LIBERTARIANS have reacted rapidly to former federal cabinet minister Sussan Ley’s public plea this week to ban live exports.
NSW Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm said his party would be running a candidate in Ms Ley’s rural NSW seat of Farrer at the next Federal election, saying her call to ban live sheep exports was “reprehensible” to farmers.
Senator Leyonhjelm issued a statement saying the sitting member’s call, which came after 60 Minutes broadcast video footage taken by a whistle-blower of sheep suffering heat stress on shipments to the Middle East at the weekend showed an “appalling lack of support for the thousands of farmers in her electorate”.
He said ending all live sheep exports would severely affect the region’s annual $200 million sheep and lamb industry.
“No one is disputing that the footage broadcast in the media this week showing the suffering and death of thousands of sheep at the hands of Emanuel Exports was horrific and unacceptable,” the veterinarian said.
“But we know from previous experience just how devastating a government ban on live export can be to Australian farming communities.
“The 2011 six-month ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia cost the industry an estimated $600 million.
“Sheep farmers know there are other ways to ensure adequate animal welfare without closing down the entire live export industry - a move that would affect the entire sheep meat market in NSW.
“For an MP to call for such irrational measures to be taken against the constituents who elected her to represent their interests is reprehensible.”
Senator Leyonhjelm said his party had started ae process of pre-selecting a candidate for Farrer.
Ms Ley broke ranks with the Coalition government’s policy on live exports this week saying it was time to pick a date for all live exports to end, starting with sheep exports.
Prior to the 60 Minutes broadcast, federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud pledged there would be no ‘knee-jerk’ response to the latest live exports issue, but promised to take action against exporters to deal with animal welfare breaches, in the supply chain.
He issued a statement in response to Ms Ley’s calls saying the Coalition government condemns cruelty to animals and takes animal welfare very seriously, but a ban on the whole industry would only punish those exporters and farmers who have done no wrong.
The 60 Minutes broadcast focussed largely on the Emanuel Exports shipment of August 2017 where 2400 sheep died – a 3.7 per cent mortality rate – due to heat stress, at an extreme time in the Middle Eastern summer.
In 2017, Australia’s live sheep exports, of close to 2 million head, reached $249 million but that only represents about 10pc of total sheep and sheepmeat exports value in aggregate.
However, WA is the nation’s largest exporter of live sheep accounting for more than 85pc of the total volume.
WA rural Liberal MP and Katanning farmer Rick Wilson said he was open to looking at tougher shipping time-frames, rather than backing Ms Ley’s view.
“I think perhaps we could look at restricting shipments in the July through September period for vessels that don't have the most up to date ventilation systems,” he said.
“Incidents like this put the entire trade at risk - we need to act expeditiously to ensure that it doesn't happen again.”
Other Coalition rural MPs declined to comment on their colleague’s calls, to have live exports banned, starting with an end date for sheep exports.
Analysis by the Australian Farm Institute this week rejected suggestions that there was no economic disadvantage to the national economy or farmers, in banning the trade.
“Comprehensive economic modelling by ABARES and the Centre for International Economics demonstrated that a cessation of livestock exports would impose a gross annual cost of about $300 million on livestock farmers Australia-wide and would only generate around $100m in extra revenue for the meat processing sector,” it said.
“Live export is a significant economic contributor to Australian agriculture worth approximately $1.8 billion annually in farmgate returns.”
Ms Ley told Fairfax Media her views were sparked by frustrations with exporters involving live sheep shipments to the Middle East which dated back to an incident in 2003 during former John Howard and then Agriculture Minister Warren Truss’ era, involving the Cormo Express.
That shipment was rejected by its intended markets and stranded at sea for an extended period resulting in thousands of sheep deaths and triggering a parliamentary inquiry that led to implementation of some reforms.
“We have been promised since then – so the entire time I’ve been a member of parliament I’ve been listening to these promises and I’ve heard enough and I actually don’t trust the exporters,” she said.
“It seems the supply chain will always produce these types of events because the industry’s had too many chances to clean up its act and I don’t even know if it’s possible to clean up their act.
“Australia won’t be able to hold its ‘head high’ in the international community on a range of rural issues if we continue our live sheep export trade to the Middle East, for a variety of reasons.
“I’m pleased with the steps that the Agriculture Minister has taken and they’re good sensible steps (in response to 60 Minutes broadcast) but I would go further by setting date by which we announce, with industry, with farmers, not cutting anyone off at the knees in terms of their business enterprise and their investments - doing it properly - that we will actually be a country that doesn’t have live exports anymore.”
Ms Ley said “as a country we need to say we will phase out live exports full stop – not say here there, seasons, up, down (but) pick a point in the future”.
“I’m not picking a date – that wouldn’t be fair to farmers who deserve our absolute support,” she said.
However, Ms Ley said she preferred the phase-out to be on sheep exports, “at this stage”.
“The issue with cattle exports is quite different because the housing is different but the crowding of the sheep and the animal welfare issues on board the ships are I think seen in a much starker reflection,” she said.
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