AGRICULTURE Fisheries and Forestry Minister Murray Watt has refused to state whether he would consider a survey signed by more than 10,000 people calling for the reversal of the Federal Government’s decision to phase out live sheep exports by sea.
Up to Wednesday this week, 10,270 people had signed the petition to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that was initiated by Western Australian politicians, O’Connor MP Rick Wilson, Senator Slade Brockman and MLC Steve Martin.
Mr Watt last Friday retweeted an RSPCA tweet outlining its “very interesting” research showing 70 percent of survey respondents in Western Australia want the live sheep trade to end, but he did not address a Sheep Central question on whether he or the Labor Government would consider the WA survey in its deliberations on implementing the sheep-by-sea phaseout policy.
Mr Watt also did not comment on whether the WA survey response is significant enough for Labor to reconsider the phaseout policy decision, nor would he disclose what surveys or polling, or other data the Labor Party used to formulate and justify its decision to phase out the trade.
Instead, a Federal Government spokesman said the government went to the last two elections committing to phase out live sheep exports by sea.
“The government has made clear that it will implement the election commitment in a considered and orderly way.
“A four-person, independent panel has been appointed to consult with farmers, communities and supply-chain participants to inform when and how to implement this policy,” the spokesman said.
“The government is eager to work with industry to seize on emerging opportunities to create more export dollars and regional jobs, especially through more onshore meat processing.”
Mr Wilson said the WA petition would run “as long as it takes to change Federal Labor’s mind on its planned ban on live sheep exports.”
“Whether the Labor Party is swayed on its plan to ban an industry of vital importance to the economy of regional Western Australia is ultimately up to the Labor Party.
“What we hope to demonstrate with this petition is that farmers and regional communities from a vast area of Western Australia rely on the trade and will fight to keep it going.”
Mr Wilson said the vast majority of petition signatories are from Western Australia, as that is where the main impact of Labor’s planned ban will be felt.
“While most signatories are from rural and regional Western Australia, we’ve received support from right across the state.
“In research released earlier this month, Australians demonstrated growing confidence in the livestock export industry,” he said.
“Other research released last month showed a growing appreciation nationally of the importance of the live exports sector.”
WA politcians unite behind live sheep exports
The WA politicians maintain the decision to ban the almost exclusively Western Australian live sheep industry will see thousands of jobs destroyed, impacting farmers, stock handlers, feedlot operators, truck drivers, agronomists, agricultural vets and truck drivers
“The livelihoods of more than 3500 regional workers and their families stand to be devastated, mostly in my electorate, yet the ramifications of such a decision stretch much further,” Mr Wilson said.
“The ban could see the stable price floor for wool and sheep plummet, harm many other industries, damage long-standing trade relationships and cause animal welfare standards to decline.
“Jobs, families, and entire communities that have been built around this industry face an uncertain future. This decision is not just about sheep and trade, it’s about real people with real livelihoods being threatened,” he said.
Senator Brockman said there is no evidence or science behind the ban.
“The consultation has been poorly managed.
“The minister doesn’t even begin to understand the broader implication of his decision on the industry,” he said.
“This ban is casting a long, unsettling shadow over our local communities.
“The live sheep export industry has achieved outstanding improvements in animal welfare.”
With sheep export mortality rates at an all-time low, Senator Brockman said the proud Western Australian industry has played a pivotal role in exporting our exemplary welfare standards internationally.
“Our regional agriculture sector forms the bedrock of Western Australia's economy and the live sheep export trade is no exception.
“I call on Premier Roger Cook to stand up for our farmers and regional agricultural sector,” Mr Martin said.
“The time has come for Premier Cook to demonstrate his commitment to our regions.
“It’s time for him to step up, defend our agricultural sector and safeguard the livelihoods of our famers and our community.”
Australian Alliance for Animals is not concerned about WA petition
Australian Alliance for Animals director Dr Jed Goodfellow said the alliance is not concerned about the WA petition.
“We know from many years of polling that the majority of Australians are still opposed to the trade and this opposition has been consistent over the years.
“The Labor Government has been consistent in its position on phasing out the trade,” he said.
“It was an election commitment and we fully expect the government to follow through with it.
“Policy decisions around animal welfare should take into account a range of factors,” Dr Goodfellow said.
“The science and evidence of impacts to animals should be at the centre of decision-making processes, as it has been with the decision to phase out the live sheep trade.
“In addition to this, community expectations should be taken into account as well,” he said.
“This is a basic principle of any democratic society.”
Dr Goodfellow said the reality is Australians care deeply about animal welfare and their expectations continue to evolve, particularly among younger generations.
“Practices that involve inherent animal welfare challenges, as in those that cannot be avoided or mitigated, are simply not sustainable in the long run.”
RSPCA Australia chief executive officer Richard Mussell said the Federal Government has made the right decision to transition away from “the cruel and unfixable live sheep export trade and we’re pleased to see them repeatedly reaffirm this commitment.”
“We know this is the right decision, because science and evidence continue to show us that sheep suffer throughout the live export journey, with cumulative welfare issues that are inherent across the supply chain – and add this to the fact that the majority of Australians have repeatedly said they support a phase out (including 71% of West Australians).”