SUBJECTS: Live sheep exports, future of the coal industry.
CHRIS KENNY: I want to go to the live sheep export issue now. As I mentioned earlier there were these stunning revelations in the Daily Telegraph today about what the animal activists have been up to but in the political front there have been moves to restrict and or ban the live sheep export trade from Australia and there are very real prospects that Parliament will actually act to ban it, at least during the northern summer when Parliament returns. Although it looks like the Coalition are looking to delay the legislation. I’m joined on the line by the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, the Labor Party’s Joel Fitzgibbon. Thanks for joining us Joel and happy new year.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: And to you Chris, I’m very pleased to be with you.
KENNY: Well everyone I speak to I haven’t spoken to yet I’ll say that – when’s the cut-off point? Maybe the Australia Day long weekend? You have a big year ahead of yourself with an election looming of course.
FITZGIBBON: We certainly do Chris and of course I’m a New South Welshman so we have the Federal and NSW State election throughout 2019 so yes, a busy time for sure.
KENNY: So tell us what’s happening with the live sheep export issue here. The Labor Party is in favour of some sort of a ban to this trade and of course even in the Lower House now your numbers might look fairly strong because Kerryn Phelps and some of the other independents are of like mind.
FITZGIBBON: That’s right. The Senate has already expressed its will. There is certainly a majority in the Senate prepared to phase out the live export sheep trade. We believe there is a majority in the House of Representatives as well but as you know the Government of the day, not withstanding its very slim majority, controls the business of the House of the Representatives and to alter that business you need an absolute majority of the House– 76 votes – and while we have a majority of those sitting in the Parliament on this issue we believe, we don’t have the numbers necessary to bring the matter on for a debate. We tried a number of times but the government hasn’t allowed it to happen which is a bit of a shame because I think in a representative democracy, the House of Representatives should be allowed to express its will and the Government of the day, regardless of the size of its majority should give it the opportunity to do so.
KENNY: Yeah I know but obviously the government has always been thus and the Government will control the House when they can. That defines the government in our system, the people who can control the numbers in the Lower House. Now obviously it is a fraught situation numbers wise now, but wouldn’t you just think you’d cool your jets and have a crack at it after the election? At the moment blind Freddy would suggest you’re going to be the government so Labor can deal with this if and when they win the election?
FITZGIBBON: Well we certainly don’t take that for granted, but the great irony of this whole debate is that the live sheep export trade has been effectively been shut down for it must be almost 30 weeks now Chris in response to that 60 Minutes footage the government initiated a number of inquiries and ramped up the regulatory tests on these exports and suspended a number of licences so it has been effectively banned. It appears there’s a division again in the Coalition parties. You have Barnaby Joyce out there saying this is a great trade and it would be a terrible thing to stop it, but you have David Littleproud the current Minister saying he supports the trade but at the same time regulating it so hard that it hasn’t been able to operate in any case. The industry itself you have the industry voluntarily suspending the trade itself in acknowledgement and recognition of growing community concern and the breaches that have taken place so it’s a pretty unusual situation and I think the Parliament should be able to just get on with it.
KENNY: It’s it obvious thought that the trade ought to be allowed to exist, there have been some shonky operators so with some better conditions and weeding out those shonky operators, especially with the prices that have been fetched, that you ought to be able to conduct this trade in a humane and sensible fashion?
FITZGIBBON: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the live export trade, in fact the Labor Party continues to support the live cattle industry.
KENNY: Well that’s right, after banning it in the wake of media reports back in 2011, they support it now, so shouldn’t the presumption be here that this is a good export opportunity for Australia and we should just be acting to get it right rather than to ban it?
FITZGIBBON: Well what happened in 2011 is of course we suspended it until we put some new rules in place that brought the cattle industry back into line and they have operated pretty much without incident since. But what the science is telling us on sheep, which is a much different trade, is that it’s just not possible to export these animals while meeting science based and reasonable community expectations on animal welfare and there have been three Government reports now and they are reports commissioned by this Government and they’ve not only highlighted systemic flaws in the industry and a lack of regulatory oversight but have also told us that what should be applied when dealing with the heat these animals suffer is what they call the wet bulb measurement that is a measurement of temperature that takes into account the humidity of the atmosphere and the recommendation to the government is that 28 degrees is about the maximum. Now that’s pretty low and much lower than what the industry has been operating under. They have been operating under temperatures of 50 degrees in the past. The government really hasn’t responded to that recommendation and hasn’t criticised or rejected it so it appears to me that the government is moving towards a temperature which would force the industry out of business in any case so we have all this nuancing going on with the government saying it supports them but at the same time making it so hard that the industry doesn’t have a future in any case. We would be better off doing what the Labor Party suggested and that is foreshadowing to the industry that it has a number of years to make the transition to something better. And what’s the something better? Well it’s more processing here in Australia and adding more value here in Australia and of course therefore creating more jobs here in Australia.
KENNY: I think everyone would welcome that if it could happen, if indeed we could transition to processing in this country. In the meantime Joel Fitzgibbon, what’s your response to these revelations about Animals Australia and bribes being offered, or payments being offered effectively to people on board these ships to get footage of animals suffering and suggestions that some of them have pocketed up to $38,000 and some have even offered to make the conditions for the sheep worse on board in order to get the right sort of dramatic footage?
FITZGIBBON: I think they’re somewhat serious allegations which should be investigated but just to break them down, it appears to me there are two allegations and one is that people on the ships were paid to take footage of what was happening on board those ships. Now if that’s the case I suspect they’ve broken no law, they may have breached some employment contract with their employer having given they are spying effectively on the people who pay them. The second allegation is that they might have created an environment which made the animal welfare situation worse on those ships and if they were doing that then they would be clearly in breach of the regulatory oversight which controls the protection of those animals and that would be very serious so it does need to be investigated but it doesn’t change the Labor Party’s view. We arrived at our view that the industry needs to be phased out based on the science and the research and the recommendations of the veterinarians not on footage we saw on 60 Minutes. So whatever happened in terms of those photographs, the footage or video is one thing but it doesn’t change the fact that the trade is just incompatible with reasonable animal welfare standards.
KENNY: You make a good point there that you are looking at proper reviews here but it does get to some decisions that we’ve seen made by government, you referred to the decision by the Gillard Government made in 2011 to suspend the cattle export trade and it also goes to the greyhounds decision that the NSW Liberal Government made and of course to what we have seen in reaction to the sheep trade and that is in each case we have seen the ABC run footage that was supplied to them by the animal activists and you’ve got to be concerned, especially as a future prospective Agriculture Minister that you’ve got these animal rights groups co-conspiring with media to create a backlash and to create community concern and you want to make sure that’s always open, transparent and honest use of video material supplied to them.
FITZGIBBON: I think they are two different issues. I agree that if someone has been doing the wrong thing in procuring and even changing that vision then that needs to be dealt with one side, but in terms of the live cattle export suspension for example, it was a simple fact that those abattoirs in Indonesia were so 19th Century and there was cruelty going on.
KENNY: Yeah we didn’t know when and some of it was years old and we didn’t know in what circumstances it was shot. I just think the media needs to be completely transparent with all of that so we can make our judgements based on clear facts.
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely and it’s interesting that when the Awassi vision came out on 60 Minutes, the government said, oh we’re not going to accept that as gospel, we need to further investigate the situation but today when the allegations came forward, that there was a bit of skulduggery in the procurement of the vision that the government absolutely and immediately accepted the proposition which was being put. If I can just finish, it was a fact Indonesian abattoirs were problematic. We’ve fixed those, we helped the Indonesians fix them and we got the trade back on track and it also fact that you cannot put 60,000 sheep on a ship and send it into the most hot and humid weather in the world and expect them not to suffer. So that’s why we have said, look we will be giving the industry notice and we will work with it to phase it out in an orderly way. What the government is at the moment doing is just taking a blunt instrument and has stopped it in its tracks without reaching out to the sheep meat producers for example to say hey how can we as a government help you make a transition to you and something better for the country.
KENNY: Good talking to you Joel Fitzgibbon and when we look to the election and outside of your portfolio area I suppose but as a potential cabinet minister, as a member for the Hunter region of NSW, what role do you think the coal industry will have or what fears do you think the coal industry should have of a Federal Labor government?
FITZGIBBON: There are two very important points. Much more than 90 per cent of the coal we mine in the Hunter goes to export markets. Very little goes to fuel coal fired generators in the Hunter Valley. That’s the first point. My second point is the coal generation industry will have a future for the period in which the power generators have an economic life. Liddell has reached the end of its economic life. Bayswater for example has 15 or more years in it and Origin’s plant down on the lake something similar. So, the coal-fired electricity generation industry will continue on while those plants are capable of doing so and it’s not government – government isn’t saying we shall not build new coal-fired generators, it’s investors saying we are not interested in building new coal fired power plants.
KENNY: Yeah investors based on all sorts of government policies. I suppose I’m more thinking of too about export potential, Adani up in Queensland and just how secure we are about the coal export industry which is of course a massive part of what goes on in the Hunter.
FITZGIBBON: Well the International Energy Agency tells us there will be a demand in steaming coal for many decades to come as those developing nations continue to strive towards developing nation status so that puts a very firm foundation under our local coal mining industry and of course coking coal will continue to play a role in the steel making process for many decades to come as well. So I think the future for the coal mining industry in Australia is very bright and we will have coal fired generators in the Hunter Valley until those existing generators reach the end of their economic life.
KENNY: Great talking to you Joel Fitzgibbon, I look forward to catching up during the rest of this busy election year.
FITZGIBBON: For sure Chris, thanks very much.