sheep trade to continue, but fundamental changes were needed.
“The recommendations from the McCarthy Review are an excellent starting point, but it is imperative for everyone involved in this trade to step up and take responsibility needed to absolutely ensure all animals destined for export are treated in the most humane way possible.
“Irrespective of their country of origin or final market destination, all animals must be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Everyone in this trade has an obligation to ensure the welfare of all animals under their control,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of all regulators that the highest animal welfare standards during shipping activities are upheld and it is clear that this accountability has been lost.
“It is imperative that the regulators ensure the whole trade improves and endeavours to make the McCarthy recommendations the new minimum standard.”
Mr Slade said there also needs to be more rigorous inspection of animals boarding vessels, with any ewes pregnancy scanned by the exporter before shipping to ensure no pregnant ewes are loaded.
Bill is in the hand of the government
Ms Ley said she was looking forward to the second stage reading of the Bill in parliament.
“I can’t say when it will be; it is in the hands of the government as to when they schedule Bills from time to time.
“But the introduction itself, I think, sets the stage for further work to be done in convincing colleagues and the wider public that this is an important reform, both economic and social.”
The Bill also has the support of La Trobe Liberal MP Jason Wood and NSW Liberal MP Jason Falinski has said he favoured the phasing out of the trade under a Coalition Government. Ms Ley said she was looking forward to some more Liberal MPs “returning to the fold.”
Ms Ley said she had been well-supported by her parliamentary colleagues in the process of challenging government policy on live exports with the Bill and she was confident of further support.
“Yes I am, and what form that support takes could be varied.
“There could be conversations within our party room, there could be conversations between individual members and Cabinet members, arguing for a change in policy,” she said.
“Policy is not fixed in space and time and can always change, and that’s what we are arguing for.
“We don’t want to play political games about this, because I can honestly say if I look in my electorate at all the responses I’ve got encouraging a phase-out or an end to this live sheep trade, they‘ve come from all parts of the political spectrum,” she said.
“I know that that’s the case across Australia and it really underlines that this is not a political issue.”
“It’s not about the Bill itself, it’s not about winning votes in the parliament, it’s about the outcome,” Ms Ley said.
“The outcome matters to me – how we get there – it could happen in a number of ways.”
Ms Ley said the Private Members’ Bill on live export was an important milestone in a debate to change an outcome, in the same way that there were several Bills on gay marriage before legislation changed.
“It could happen in a number of ways, government policy could change, there could be another incident that causes public opinion to really really sharply move against this.
“The trade is on notice for this northern summer,” she said.
Bill is an “historic moment in animal welfare” – RSPCA
The RSPCA yesterday welcomed the Private Members’ Bill to end long-haul live sheep exports and said it was time for producers to take the final steps to protect the welfare of sheep due to be exported.
“This is an historic moment in Australia’s history of animal welfare,” RSPCA Australia Chair Gary Humphries said.
He said the Bill reflected the overwhelming science, as well as the views of the community, that say it’s time for live export to come to an end.
“We’d certainly rather the Bill reflects the evidence that says halving of the stocking density and, particularly, a stop to May to October exports are the most immediate needs to improve animal welfare outcomes,” he said.
“We urge Members of Parliament, and the Australian community, to loudly and enthusiastically support this Bill and stop the cruelty of live sheep exports once and for all.
“Live sheep exports have halved in the last 10 years anyway, so this Bill will effectively end the industry in half the time it would take to die away naturally anyway,” Mr Humphries said.
He said now is the opportunity for forward-thinking farmers to join and lead the conversation about exiting the trade as soon as possible.