The suspension of Australia’s largest sheep exporter’s licence is a “major setback” for the industry that could put jobs and Australia’s reputation in the global market as a reliable supplier at risk, West Australian farmers have warned.
Earlier this year, pictures of dead and heat-stressed sheep aboard the company’s shipment to the Middle East sparked public outrage, leading the Government to review the live export trade.
Last month, the Department of Agriculture sent a show-cause notice to Emanuel Exports and the company responded with a 30-page statement, saying it would “cooperate fully with the department in its review”.
But farmers said the suspension of Emanuel Exports would take a toll.
Scott Pickering from Stud Merino Breeders’ Association said West Australian farmers relied heavily on the live export industry.
“[It’s a] sad day for the industry; no-one condones what happened on those boats – it’s all subject to conjecture – but at the end of the day it has taken a major player out of our industry,” he said.
“We’re rebuilding an industry with record wool prices and meat prices, and to see something like this is a major setback.”
He said the suspension of Emanuel Exports’ licence had already affected the market.
“The trouble is, unlike other states, we do need live export because we haven’t got the markets to unload our sheep,” he said.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia (PGA) also hit out at the decision.
PGA president Tony Seabrook said the move would affect jobs throughout the industry, both regionally and in cities, and put Australia’s reputation in the agricultural market at risk.
“This sends a very, very dangerous signal to the Middle East and to the clients that buy our stock, and there will be repercussions — and at the end of the day the person who will pay the price is the primary producer,” he said.
“We have a clear obligation to make certain that animals are treated fairly, but it’s the implications in our market place — to become an unreliable supplier is not a place you need to be.”
He said the agriculture industry was having to sustain itself against intense outside pressure.
“The trade is under an enormous amount of attack from a huge number of different directions, and this is just one extra blow you know it just didn’t need to take,” he said.
WA Nationals MP Terry Redman said Western Australia would face serious economic problems without the export business.
“We are a strongly export-focused state and if you didn’t have that, then you would have some serious issues,” he said.
Necessary step for industry to survive
On Friday, the Agriculture Department said live export laws included strict requirements to ensure the health and welfare of animals.
“It is the responsibility of each exporter to ensure it meets those obligations. The department takes those responsibilities very seriously,” it said in a statement.
WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said her Government’s action prompted the Federal Government to suspend the licence, and said the State Government had been investigating claims against Emanuel Exports since February.
“The fact that we have been very firm on our insistence that this matter be dealt with properly has prompted the Federal Government to act responsibly,” she said.
“Now obviously they’ve come to the same view and I think this is a necessary step to maintain any capability for this industry to survive.”
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, who arrived in Perth on Thursday, said she hoped to inspect Emanuel Exports facilities.
“I had meetings with them in my office this week and I was invited to come over to actually have a look at the facilities — it is a big issue with the live sheep export and that’s why I’m also here,” she said.
“No way in the wide world do we support any cruelty to animals, but the whole fact is that I think if you’re going to make decisions on this, and legislation is coming up before the Parliament, it’s being responsible to actually get involved and have a look at the facilities.”