SUBJECTS: Transitioning the live export sheep trade
HOST: Brett Worthington is speaking here with Labor Agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: We see a bright future for the meat processing sector and the value chain here in Australia, a bright future for producers and we think we can increase their profitability but we see no future for the live sheep export trade.
BRETT WORTHINGTON: So to be clear you would seek to ban live sheep exports if you were elected?
FITZGIBBON: A Labor Government will develop a Red Meat Strategic Industry Plan and we will begin a transition, a plan to lift producer profitability, a transition to an end to live sheep export but a plan that both lifts producer profitability and creates more value and more jobs here in Australia.
WORTHINGTON: This is quite an escalation in Labor policy, at the moment you were suggesting a temporary suspension over the northern summer but still supporting the trade more generally. So what has changed to make you want to move towards phasing it out entirely?
FITZGIBBON: As you know I extended a bipartisan hand to David Littleproud and members of the Government. They’ve initiated a number of reviews. I have become frustrated by the slowness of those reviews, some of which won’t report until after the next election. I have been frustrated by a new report about Government inaction on standards and enforcement and I was amazed when this week one of the exporters admitted there are some circumstances in which large mortality rates on ships is unavoidable. Something the exporters cannot do anything about. That is a game changer for me.
WORTHINGTON: What timeframe do you think it would take to phase this in?
FITZGIBBON: Well I have said we accept this would take a number of years. This has to be an orderly transition done in partnership with sheep farmers in particular. But while I accept it will take a couple of years, it can’t be a decade. We must move more quickly than that because the market is changing too. If we want sheep meat producers to have sustainable profitability, we need to start working on that transition now otherwise the market will work against them in any case.
WORTHINGTON: The farm sector has said it’s concerned that moving to boxed meat won’t be able to give them the premium and give them the returns they are currently getting from live exports. What steps would you take to ensure farmers can be making the money they still are now?
FITZGIBBON: Well to suggest we don’t get the same premium from value adding here in Australia, chilled red meat in particular, than we do on live export is just I think sadly and respectfully, an ignorance of where the market is heading.
WORTHINGTON: Does this officially end the bipartisan approach to live exports then?
FITZGIBBON: Well certainly the bipartisanship is fraying at the edges. I mean the Government hasn’t been able to control its own members. You have Sussan Ley introducing a Private Members Bill. David Littleproud was quite robust in his response in the beginning but we haven’t heard from him publicly for more than a week. Malcolm Turnbull has remained completely silent and these reviews seem to be on the never-never while at the same time we are getting continuing reports of severe breaches of standards. Some of those reports now coming from some of the exporters themselves.
WORTHINGTON: Will Labor support Sussan Ley’s bid to have the export industry banned?
FITZGIBBON: We haven’t even seen Sussan Ley’s Bill and Sussan Ley’s Bill only gets into the Parliament I suspect with the support of the Government. I’m concentrating on Labor’s responses and the admission by the industry itself this week that there are some circumstances where high mortality rates are outside the control of the exporters I think leaves us with no choice to say we want to work with farmers and the value chain more generally to phase this sector out over time.
HOST: That is the Federal Labor Agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon talking with Brett Worthington.