THE Western Australian Government has called on the federal government to provide a financial assistance package of at least $10 million for the WA sheep industry in the wake of the independent regulator’s cancellation of Emanuel Exports’ licence.
The State Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan responded to the licence cancellation by saying it was probably the best outcome for the industry, and it wouldn’t have been made lightly.
Ms MacTiernan held a door stop press meeting on Wednesday where she welcomed the news of Emanuel Exports’ licence cancellation, and reaffirmed the position of the state government that the live sheep trade should have been paused until the end of the northern summer, when less risk was involved in transporting sheep out of a WA winter into the Middle Eastern heat.
She acknowledged, however, that the decision has left WA sheep producers in a difficult situation despite high sheep meat and wool prices.
Ms MacTiernan said the federal government needed to “come to the party” with financial assistance to counter the effect of market disruption and uncertainty caused to WA farmers, but also “to support farmers and processors through this adjustment”.
While there was no mention of financial support for livestock transporters, Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of WA president Andy Jacob said he commended the minister’s call for compensation and said any financial assistance should go to those in “the supply chain that are hurting the most”.
He said while there may be some farmers financially affected by the lack of sheep being exported over the past 10 weeks, “most transport companies would sit front and centre” in the need for assistance because many operators had been without work for months.
Ms MacTiernan said the consequences of the federal government’s actions and changes in the live export industry was “going to see a major reduction in the amount of live exports” from the State and there needed to be “a plan to help farmers make that adjustment to this new industry”.
She was quick to point the finger at Agriculture Minister David Littleproud as the one responsible for this issue, as she called for him to “come out of hiding” after his handling of the issues since the 60 Minutes footage of the Awassi Express aired in April.
“He can’t pass the buck on this - his government is to blame for this situation, and he has a responsibility to support WA farmers as they adjust to a new reality where they simply cannot rely on live exports,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan said since June she had repeatedly tried to communicate with the minister but it had not been reciprocated.
“In June this year when he made his announcements I contacted him and said I just don't think this is going to pan out well, I don't think this is going to work out as business as usual with Emanuels being in the field,” she said.
“We would really like to sit down and talk with (Mr Littleproud) about what we could do - how we could structure this - what are the immediate problems that we need to deal with.
“And the minister's view was there is no problem, I've got it all sorted, we don't need to talk to you.
“I think quite clearly the minister has not understood the complexity of this industry and was perhaps not politically experienced enough to understand how pear shaped this thing was going to go, and so he didn't feel that he had to talk to the State government.”
She said she had continued to write letters and tried and to get some response but “just as the WAFarmers and Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) have been unable to talk to him we haven't really had feedback from the submissions that we have made”.
She said the current situation was a consequence of five years of “maladministration by the Federal Government, where they dismantled the architecture of animal welfare within the department and they let this industry conduct itself in a way that has become unacceptable to the community”.
Ms MacTiernan said the $10 million could go towards some low interest loans to the processors, which would be on top of the $5 million that she has already announced from State funds for a further expansion of WAMMCO at Katanning.
She said the funds could help “really ramp up the chilled meat exports, and make sure that we have adequate infrastructure to do that”.
Other funds could go toward the research and development of a breeding program to better suit future needs of the industry, as well as towards helping “some farmers that might need some direct financial assistance”.
Ms MacTiernan said the McGowan Government supported any steps to weed out “dodgy live export operators and clean up the trade” and also attacked the PGA for its position on live exports.
“This decision would not have been made lightly and I think that those people that would be relying on a judicial review overturning that outcome are probably being unduly optimistic,” she said.
“There clearly have been massive issues at play here with this company.
“We just hope that the PGA start realising that their role is not just to be a spruiker for Emanuels, that they have a much more important duty and that is to the sheep farmers of this State.
“Their primary allegiance should not be to one particular live exporter who by their conduct has brought the whole industry into disrepute.”
PGA president Tony Seabrook appeared on the Perth's 6PR Breakfast show on Wednesday morning, prior to the minister's meeting, where he called the decision to cancel Emanuel Exports licence “gutless”, and that there would be “no winners” out of it.
Mr Seabrook said “this is gutless, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done it”.
“The last time they withdrew the permit from Emanuel, at the absolute last minute on a Friday night – the trucks were backed into the ranch, ready to load, because they believed they had permission to do that, and they just dropped it on the company at night time, at the last minute.
“This action, there are no winners, there’s not a single solitary winner in this, apart from perhaps the animal activists.
“Everybody loses, from the producers right through the supply chain, the stockies, the tyre suppliers, the fuel companies, rural communities, stock agents, the pellet supplies, and they’ve gone to ground and they won’t even talk to us about it.”
The Interviewer, Gareth Parker, said the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud had “declined to come on the program, saying it’s not a matter for him, it’s a matter for the independent regulator, his department”.
“The department says that there is no-one to comment, they’ve already put out a press release and that we should speak to the Minister’s office,” Mr Parker said.
“So there’s a complete vacuum.
“And the farmers, the regional communities, the State’s economy, the impacts, the plan – there isn’t one.
“This federal government has gone absolutely missing, and it’s a disgrace.”
Mr Seabrook said it was as though no one was taking any consideration of the implications of this particular decision and has called on the Minister to “sit down with the live exporters to work out what we need to do to get the trade working”.
“To sit back hiding behind… it’s in the hands of the regulator… is not the job of a Minister,” Mr Seabrook said.
“He ought to be involved here, and the fact that he won’t involve himself just shows that he has no capacity to understand what the issues are or knows anything about it.”
Mr Seabrook said the future of the trade needed to be negotiated “but over the last eight years, 99.24pc of all stock leaving Australia successfully arrived”.
“Our track record isn’t that bad,” he said.
“I would say to anyone that wants to ban it, 99.24pc including the Awassi Express and other events, isn’t a hell of a bad sort of a turnout.
“The value of this trade to WA, if we get it sorted out, brings enormous value to regional WA.
“The Gulf recognises the value of stock in Australia, because we’re the best – we provide the best stock, they want our stock and they’re prepared to pay a premium for it, and we can use that premium to make certain that we do it absolutely world’s best practice.
“We are now, but we can do it even better and we just need the community to stop believing the rubbish that’s being pedaled on TV, the myths and the lies, and actually pick up on the facts.”
Mr Seabrook said there were four companies that have been trading out of WA at a significant level, Emanuel Exports, Wellard, Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) and Harmony Agriculture and Food subsidiary Phoenix Exports.
“Wellards have been losing money hand over fist, which absolutely decries the Minister’s statement that they’ve been ripping farmers off and making a fortune,” he said.
“Wellards are almost out of it because they’ve been losing so much money.
“Harmony – Animals Australia have attacked them and written to their principals in China and told them they will come under unrelenting attack from animal rights activists if they have a go, so they’ve indicated they’re not prepared to take the risk.
“Emanuel we know about.
“It leaves only LSS as a company that can trade.
“They are a significant player but nowhere near the level of Emanuel.
“They are desperately trying to get some changes to the McCarthy report which would allow them to put stocking levels on the boat that will actually work for them.”
LSS has submitted an intent to export in September - but their customers are in Turkey, Jordan and Oman, not in the Persian Gulf.