NEW South Wales Liberal MP Sussan Ley is committed to finding an end-date to live sheep exports, decided ultimately by a parliamentary vote.
The Coalition Government has expressly ruled out a ban on the trade, despite recent disturbing footage of dying and dead sheep in cramped conditions on vessels, and the MP doesn’t believe there should be an immediate trade ban, particularly when Western Australia has invested to supply the Middle Eastern market.
But the Member for Farrer does remain committed to finding an end-date to all live sheep exports and believes it is vital that this be done by working with industry and farmers, although it will need “political will.”
“I remain committed to that, but there does need to be political will and there needs ultimately to be a decision of the Parliament.”
Ms Ley said the current animal activist efforts and the reaction to online petitions seeking an end to the trade were demonstrating a “groundswell of support.” An online petition by Senator Derryn Hinch to halt market expansion and phase-out the trade over three years has gathered more than 75,000 signatures. He claims to have the support of Liberal, Nationals and Labor MPs to end the trade.
“I actually think Australia has a country, as a nation, has crossed a line now, and won’t accept this.
“I am no friend of the animal activists – in fact one group took me to court and I nearly lost my house because of remarks I made about their strategies and activities,” Ms Ley said.
“But I am just seeing so many regular people, and I am a good example, who understand the industry and have watched this over many years who believe that a line has been crossed.”
The MPs statements in favour of a live sheep trade end-date have already sparked political opposition, with fellow crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm claiming the Liberal Democrats party would run a candidate against her in Farrer. But in terms of where Ms Ley goes from here, she said Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud’s “short sharp review” of the standards for the sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer might be finished before MPs return to Canberra for the coming Budget session in early May.
“Then I will be having conversations with my colleagues, identifying how many Liberal and National MPs feel the same way I do and I am fairly confident that many of them do.
“I would prefer this not to be a confrontational campaign-style exercise, because I think that does play into the hands of animal activists and what that does is politicise the issue unnecessarily,” she said.
“I don’t want to see that because I believe that working with industry and farmers we can find a way through this, and it might be five years,” she said.
“It might have stages along the way where we don’t transport sheep in the summer months and where we actually enforce the regulations — that don’t appear to have been able to be enforced for the last 15 years.”
Ms Ley believes that more farmers will now refuse to offer sheep for live export.
“Putting sheep on the boat was a good end-of-life income (option) for farmers, but farmers aren’t just going to go for the dollar every time when they recognise the strong backlash that the industry has had against this.”
Ms Ley said there is a responsibility on farmers and government to develop existing markets for chilled lamb in the countries that Australia sends live sheep to. Australia has strong trade relationships with the Middle East, it had a high quality product and Hallal-registered abattoirs, she said.
“So what we have to convince farmers and what they have to be convinced of is that there is still a market for the product that they produce, it’s just that it will be slaughtered here.”
Ms Ley believes Australia’s overall trade reputation could be damaged by the recent live sheep export footage.
“I don’t think we can hold our head high in the international community while we carry on this trade.
“I think there is every chance it could be damaged.”
Ms Ley said she is looking forward to speaking with industry leaders on the future of live exports.
“I don’t want to keep going in the direction I want to without doing that.”