Transcript - Doorstop - Canberra - Wednesday, 16 May

SUBJECTS: Government’s delay in releasing McCarthy Review into northern summer live sheep exports,  Transition away from live sheep export trade, land clearing laws.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Despite all the feigned anger and promises of swift action, five weeks on from the horrendous 60 Minutes footage, nothing has changed in the live sheep trade and no change appears on the horizon. Malcolm Turnbull said he wanted to take a science based approach to this very large issue. Well, the science is in apparently and it is time Malcolm Turnbull acted. Malcolm Turnbull is weak and he lacks authority. Malcolm Turnbull is more interested in saving himself than saving the sheep. The very least he can do for all those who travelled to Canberra today for the release of the McCarthy Report and for the Government’s response is to release the McCarthy Report into the northern summer sheep trade today.

There should be no opportunity for the Government to change the independent Report. The Report is what it is. And I’m pretty sure we know what it says and that is, if it is consistent with the Australian Veterinary Association’s Report, that it is not possible to continue to ship 60,000 sheep or more for many weeks on end to some of the hottest parts of the world and expect at the same time that you can meet community expectations and our expectations on animal welfare issues. Malcolm Turnbull is leading a dysfunctional and divided Government. Last night Minister Littleproud was obviously rolled in the Cabinet. He was expecting a result and that’s why he invited farmers and animal welfare groups here this morning. But he was rolled because his Prime Minister has no leadership and no authority in his own party.

JOURNALIST: Reports are now it is meant to come out tomorrow. Has that surprised you that there has been a change overnight again?

FITZGIBBON: Well I didn’t know there has been another change and that the Report is out tomorrow. I assume it’s the Report and no Government response. If there is no Government response with the Report, if and when it is released tomorrow, then the uncertainty will continue. We are now basically into the northern summer, ships are leaving port as we speak. The Government has had five weeks to ensure or guarantee animal welfare standards. Tomorrow we don’t just need a Report, we need a Government response. But certainly we should get the Report because it is supposed to be an independent Report and the Australian community is entitled to see what that report says.

JOURNALIST: If the Report recommends a big reduction in what happens during the northern summer and the Government adopts that, would you then welcome that policy from the Government?

FITZGIBBON: We will take a serious look at what the Report says and will see how consistent, if at all it is with the Report of the Australian Veterinary Association, but the important thing here is that in recent weeks the export trade itself has admitted it cannot guarantee decent animal welfare standards on those long voyages in the northern summer.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor prepared to extend their policy of stopping exports beyond just sheep or will it be limited to just sheep?

FITZGIBBON: No there was a lot of fuss about the 2011 suspension, when a Labor Government suspended for a relatively short period the trade to Indonesia. That cause was very difficult but it provided us with an opportunity to put the cattle trade on a sustainable footing. It is on a sustainable footing and it has our support.  We of course will always expect the highest of animal welfare standards, but the cattle industry has been delivering on those standards. 

JOURNALIST:  The concerns you have flagged, the issues you have been raising have been long held by industry, why didn’t Labor look to phase out this out when it was in power?

FITZGIBBON: Labor did lots on animal welfare when it was in power, indeed we commissioned the review of the ASEL standards, that is the standards which are imposed between farm-gate and the point of disembark in another country.  Now we signed off on the review of those standards in 2013.  Barnaby Joyce decided he would give the industry an unconditional pass and not worry about the review of those standards.  As a consequence, the review has recently been kicked off but it will not report until the middle of 2019.  That is too long.  Labor repeats our view that there is no long term future for the live export trade.  We need an orderly transition to a more value adding approach, creating more jobs here in Australia.

JOURNALIST:  Animal welfare groups are chipping in about $1 million to create a farmer support fund to phase out the industry, would your government chip in money to that fund as well?

FITZGIBBON:  I think it is great that animal welfare groups are putting their money where their mouth is, and chipping in money as a contribution to making this orderly transition for farmers but there is no question that farmers can emerge from this transition in better economic shape than they are relying on this trade. It is cruel to animals, and of course has no real, long term future. 

JOURNALIST:  Now a couple of non live export ones.  There are reports today that Labor is proposing bringing in new land clearing laws which would give the Federal Government oversight to the Act.  Do you agree with the changes being proposed?

FITZGIBBON: Well I think that State and Commonwealth Governments need to work together if we are going to secure long term profitability in the agriculture sector.  The climate is changing, our natural resources are depleting, our soil resources, for example, in many cases are in bad shape.  And we need a government to show leadership and put the farming sector on a sustainable footing and we cannot just continue in an unquestioned fashion to continue to clear land in this country. It won’t put us on a sustainable footing in Australian agriculture. 

JOURNALIST:  As a future Agriculture Minister in a Labor Government, will you be comfortable going into farming communities to tell them they cannot clear their land [inaudible] Federal Labor policy?

FITZGIBBON:  I will be very comfortable going onto the properties of farmers to talk to them about Labor’s plan to ensure we lift productivity.  And lifting productivity is, in part, about lifting the productivity of our soils and making sure both our soil and water resources are allocated in an efficient way.  I look forward to talking to them about Labor’s plan to put our agriculture sector on a sustainable footing to lift productivity and therefore lift sustainable profitability.  Thank you everyone.

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