WAFARMERS will ask Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to abandon the proposed phase-out of live sheep exports, or risk a political backlash in marginal seats in Western Australia and other states.
WAFarmers president John Hassell said the farmer body has written to Mr Albanese requesting a meeting with the two leaders when Federal Cabinet meets in Perth next month.
In his letter to the federal leaders, Mr Hassell said WAFarmers would welcome the opportunity to meet to discuss the future of the state’s sheep industry along with recent changes to national biosecurity funding arrangements that will be largely carried by Western Australian grain growers.
“We need to be able to look him (Mr Albanese) in the eye and tell him exactly what this (proposed live sheep trade closure) is doing to the industry – this is going to affect the livestock transporters association, the shearing industry association, WAFarmers, PGA, the Grains Group – it’s a grains issue as well,” Mr Hassell said.
“We need to look him in the eye and see what he is doing to the industry and say ‘we need you to reverse your decision,” he said.
Referring to the Albanese Government’s recent decision to rework proposed stage three tax cuts, Mr Hassell said Mr Albanese seems amenable to reversing some decisions when it is expedient to do so.
“The reality is we’re going to say to him if you don’t change it, we’re going to have to get political; that’s the gist of it.
“We’re supposed to be apolitical and we’ve tried very hard to be apolitical and they have made it political,” he said.
“So it is giving us no choice; we’re going to have to fight fire with fire.”
Mr Hassell said he had spoken to NSW Farmers and the body is prepared to also lobby in some NSW seats in the next Federal election.
“The interesting thing is that Western Australian is a bellwether state and this is why this is so attainable for us.
“Five seats rolled from Liberal to Labor and Independents at the last federal election,” he said.
“They are very marginal seats and we know from the RedBridge polling that there is fairly strong community support for the live sheep trade, so if Mr Albanese doesn’t want to play the game nicely then we will play it their way, which is politically.”
ALEC weighs in on stage three tax cut precedent
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council also today urged the Albanese Government to reconsider live sheep ban in light of its stage three tax ‘turnaround.’
An ALEC statement today reminded the Albanese Government that fairness doesn’t only apply to taxation. It noted the government’s ‘backflip’ on the stage three tax cuts and reminded it there is another area where a reconsideration of policy is needed: reversing the planned phaseout of Australian live sheep exports by sea.
ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said the Federal Government should change its mind on the live sheep trade.
“Minister Watt has said throughout this process that he can’t change his mind on this commitment because the party took it to two Federal elections.
“I can’t think of an election commitment that has been more heavily reinforced by this Government than its commitment to stage three tax cuts,” he said.
“The Prime Minister’s announcement today proves that election commitments can be modified when the facts change and it benefits the majority of Australians – not just a select few.
“We know that the Government’s policy to phase out live sheep exports is going to harm many Western Australians,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
“We know the policy is only to placate a noisy minority, who don’t mind bending the truth in pursuit of their aims – activists that care nothing for the farmers and rural communities, nor the markets in need of food security they will hurt.
“We also know that the facts have changed since Labor made its commitment in 2018 – the industry has reformed and is achieving record animal welfare outcomes, demand is booming with live sheep exports up forty per cent and Saudi Arabia recently reopening for trade,” he said.
“The Government cannot continue to ignore the thousands of farmers in Western Australia who have explained the damage the policy will do.
“The stage three tax cuts decision shows that election commitments can change when the facts change,” he said.
“The Albanese Government has now run out of excuses to maintain its live sheep phaseout commitment. It’s only fair this policy is reversed to keep farmers farming.”
Farmers world-wide flexing their political power
Mr Hassell said he believes the ALP decision to phase out the live sheep trade was part of preference deals between the Labor Party and the Animal Justice Party in some seats, but has not been able to confirm this.
“Whatever the reason, they’ve done a preference deal with the Animal Justice Party and the Greens in certain seats – I do believe that was done in the last election.
“We’ve tried very hard to confirm it and we haven’t found any evidence of it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Mr Hassell said Dutch farmers have formed their own political party in Holland, gaining 16 seats in their legislature and Irish farmers are also forming their own party.
“There are protests in Holland, Belgium, Italy, Ireland and Germany – this is a bit of world-wide push and the farmers are getting traction and I think Mr Albanese needs to take notice.”
Mr Hassell said he is trying very hard to be apolitical about the live sheep phaseout and is trying to give the Albanese Government the opportunity to “do the right thing.”
“The reality is if they don’t do the right thing then we are going to have to come out and go political.”
Mr Hassell said WA Liberal politician Rick Wilson has indicated he is willing to support political action on live exports during the next election.
The Federal Government has indicated it has received the WAFarmers letter, but has not yet given an answer on a meeting.