Barnaby Joyce has issued a rallying call to defend Australia’s live export trade to a crowd of about 1000 farmers in Western Australia’s south, after footage showing heat-stressed and dying Australian sheep sparked a public backlash against the multi-million-dollar industry.
The Member for New England received a warm welcome in Katanning, about 280 kilometres south-east of Perth in Western Australia’s sheep farming heartland.
He said if recent threats to shut down the live sheep industry were successful, the “zealots” would then come for the live cattle industry and then the transport and poultry industry.
“What we’re up against, is like a religion,” Mr Joyce said.
“Zealotry. And they’re not going to stop with just the closure of the live export sheep game, that’s not where they stop. These people haven’t got a partial religion, they’ve got an absolute religion.”
Joyce is ‘not your friend’: MacTiernan
Multiple inquiries have been called into the live export trade in recent years.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud launched a review after the airing of footage earlier this year aboard an Emanuel Exports vessel bound for the Middle East showing sheep panting from heat stress and covered in excrement.
A total of 2,400 sheep eventually died on the voyage.
Recommendations from that review presented in May called for a major reduction in live sheep exports to the region during the dangerous hot months in the middle of the year.
A second review by the Federal Department of Agriculture is still underway into the live export trade, and the Federal Labor Party has called for it to be phased out.
At the rally, which attracted farmers from far reaches of the state, WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan accused Mr Joyce of hypocrisy, saying when he was the federal agriculture minister he removed important animal welfare protections in the industry.
She said he shut down the animal welfare unit and advisory body in the federal Department of Agriculture during his time at the helm.
“I just find this absolutely inconceivable, that this man who has overseen the destruction of this industry has the cheek to come here, unless he’s here to give an apology,” she said.
“I say to farmers: People like that are not your friend.
“You can come along here with a large hat and pretend you’re a farmer and pretend you’re the farmer’s friend, and not tell the truth.
“The truth is, that no-one from any political party can say hand-on-heart, 100 per cent, this industry is going to be here in five-to-seven years’ time.”
She said she would seek a “significant structural re-adjustment package” from the Federal Government if it made a decision to phase out the industry.
Lifeline for industry would come at higher cost
Meanwhile live export company Wellard has offered what would be a potential lifeline for WA farmers wanting to export sheep to the Middle East amid an industry in turmoil.
Wellard confirmed to the ABC’s PM program it has offered to transport tens of thousands of sheep currently stranded in a feedlot in Perth, but under stricter animal welfare conditions and at higher price.
The sheep were left stranded after embattled exporter Emanuel and its sister company EMS Rural Export had its licenses suspended by the federal regulator over animal welfare breaches.
Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) and Phoenix Exports have also voluntarily halted trade or suspended shipments.
A report by analysts Mercardo, commissioned by lobby group WAFarmers, earlier this year found sheep prices could decline by up to 35 per cent if a trade ban was implemented.
Australia’s reputation at risk: farmers
Colin Nicholl, who farms south-east of the WA Wheatbelt town of Hyden, said he would ordinarily be exporting livestock to the Middle East.
“That has stopped. We are now having to feed them and it’s been a very, very difficult season, there’s been very little pasture, paddock pasture for us,” Mr Nicholl said.
A proposal for local abattoirs to process more sheep was “just not the answer”, he added.
“We need to also be careful in the international stakes that we don’t be seen as unreliable suppliers of food and cutting off the food supply to any country is fraught with danger.”
Katanning farmer Kallum Blake agreed.
“If they do want to phase it out, you can’t shut it down overnight, I mean it’s going to break livelihoods,” Mr Blake said.
“We need a long-term goal. I mean we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years, we’ve reduced the amount of live sheep exported and those that are being exported have increased their welfare no end.
“If you give us another 15 years, the same thing will happen, but don’t try and do it overnight.”