SUBJECTS: live export trade.
MICHAEL MCLAREN: Welcome back and thanks for your company this morning. Now look, there has been a lot going on in Canberra and yesterday was the first sitting day of Scott Morrison’s Prime Ministership and largely it went pretty smoothly but a few of the old barnacles are yet to be scraped off the hull of the ship. One of the barnacles, one of the issues hasn’t yet fully been dealt with, and there was a go at it yesterday, it has to be said, is this issue of live animal exports. Now look we all saw I think, look you couldn’t have escaped it, that terrible footage of the Awassi Express a while ago and that certainly turned a lot of people’s stomachs and I think for a large part it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, not trying to use too many animal metaphors here but I think even in parliament it was enough to convince a number of people on the Coalition side, the Government ,that maybe this industry’s time is up and that its social licence for what that is worth had probably been exhausted. Well yesterday this came to a head in the House. In fact first in the Senate where a cross bench Bill to ban live sheep exports where in fact was successful. It got up 31 to 28. But like anything if a vote is initiated in the Senate, to become law it has to go down to the House of Representatives after that. It went down there and the Government used it’s numbers, including it has to be said the numbers of MPs once upon a time very recently gave impassioned speeches against the live animal exports industry. I’m talking here about Sussan Ley, Sarah Henderson and Jason Wood. They stuck with the Government and voted down the Senate Bill so live animal exports remain law in this land. I know public opinion on this is divided but it seems the Labor Party, if they become the next Government and looking at every indication they will be, pretty keen to get rid of this trade. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Shadow Minister for Agriculture. I suppose it would be up to him to put the legislation forward in due course. I’ve got him on the line. Good morning Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Mike.
MCLAREN: Just take us through what happened yesterday in Canberra. As I said the Senate, there was a cross bench Bill to ban live sheep exports. That got through 31 votes to 28 but it has to then go down to the Lower House and that is where it got sunk.
FITZGIBBON: That’s right. Bills can originate in the House and they have to then go to the Senate if they pass the House or they can originate in the Senate and then they need to then come to the House. The Senate by a pretty comfortable majority decided to reflect the views I think of the majority of the Australian community. They voted through the Bill and then of course it had to come down to the House of Representatives where it really got interesting because there you have, as you said, two Liberals who actually had sponsored an identical Bill in the House of Representatives. And when they introduced that Bill they made some very good speeches, passionate speeches about how terrible this trade is.
MCLAREN: This is Sussan Ley and Sarah Henderson.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly and about important it is to phase it out and how it couldn’t go on any longer. And of course we tested that today [pre recorded interview] and the Government tried to park the Bill aside, sort of adjourn it indefinitely if you like so it didn’t need to be dealt with in the House. Well we weren’t going to have a bar of that so we moved an amendment suggesting that it be dealt with immediately and of course the vote went down 72 votes to 70. Now if Sarah Henderson and Sussan Ley stuck to their convictions and stuck to what they have said in their speeches in the Parliament then we would have won that vote today and the Parliament would have passed a Bill to phase out the live sheep export trade.
MCLAREN: Now to be fair to them, they haven’t changed their convictions as such. I think after the vote they said, quote, we remain committed to seeing the end of long-haul live sheep exports and they say we look forward to the Moss review, which is underway at the moment, further challenging the regulatory basis of the trade. I mean they are not in favour of it.
FITZGIBBON: That’s rubbish.
MCLAREN: But they stuck with the Government didn’t they?
FITZGIBBON: That’s just rubbish. The Moss review isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know. I would encourage your listeners to read their speeches in the Parliament. They made it clear they had already made up their mind. The only thing that has changed since they introduced that Bill and made those speeches is that Scott Morrison decided to promote them. He promoted them to the most junior ranks of the ministry and of course they will argue now that as junior ministers they are tied by ministerial solidarity and can’t vote with their convictions. There can be no spin on this. They should have done the right thing today. They talked the talk, they didn’t walk the walk. And hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Australians who are concerned about this trade will be very very disappointed by their actions.
MCLAREN: The Bill itself, we were talking about this, the details, I think I am right in saying Joel, to prohibit live sheep exports in the northern summer and that would be for a transitional period of five years. So live sheep going to the middle east basically in the summer, the northern summer, the middle east summer, would be banned for five years and after that five year period all live sheep exports would be banned. Have I read that correctly?
FITZGIBBON: Almost correct. The Bill would have immediately put a stop to the northern summer trade. The science is clear, you can’t reconcile the northern summer trade and reasonable community expectations on animal cruelty. So it would have banned the northern summer trade, obviously it would not have any application this northern summer because we are coming to the end of that, but there would be no northern summer trade next year. It would have phased out the balance of the trade over a period of five years.
MCLAREN: Now, I think there was the McCarthy review recently handed down, and after that the new Agriculture Minister David Littleproud instigated a number of changes to the way the trade works. To an effect that has crippled the trade hasn’t it? Because some of the stocking density laws that have changed, the improved ventilation and what have you has made it rather uneconomical for a lot of the trade to continue, isn’t that right?
FITZGIBBON: This is the great irony of the situation, David Littleproud and Scott Morrison and others say they support the trade but we haven’t had a live sheep leave the country now for 12 weeks. You will recall that when Labor had to suspend the live cattle trade in 2011, all the hullaballoo around that, until we tidied the show up, it was suspended for five weeks, and they are still going on about that. Now this trade has now been suspended for 12 weeks.
MCLAREN: But not through a direct piece of legislation.
FITZGIBBON: No, but through regulations.
MCLAREN: Through different regulations.
FITZGIBBON: The concern about that is, when Labor first announced it would phase the trade out over five years we made it clear we wanted to work with farmers, sheepmeat producers, to reach out to them, to help them make a transition to do more value adding here in Australia. And yet, 12 weeks into the current pause, whatever you would like to call it, the Government has done nothing to reach out to sheepmeat producers who have been affected by the cancellation of the all those licences and there are plenty of sheepmeat producers affected.
MCLAREN: What do you make of, for example, Liberal Senator Slade Brockman yesterday made this point, and I have heard many make it and think I have made it in the past, that if Australia were to vacate the space someone else would fill the void, that tends to be how vacuums operate. They get filled pretty quickly. We have very high standards particularly when it comes to agriculture compared to many other places around the world. And yes, there has been some very obvious problems with the live export of sheep, we have seen the footage, you can’t deny it, but we still at least strive for best practices, as best as we can. Others who might fill the space if we say, listen folks we are not going to give you the sheep next year, may have absolutely no care in the world for what happens to the animals . If this is about animal welfare, it is a global issue. If we vacate the space could we in fact make the situation worse than if we tried to change it from within?
FITZGIBBON: I call this the drug dealers’ defence. If I don’t sell the drugs to some vulnerable young person, someone else will. It just doesn’t stack up. And in any case, the science is very, very clear. No matter how much you try to regulate that northern summer trade, you simply cannot send 60,000 sheep packed onto a ship in which they can barely climb over one another into the hottest and most humid parts of the world and claim that you are still meeting community standards and expectations on animal welfare. It is just not possible. We shouldn’t try to do it. And if the rest of the world is going to try to do something similar, that is of concern. But of course our situation is rather unique in that the haul is so long in such hot conditions.
MCLAREN: The changes that we spoke of a few minutes ago Joel, in terms of stocking densities following the McCarthy review, do they not, in many ways, placate your concerns though, as you said, the sheep can hardly climb over each other, they are packed in, et cetera. I think it was a 39 per cent stocking density reduction because of that review. Does that not, if allowed to stand, waive your concerns about the animal welfare?
FITZGIBBON: No it doesn’t, because it is just too hot. It is a bit like saying, you can’t leave three dogs in your car in 35 degree heat while you spend an hour in the supermarket but you can leave one dog in the car. The densities of course are better, in that they are not rubbing up against each other, but it is still just so hot that their bodies can’t function in that environment.
MCLAREN: Senator David Leyonhelm, I don’t think blanketed himself in much glory yesterday but he made the point that it is actually a racial thing behind a lot of this. I suppose he is accusing people like you and others of it. For the listeners, here we go, he said the people who buy our sheep are brown, I am quoting him here, and those who don’t want to sell them our sheep look down on them. Just imagine if these brown people tried to stop us eating ham at Christmas by refusing to sell us pigs. I mean, the obvious lack of logic in all of that is that no one is saying we should not be selling meat to the Middle East or to quote unquote brown people. It’s just we should slaughter it, box it and chill it here first. That’s the reality.
FITZGIBBON: Well that is what we want to do – add more value here in Australia. But the Labor Party continues to offer strong support for the live cattle trade which hasn’t had the animal cruelty problems the sheep trade has had. And last time I checked most of that beef goes to Indonesia and they are not quite the same colour as us either Mike.
MCLAREN: Well that’s quite right. You’ve said you have got support for the live cattle trade but as you pointed out earlier, under Joe Ludwig, when he was the Ag Minister, you pretty much shut the thing down prematurely, so why the change?
FITZGIBBON: Well the difference is, the problem in 2011 wasn’t the boardage or anything happening here in Australia, it was what was happening to the cattle when they arrived in Indonesia and their abattoirs were appalling. We saw the shocking footage on, I think, the ABC. So what we did was we suspended the trade for five weeks in total, five weeks, and we helped the Indonesians tidy up their abattoirs. I actually visited one there, in fact I visited one of those that was featured on the 4Corners program. They are a completely different environment now. So we fixed that problem and we also put a supply chain assurance system in place called ESCAS, is the acronym, to ensure we can audit the beast all the way from where they are loaded on the ship all the way to the place of slaughter. So we fixed that and the cattle trade has been able to continue since then in an orderly way without raising any real animal welfare concerns. But on the sheep trade, they are very long haul, in very hot conditions and it is just not possible to maintain the economic viability of that trade, in other words you have to have plenty of sheep on board while also meeting reasonable community animal welfare expectations.
MCLAREN: Just before you go, if the polls are correct, and I guess 40 Newspolls in a row tell a bit of a narrative, you will be the Commonwealth’s next Agriculture Minister. By the sounds of things, this issue, the live sheep trade, will be one of your top priority issues in that portfolio should you be part of that next Labor Government in that capacity. Would this be one of your first pieces of legislation to try to ban this? It has obviously failed in the House yesterday, but would you bring this on and try to bring in the ban of the live sheep trade?
FITZGIBBON: After a long time in the Parliament I take nothing for granted with respect to the next election. But if we have a Shorten Labor Government the live sheep trade will be phased out over a five year period. We will put an immediate stop, at the first opportunity, to the northern summer trade and we will work with sheepmeat producers to help them transition to something better.
MCLAREN: Alright, good to talk, I appreciate your time this morning, thank you very much.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.