AUSTRALIA’S live sheep export sector is prepared to fight the Federal Government in the courts to maintain the trade, according to exporter leader Mark Harvey-Sutton.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer told Sheep Central the industry is exploring all options to fight the government’s intention to phase the trade out.
“We will fight this policy whatever it takes and won’t rule out any options,” he said when asked if court action similar to that which ended the Indonesian cattle export ban should be considered.
When asked if the closed loop defense used to continue the cattle trade could be used by the sheep trade, Mr Harvey-Sutton said the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System is in place in all live export sheep markets.
“It’s a requirement and also an industry commitment and has had a demonstrable impact on animal welfare,” he said.
Mr Harvey Sutton’s comments come after ALEC led a delegation of peak industry bodies in a letter to Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt collectively opposing the policy to phase out livre sheep exports.
He said the signatories to the letter are the chairs and presidents of peak livestock bodies, national and state farming organisations.
“We have signed this letter as the policy is a whole of sector issue, not just a livestock exports issue.
“The policy represents a red line that cannot be crossed,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
“We will never support legitimate agricultural industries being closed for political reasons, or to suit activist agendas.”
The signatories of the industry letter said the trade phase-out is a “whole of sector issue and a dangerous and appalling precedent” and Mr Harvey-Sutton said this should be sufficient for Mr Watt and the ALP to change its mind on the issue.
“Yes, and it should; it is not just us saying it.
“This is a red line issue for Australian agriculture,” he said.
“Why should legitimate industries be shut down for political expediency?
“It’s alarming and all of agriculture is worried, no matter what assurances they receive.”
Mr Watt last month told Senate Estimates that the trade had lost its social licence and Western Australian Agriculture and Food Minister Jackie Jarvis’ recently failed to convince the minister to retain the trade.
But Mr Harvey-Sutton did not agree that the trade had lost the political battle to continue.
“We intend to put our case to the Federal Government that the trade should continue, because of its improvements, value to the supply chain and contribution to the Australian (and particularly Western Australian) economy.
“These facts support our case to both the Federal and Western Australian governments.”
On the value to the trade of the coming phase out consultation, Mr Harvey-Sutton said Mr Watt has committed to making the decision based on the evidence.
“Our case will be based on evidence that the policy is unnecessary and that a transition is not possible.”
Minister Watt expected to announce phase-out panel this morning
The RSPCA this morning said it welcomed the news of concrete next steps towards a phase out of live sheep export.
Specifically, the Federal Government is expected today to formally announce the independent panel that will determine how and when to phase out live sheep exports, and which will report back by September 2023, the RSPCA said.
Sheep Central has been told the panel to form the phase-out strategy will report back to Minister Watt by 30 September this year, and will not debate the policy. Mr Watt is expected to make the panel announcement in Perth this morning.
RSPCA Australia chief executive officer Richard Mussell said the panel is an appropriate and sensible move.
“It’s good to see the Government on track to setting an end date on this cruel and unfixable live sheep export trade.
“An independent panel, at arms-length from government, with a diversity of expertise – including animal welfare expertise – will be well-placed to advise the Government on how best to achieve a phase out,” he said.
“The question is not whether to phase out live sheep export – the Australian community and the Government decided that a long time ago – but how.
“We reiterate our call that the Government must legislate an end date during this term of Parliament,” Mr Mussell said.
“Putting legislation in place before 2025 is the only way to give Australian farmers certainty, to protect Australia’s reputation internationally, and to ensure that this cruel trade actually ends.”
He said the panel is due to report by September, which allows ample time for the Government to consider the panel’s findings and prepare legislation, to be introduced and passed before the next election.
“Today’s announcement is another step closer to ending live sheep export, which has deep, inherent and unfixable animal welfare issues.
“We look forward to supporting the Government throughout this process and to hearing the panel’s findings.”
Humane Society International ‘s head of campaigns Nicola Beynon said today’s announcement by Minister Watt is encouraging and HSI is pleased to see tangible action to finally end the horrors of live export.
“We look forward to the live export phase-out being swiftly legislated after the panel has reported.
“Every day that this outcome is delayed, is another day that sheep suffer on live export ships.”
Ms Beynon said the government is undertaking consultation to put in place a fair transition for industry.
“Governments are entitled to put in place policies which reflect public opinion, and the live export industry, with all of its associated animal suffering, lost public support a long time ago.
“We can’t see there being grounds for a court case.”
National Farmers Federation CEO Tony Mahar said he was not aware of an application to the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund to finance action supporting continuance of the trade.
“But I’d expect the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund (AFFF) would certainly consider one in this regard at the appropriate time.
“It’s important to remember though, the AFFF is governed by an Independent Board of Trustees with guidelines on what specific legal process it can fund and does not operate at the instruction of the NFF.”