Live Export

Farm body leaders walk out on Watt over 2028 sheep trade phaseout

Terry Sim, 15/05/2024

AUSTRALIAN farmer, live export and sheep sector leaders walked out on Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt at the CropLife agricultural industry budget breakfast in Canberra this morning in protest at the Albanese Government’s proposed phaseout of the live sheep trade by 2028.

The National Farmers’ Federation and peak farm body leaders walked out during the address of Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt at the National Press Club.

The NFF said the protest demonstrated to the minister he had “crossed a line by announcing a radical four-year timeline to banning live sheep exports on Saturday.”

The walkout group members, wearing #KeepTheSheep t-shirts included National Farmers’ Federation president, David Jochinke, WA Farmers president, John Hassell, Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton, AgForce Queensland CEO, Mike Guerin, NSW Farmers president, Xavier Martin, Sheep Producers Australia CEO, Bonnie Skinner and Wool Producers Australia CEO Jo Hall.

The walkout began after Mr Watt began to speak about Saturday’s live sheep trade phaseout announcement, alluding to it as the most obvious example of disagreement on improving sustainability in the ag sector.

At this, the ag body leaders began filing from the room and Mr Watt commented:

“Just as well I didn’t talk about it early in the speech!”

As NSW Farmers president walked past the minister wearing a #KeepTheSheep t-shirt, telling Mr Watt his decision to ban live sheep was “absolutely shameful”, Mr Watt said:

“Thanks for your opinion Xavier.”

Mr Jochinke said: “We turned our back to the Minister just like he turned his back on farmers.”

“The walkout represents what this government did to agriculture when it pursued this ideological agenda, disregarding the real-world implications this ban will have on farmers, communities, our trading relationships and animal welfare outcomes.

“It appears this government listens to activists over agricultural experts and farmers. Perhaps if we start behaving like activists it might listen to us,” he said.

WoolProducers Australia CEO Jo Hall said the walkout represented a show of strength and unity from the agriculture sector.

“It was demonstrating to Mr Watt the level of respect that he has shown us as a sector.”

Mr Jochinke said overseas farmers are taking to the streets to rebel against governments who won’t listen.

“We don’t want that here, but is that what our leaders want?

“We are putting this government on notice,” he said.

“We are only just getting warmed up. There’s plenty of fight in farmers.”

Mr Jochinke said it was imperative to make a stand for the thousands of people and small businesses the trade ban would impact, but it was also much bigger than just the live sheep export trade.

“This week the Government has cancelled a viable and important industry, what industry will be next on the chopping block?

“We know the calls are already ramping up for cattle to follow suit, but what if a vocal minority decides it doesn’t like apples or cotton or dairy?” he said.

“We will fight this decision tooth and nail.

“Agricultural policy must be built on evidence, science and listening to farmers, not ideology and inner city vote grabbing.”

Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud said the chaotic scenes were embarrassing and of Labor’s own making, “after Minister Watt had left the industry with no confidence in the Budget and committed to phasing out the live sheep export industry, destroying 3000 livelihoods in the process.”

Mr Littleproud said he was dismayed that instead of listening, Minister Watt joked about the topic, telling the audience, “just as well I didn’t talk about it earlier in the speech”.

“Australia’s farmers are in despair and desperate for help but they are getting treated with contempt by an out-of-touch Labor Government and an Agriculture Minister who couldn’t give a rats about the industry,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The walk-out this morning by our nation’s farmers – those who clothe and feed us – was an act of frustration and a reaction to a Government who won’t listen and doesn’t understand how agriculture works.”

After the breakfast Mr Watt told Sheep Central that while a handful of NFF leadership and their staff walked out, a couple of hundred ag leaders – including many NFF members – stayed to hear about the government’s $5 billion investment in agriculture in last night’s budget.

“I met with the CEO and president of the NFF yesterday where they wanted to talk about projects we could work on together going forward, so I’m not too concerned about their stunts,” the minister said.

“It wasn’t that long ago former Ag Minister David Littleproud was calling the NFF ‘ignorant’ and ‘sideline critics’ when he was in government.”

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