AUSTRALIA’S Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has hit out at live sheep exporters with suggestions they step up to ship sheep left in a Western Australian feedlot after Emanuel Exports’ licence was suspended.
After discussions between Mr Littleproud and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association about the potential for an exemption order to export the sheep, the minister has also angered the PGA by saying WA farmer leaders had suggested the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources “ignore allegedly dodgy behaviour” and he should hold talks with suspended exporters to broker a deal.
The sheep are held in the feedlot by suspended exporter Emanuel Exports, which is still seeking to ship about 45,000 to the Middle East, but has failed to secure a valid export licence.
An Emanuel Exports spokesman said the company is still keen to export the sheep and is working on options to have the suspension lifted on its licence and that of its subsidiary, EMS Rural Exports. The company is open to working with another exporter to move the sheep, but there have been no recent discussions.
Frustration among exporters and farmers in Western Australia is mounting due to uncertainty about the viability of northern summer Middle East sheep shipments and the threat of legal action by Animals Australia against any export permit issued by the department.
A media release from Mr Littleproud’s office yesterday was headlined with “Live exporters must lead.’
“The Australian Livestock Exporters Council have for years said they’re the world leaders in live export and now is their chance to prove it,” Mr Littleproud said.
“ALEC members need to show us they haven’t been taking us for mugs the whole time.”
ALEC is yet to respond to the minister’s comments, but the release prompted Wellard executive director of operations Fred Troncone to declare that negotiations with Emanuel Exports to potentially ship the sheep had concluded due to “a number of commercial, logistical and contractual reasons.”
“As would be expected, at the conclusion of those negotiations Wellard sought out alternative opportunities for its vessels.
“As a result, the Wellard ships suited to voyages to the Middle East are now committed on other routes until at least the end of September,” Mr Troncone said.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook yesterday responded to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s comments in the minister’s opinion piece in the West Australian newspaper.
Defending attempts to “clean up” the live export industry, Mr Littleproud said “those who do the wrong thing should swing.”
“Some WA farm leaders have suggested the regulator should ignore evidence of dodgy and deceptive behaviour to protect a particular exporter.
“Some have even suggested I should try to break the law by trying to influence the independent regulator,” the minister wrote.
Mr Seabrook said the live sheep trade is an important and vital part of the WA regional economy, and as such any investigation into the failures of export regulation should be treated seriously.
“Intemperate remarks such as ‘those who do the wrong thing should swing’ are inappropriate to say the least.
“For the minister to infer that WA farm leaders would ask a minister of the Crown to circumvent the existing regulatory process over live exports is not true,” Mr Seabrook said.
The PGA said WA farm leaders have not suggested that ‘the regulator should ignore evidence of dodgy and deceptive behaviour to protect a particular exporter’ and that the minister ‘should try to break the law by trying to influenced the independent regulator’.
Mr Seabrook said after Emanuel Exports’ licence suspension, he had discussed with Mr Littleproud whether the minister could grant an exemption order to export the 60,000 sheep in the WA feedlot “while the investigation of historical events runs its course.”
“As the minister has previously stated, an exemption order is not possible, and subsequent appeals to the department to ensure that the 60,000 stranded sheep can be exported have been in vain,” the PGA leader said.
Mr Seabrook said the minister should be concentrating his efforts on working with WA’s live sheep exporters, and the thousands of livestock producers who rely on the continuation of this trade.
“WA’s rural and regional sectors deserve certainty, not ambiguity from our political leaders.”