A COLLECTIVE of 23 agricultural groups has written to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese today warning that his Government’s policy to ban live sheep exports will cause “irreversible harm” to Australia’s agricultural sector, rural communities and overseas trade relationships without scientific basis.
The letter has been co-signed by groups from across the Australian agricultural sector including the National Farmers Federation, Sheep Producers Australia, Wool Producers Australia, all mainland State Farm Organisations, Cattle Australia, Goat Industry Council of Australia, Grain Producers Australia, the Australian Lot Feeders Association, Australian Dairy Farmers and the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association and State based livestock export representative bodies.
The ban will not only cause “significant damage” but it will also be an “abject failure” because markets will continue to source live sheep from countries that do not have the same animal welfare standards as Australia.
Today’s letter follows a similar letter written to Agriculture Minister Murray Watt in March, which identified live sheep exports as a “red line issue” for the entire agricultural sector, and advised that “the only outcome that would be acceptable” to Australian agriculture was a reversal of the policy.
That letter was a “request for Mr Albanese’s Government to listen”.
“But we have not been heard,” today’s letter states.
“The simple fact is a phase out will cause significant damage that was not even remotely considered when the Australian Labor Party developed the policy to phase out the live export of sheep by sea,” the letter says.
The move to contact the Prime Minister directly comes as sheep prices collapse around Australia, with reports of Merino lambs making as little as $2-$3 in some sales and increasing numbers of sheep being labelled as “NCV” (no commercial value).
WA premier rejects suggestion ban is affecting current prices
In WA parliament last week Nationals deputy leader Peter Rundle raised “grave concerns” about a potential looming crisis with sheep prices falling $150 a head last year to just $5 for similar stock now.
Producers were grappling with a loss of confidence and the inability to find markets due to federal Labor’s impending live export ban, he said.
Premier Roger Cook responded by saying it was “complete and utter nonsense” to link falling sheep prices today with a ban which “may or may not” occur until 2027 or 2028.
There were no current restrictions on the export of live sheep, he said, adding that the decline in sheep prices started “well before” the federal government’s announcement on live sheep exports.
“In 2016 the price was 201c a kilo. It then went up to 419c a kilo in 2018, and it is now down to 241c a kilo in 2023,” the Premier said.
“We understand that there will continue to be fluctuations in the price, and we understand that that will continue to have an impact on farmers.”
Mr Rundle said the premier was “way off the track” and urged him to “get on the phone” to Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to explain the “dire situation for WA sheep producers and engage in crisis talks”.
Mr Cook replied that “we empathise and sympathise, and we understand that that is putting pressure on farmers”, but repeated that it was “complete nonsense” to blame “fluctuations of a market” on something that may not to place for another three or four years.
The complete letter sent to the Prime Minister today reads as follows:
Dear Prime Minister,
Phase-out of live sheep exports by sea
Live export stakeholders are losing confidence in your government’s ability to work in their best interests and those of the Australian agriculture sector, rural and regional communities that depend on the live sheep export trade.
The decision to phase out the live export of sheep by sea will not only cause irreversible harm to our sector but also to Australia’s trade and diplomatic partnerships in the Middle East.
On 1 March 2023 we wrote to Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, advising that the commitment to phase out live sheep exports was a red line issue for the entire agricultural sector and the only outcome that would be acceptable is a reversal of the policy.
This letter was a request for your Government to listen – but we have not been heard.
We urge you to reconsider.
Today, Australia are the world leaders in the export of live sheep by sea.
Banning sheep live exports from Australia will alter supply dynamics, however it will not change global demand.
To meet religious and cultural requirements, markets will continue to source live sheep from countries that do not have the same animal welfare standards, so if the decision is being made on the grounds of improving animal welfare, the ban will be an abject failure.
Your Government’s appointed Independent panel Chair, Mr Phillip Glyde, is quoted as saying: “…clearly this sort of policy change will adversely affect industry, so how do we make the best of it.”
The simple fact is a phase out will cause significant damage that was not even remotely considered when the Australian Labor Party developed the policy to phase out the live export of sheep by sea.
While the panel has only been asked to provide recommendations on how to implement the policy, Mr Glyde’s comments highlight the sheer magnitude of adverse effects that the implementation of your government’s policy will have.
The stated and likely reversal of this decision by the conservative side of politics should they gain government, will make the ban not only pointless, but a very expensive and disruptive process for no gain.
Middle Eastern countries reliant on Australian live sheep exports are critical to diversify Australia’s trading partnerships. They are crucial investors in Australia’s future prosperity, and we have seen a twenty-fold increase in two-way investment in the past 20 years. The phase out policy will jeopardise trade deals Australia is pursuing in the region and will erode our reputation as a reliable economic partner.
Domestically the fallout associated with the policy announcement is already occurring with a devastating collapse in producer confidence and the sheep industry – not just in Western Australia, but nationally.
National rural confidence has recently dropped to one of the lowest levels in two decades.
More than half of Australian producers expect the agricultural economy to worsen over the next 12 months.
Sustainable sheep and wool industries are the cornerstone of many regional economies. If people are forced to leave these industries, regional communities will be devastated.
This policy will cause harm. It will hurt Australian families and damage Australia’s international standing as a reliable supplier of food and fibre and a trusted trading partner.
We simply cannot support or reconcile logic without scientific basis of the phase out of a legitimate world-leading industry for purely domestic political purposes, and therefore cannot accept anything less than a policy reversal.
No doubt there will be activist groups and non-farming interests urging you to stay the course on this policy.
An opportunity exists for you to do the right thing and work with Australian agriculture, not against it – as this is the choice you will be making.
The Australian Government must support Australia’s global leadership on animal welfare and at the same time reinforce the point that long standing international friendships in the national interests are important.
We are the voices of Australian Agriculture. We need you and your Government to listen to us.
The signatories of the letters are listed as:
David Galvin, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council
Fiona Simson, National Farmers Federation
John Hassell, WA Farmers
Tony Seabrook, Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA
Andrew Spencer, Sheep Producers Australia
Steve Harrison, Wool Producers Australia
David Foote, Cattle Australia
John Falkenhagen, Goat Industry Council of Australia
Barb Madden, Australian Lot Feeders Association
Peter Baldwin, Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association
Georgie Somerset, AgForce
Barry Large, Grain Producers Australia
Rick Gladigau, Australian Dairy Farmers
David Connolly, Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association
Bron Christensen, Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association
Joe Keynes, Livestock SA
Xavier Martin, NSW Farmers Association
Emma Germano, Victorian Farmers Federation
John Cunnington, West Australian Livestock Exporters Association
Greg Pankhurst, Queensland Livestock Exporters Association
Jim Teasdale, South East Australian Livestock Association
Holly Ludeman, The Livestock Collective
Ken Vowles, Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association