Live sheep phase-out will expand processing sector, Ag Minister tells AMIC conference

Beef Central, 06/11/2023

THE Federal Government is committed to seeing through its pledged phase out of live sheep exports, Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt told AMIC’s Meat Processing and Export Conference at the Gold Coast last week, saying the move will expand opportunities for Australia’s meat processing sector.

The recently-achieved harmonisation of shelf-life standards for beef to 120 days and sheep and goat meat to 90 days across Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations of the Middle East – comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – would also open the door to more exports of chilled meat by sea, he said.

“The volume of sheep meat exports to the Middle East is already growing back to the heady days before the last drought and this change will lead to even more opportunities.

“This is also important for the implementation of the government’s commitment – taken to the last two elections – to phase out the live export of sheep by sea.

“I’m a firm believer in following through on your promises and the Albanese Government will see this through.

“But we have also promised to do it in an orderly and considered way, that has the least impact on Western Australian producers.

“In recent years, we’ve already seen the decline of live exports, alongside a massive expansion of sheep meat exports – including to the Middle East.

“I’m confident this policy will actually create even more opportunities for value adding in Australia, by lifting the proportion of sheep slaughtered onshore even higher.

“Which is good news for processors in the west, as thousands more head of sheep are sent to local abattoirs.

“In fact many processors, including WAMMCO and Minerva, have already indicated they intend to expand their operations to meet this demand in the coming years.”

He said there were constraints and issues that need to be dealt with, namely labour and housing.

“And that’s why we’ve said we’ll take the time to properly implement this policy.

“We will work through the recommendations of the report I received last week from the independent panel advising on our commitment, and we will work with you to implement them.”

Minister Watt said food processing was Australia’s largest form of manufacturing, and meat processing was the sector’s largest component.

All must share biosecurity costs

Mr Watt also discussed recent changes to biosecurity funding, saying it was up to all to share the responsibility.

Under new arrangements around 90 percent of biosecurity will be funded in broadly equal amounts by taxpayers and importers.

“As of 1 July 2023, these mechanisms are now in place, delivering a structural shift in how biosecurity is resourced.

“And from 1 July next year, we will also introduce a new biosecurity protection levy on producers, which seeks a mere 6 percent contribution – or around $50 million per year – of total biosecurity funding from primary producers. A small fraction of the additional costs now falling on importers and general taxpayers.”

“I acknowledge that many primary producers already invest in the biosecurity system through on-farm biosecurity and producers also support Australia’s biosecurity system through existing levies. Taxpayers and importers also do a lot.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility, and I think that includes contributing to the cost of safeguarding our country from the plant and animal diseases which would wipe out this entire sector.”

Measures to increase workforce

Touching on workforce challenges, he said last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit led to the formation of a tripartite Agricultural Workforce Working Group, which brought government, employer groups and unions together.

A number of measures have since been introduced to help locals build careers in the ag sector including:

  • The Government funding over 13,000 Fee-Free TAFE places for locals to build their skills in agriculture courses;
  • Ensuring there are 18 certificates and advanced diplomas on the apprenticeship priority list related to meat processing, meat safety, quality assurance and retailing;
  • Agreeing on the principles that should underpin national labour hire licensing, to give workers greater protection against exploitation; and
  • successfully advocating for a national Food Supply Chain Capacity Study, and the development of a new Ag Trade Apprenticeship.

He said the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme was also “reaching new heights”, with the number of PALM workers in Australia reaching a record of over 38,000 on September 30, 2023, with over 10,000 working in meat processing.

The PALM scheme was helping meet unskilled, low-skilled, and semi-skilled workforce shortages throughout Australia, while delivering valuable income to the Pacific workers who participate.

Changes requested by industry meant that from May this year, processors in urban areas can also apply to recruit and employ PALM scheme workers to fill crucial gaps.

Minister Watt said the Government was also moving to improve worker conditions and pay, most notably by seeking to close the labour hire loopholes that undercut pay and conditions for workers.

“We don’t think it’s fair that workers can be paid lower rates and conditions, for doing the same work, just because they are engaged via labour hire.”

The Albanese Government had also lifted the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold, or TSMIT, from $53,900 to $70,000 in July, after a decade of it having been “frozen in place”.

“I acknowledge that these measures do not have universal support,” he said.

“But we were elected on a platform of getting wages moving again, after ten years of wage stagnation, and at a time of cost of living pressures, Australian workers are depending on us to deliver.

“And through the work of the Agriculture Workforce Working Group, we are doing everything possible to deliver industry the local, PALM and other overseas workers you need.”

Livestock and meat pricing discrepancies to come under scrutiny

Discrepancies between low saleyard livestock prices and high retail meat prices will come under scrutiny in the Federal Government’s Food and Grocery Code of Conduct review, Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt also told last week’s AMIC Meat Processing and Export Conference.

“While we are beginning to see meat prices fall at the supermarket, consumers are understandably asking why there is such a discrepancy between the prices they are paying and those farmers are receiving,” Mr Watt said.

“And issues like that are exactly what will be considered in the government’s recently announced review into the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct.

“That review will examine the level of transparency in the dealings between retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.

“Something we all have an interest in – and I encourage you to get involved.

“But importantly supermarkets don’t have to wait until that review is finalised to do the right thing – farmers, consumers, processors and retailers all have an interest in fair prices and fair commercial dealings.”




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  1. Frank Schubert, 09/11/2023

    There are labour shortages already.

    The abattoirs cannot keep up with existing sheep numbers despite still having live exports in place.

    So all poly speak.

  2. Lee-Ann Dring, 08/11/2023

    Generally farmers by nature are resilient & optimistic. We have to be in order to survive the many challenges that our industry & Mother Nature throws at us. However, as a 5th generation W.A livestock producer with a daughter recently returned home to work the farm, I have never been so concerned for the future of our sheep industry & for our farming communities. It is not the weather nor even the fluctuations in markets that are the greatest threats to our futures but rather the sheer ignorance of a government that gives only lip service to understanding & supporting Australian farmers. Shame on you Minister Watts. History will not judge you nor the Labour Party well.

  3. Leanne Currans, 08/11/2023

    God help farmers,with this government and this Ag minister in power.

    I hope Australians are getting prepared to import all their meat.

    Good healthy Australian meat will soon be a thing of the past

  4. D passmore, 08/11/2023

    Live trade numbers down due to 2019 east coast drought restocking
    I hope all are prepared for the moment the labor govt set a date for the end of the trade that gives the green light for one of the biggest class actions this country has ever seen

  5. paul rose, 07/11/2023

    As a person who has been involved with The meat industry as a Commonwealth meat inspector for over 40 years both here and NZ I think that this needs to come sooner than later but safeguards need to be put in place to protect the producer because price gouging was common practice before Live exports started and here on the west farmers got a raw deal especially during drought times

  6. Glen, 07/11/2023

    Watt has no idea about agriculture. As for increasing processing, only in his dreams as it is too costly to process stock here. Also where WA exports live sheep there is a shortage of refrigeration capacity and there are also cultural and religious reasons.

  7. Peter Shewring, 07/11/2023

    Make sense having the seminar in Queensland when, 90 plus percent of live trade is in Western Australia.

    • Ashley James, 13/11/2023

      It’s safer for him to say this on the other side of the country, gutless!

  8. Fenella Sept, 07/11/2023

    Minister Watt. You are the worst agriculture MP Australia has had. You do not listen to the people in this world class trade. Australia has the highest standards in the world. Increasing processing is a joke. We do not have enough labour. Although you reckon you will address this and the housing problem, it won’t work. Why fix something if it ain’t broke?
    Too bad you don’t read these comments.

  9. William Escott, 07/11/2023

    With higher wages, more levies, it’s going to push meat prices up, not down. The likely hood of our producers getting more money for thier stock, is unlikely.
    Who’s Murray Watts trying to fool.

  10. William Escott, 07/11/2023

    Currently there are too many middle men involve taking unreasonable profits. Unions wage demands are unrealistic. The government won’t stop this, it’s all a rort.

  11. Ruth Doran., 07/11/2023

    Time for action!

  12. Paul Franks, 06/11/2023

    Murray Watt can say whatever he likes about the future after the live sheep export ban, because it is no skin of his or any other Labor MP’s noses. The government are going to ban it because the inner city/affluent leafy suburb electorates Labor holds is threatened by the Greens, and by banning live export it may sway some voters to stick with voting Labor over moving to vote Greens.

    Labor politicians do not care about the welfare of people that are not going to vote for them, it is all about keeping their own political jobs safe.

  13. DAVID MCKENZIE, 06/11/2023

    “But we have also promised to do it in an orderly and considered way, that has the least impact on Western Australian producers.”
    By all reports, this statement is a very long way from reality

  14. Geoff Maynard, 06/11/2023

    So international processors will benifit from more supply of sheep ,
    Foreign meat workers get a pay rise from 53k to 70k , even though we had the highest processing wages in the world previously , and the only ones missing out is the Australian producers , who currently a get a few cents per kilogram live for sheep .
    And that’s a good thing ?

    Live stock or laughing stock . ?

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