SUBJECTS: Live Exports.
MICHAEL CONDON: Let’s turn our attention to the live sheep trade because Labor has called for an Inspector General to be appointed to oversee the live sheep trade. Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has made the call and is also backing the Littleproud review. He was cagey though about backing a summer ban saying it is an idea that’s on the table. Joel Fitzgibbon also wanted to disassociate himself with the Joe Ludwig ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia that arose after footage of animal cruelty in Indonesian slaughter houses. He says a rational well thought out response is what is required including the appointing of a new Inspector General.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: This is a policy Labor took into the last Federal election. Indeed as Agriculture Minister I appointed an independent Inspector General for Animal Welfare a position sadly Barnaby Joyce abolished. Now we need to build community confidence and support in the sector and we can’t do it in the absence of an independence oversight
CONDON: Now we have seen quite strong words from David Littleproud people quite surprised at how strong his reaction was to what happened with these boats.
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s a refreshing change from Barnaby Joyce because when a senior Minister gives unqualified support to any industry it breeds a culture of risk taking and even a willingness to breach Australian Government standards so I have extended a bipartisan hand to David Littleproud and I hope together we can do good things, secure some meaningful reform one that doesn’t get changed by the next government of the day and of course one that builds confidence and support for the sector in the broader community.
CONDON: But also some people were laying the blame at the bureaucrats saying, oh the bureaucrats are soft on the trade.
FITZGIBBON: Well the bureaucrats in the Department - that is the regulator - is the function of the culture pushed down by the Minister of the day. Barnaby Joyce had made it very clear he thought this sector should have unqualified support. That is a bad thing for the sector because it is a bad culture and I welcome David Littleproud’s quite different approach.
CONDON: But you are not calling for a ban which is unusual to Labor’s position in regards to Indonesia and that unleashed a world of pain for a number of large scale producers and ultimately for the Government of the time.
FITZGIBBON: Well Labor did impose a four week ban on Indonesian cattle exports back in 2011 in the face of a very significant public outcry. What one good thing that came out of that of course was the auditing system that has now put the cattle trade on a sustainable footing. Our problems at the moment are in the sheep trade and I hope David Littleproud and I can work together to drive real reform there. One thing is certain, we can’t do things that unnecessarily impact adversely on our producers but at the same time, a business as usual approach is unacceptable.
CONDON: Yeah, but you say it was a four week ban but it lasted much longer in terms of the trade ramifications, the dollar ramifications and offloading of particularly northern cattle into that market.
FITZGIBBON: It did have long-term ramifications and remember John Howard suspended the sheep trade back in 2006 and it is a shame that political parties generally, with the industry, didn’t start from then working on ways of avoiding these events in the future. Sadly we haven’t done that in the past but I’m hoping David Littleproud and I can do that together putting the industry on a sustainable footing, strengthening our producers and hopefully meeting community expectations.
CONDON: So you don’t think Labor has a poor record on this any way in terms of the ban stuff with looking at the live trade to Indonesia?
FITZGIBBON: Well the 2011 suspension was regrettable and had long-term impacts but the industry at the time and the politics at the time had left the Government with very few choices. I am hoping that almost 10 years on that David Littleproud and I can do some things together so we get a unified approach and meaningful reform, shoring up our producers and providing some hope to the broader community on animal welfare expectations.
CONDON: Where would you stand on something like a partial ban, say over the summer months? That’s what Susan Ley has been talking about.
FITZGIBBON: One thing David Littleproud has agreed to do is review the trade to the Middle East, the sheep trade to the Middle East in the northern summer months. I welcome that and I eagerly await the outcome. I have to say I would be very surprised if that review suggests you can continue to put 60,000 sheep on a vessel in hot conditions, extremely hot conditions and also meet animal welfare expectations. So I think that northern summer trade is really under pressure.
CONDON: So you’re not calling on a ban just yet but think when they look at that in the full light of day and in the heat of day they will say it’s unacceptable for certain times of the year, maybe three months of the year?
FITZGIBBON: David Littleproud has agreed to the review and I certainly don’t want to preempt it. But I will be very surprised if it doesn’t come back with some very real concerns about ongoing attempts to move so many sheep on a vessel like that in such extreme temperatures.
CONDON: What about generally there has even been talk about the ventilation standards not being up to scratch as well. They might meet the standards but really when it comes down to it in the actual conditions it’s not enough.
FITZGIBBON: It’s interesting that up until recent week most of the debate on live trade has been about whether people have or haven’t breached the standards set by Government or whether the regulator has properly imposed them. But we are having a debate now rather about the standards themselves because the Department – the regulator, declared that no standards were breached.
CONDON: So you think that is Barnaby Joyce’s fault through the culture he created there?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think Barnaby Joyce does have to take some responsibility. He was always rejoicing his elevation of the position and what it meant to the live trade sector. The problem is, if you give a sector, any sector, unqualified support it breeds the wrong culture and I think that is also reflected in the performance of the Department. I welcome the fact David Littleproud is taking a different approach and I want to work with him to secure meaningful reform.
CONDON: Have you discussed anything with him about this?
FITZGIBBON: I have discussed matters regularly with David Littleproud. We are often exchanging texts for example. In addition to that he is doing the right thing so far. There are a couple of conditions attached to my bipartisanship. One is that the reform has to be meaningful. And two it has to include an independent oversight. That is an Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Animal Exports.
CONDON: Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, regularly texting David Littleproud about the live sheep trade. What do you think about this Inspector General in regards to this issue? 0467922684 is the number to text us at the Country Hour.