AN independent report into the proposed phase out of live sheep exports by sea looks like it will remain behind closed doors for the foreseeable future – after multiple Freedom of Information requests for its release were denied.
The independent panel commissioned by the Federal Government was scheduled to hand its report to Agriculture Minister Murray Watt at the end of October. The minister committed during a recent Senate Estimates to releasing the report but would not commit to a date.
However, the timeline for that release still remains unclear after multiple FOI requests were denied. Sheep Central understands the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, Nationals leader David Littleproud and news company Farm Weekly all put in requests.
The FOIs were denied on the grounds that the report is now a cabinet document, which makes it confidential while cabinet is deliberating.
Mr Littleproud said Labor needed to be transparent about the report.
“I am incredibly disappointed that Labor sees fit to remain secretive about phasing out the live sheep export trade,” Mr Littleproud said.
“If Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is so confident in his decision to phase out the industry, why won’t he release details of the report?
“Labor is destroying the livelihoods of more than 3000 people who work in the trade and an industry worth $85 million. Minister Watt didn’t have the courage to travel with the panel and look farmers in the eye himself to say he was stopping the trade – now he doesn’t even have the courage to release the report.”
The report is said to be 230 pages long and ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said he believed it will reveal some of the negative outcomes.
“The report is quite long and I think that is significant because I believe it will detail the damage this policy will do and the significant damage it will do to the national sheep industry,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
“We are also very concerned about the precedent it will set for agriculture.
“However, our position is very clear that the only outcome we will accept is a reversal of the policy, because the policy is unfounded and wrong.”
Govt taking time to “properly assess all recommendations”
Minister Watt said the Government remained committed to releasing the report.
“The Government is taking the time to properly assess all recommendations in the report and develop a responsible response,” he said.
“As I have stated previously, the report will be released following appropriate consideration by government. The government will not be commenting on the details of the report while it carefully considers the recommendations.”
Mr Watt said he still believed the WA sheep industry could thrive with onshore processing.
“We have always promised a considered and orderly transition. A point I have repeated in every meeting I have had with WA sheep producers and their representatives,” he said.
“We want to see the sheep industry in the west continue to thrive, built on more onshore processing jobs and increasing sheep meat exports.”