SUBJECTS: McCarthy Review into northern summer live sheep exports, divided Turnbull Cabinet, Private Members Bill.
GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: An independent review over the northern hemisphere summer and the Federal Government response is due to be handed down today. Joining us now is Labor’s Agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon who has been very vocal on the matter. Good morning .
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Good to be with you Glen.
BARTHLOMEW: What’s your feeling on what the McCarthy Report will recommend today?
FITZGIBBON: Well the Government has refused me a pre-announcement briefing unlike some of the farm groups which is a little bit disappointing but speculation is that rather than putting a stop to the summer trade the Government will simply wave it through on the basis of a complex web of stocking density rules policed by a underperforming regulator can satisfy regional community expectations on animal welfare standards. Now this is a proposition which has been rejected by both the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association who both say that in the summer months no matter what the stocking densities you cannot deliver on animal welfare standards. Basically what they are doing is linking mortality rates with stocking densities. Now we have said – in other words I should say talking about stocking densities that keep mortality rates at a certain level. Now, this is the proposition that you can measure standards by the number of sheep that die on a voyage forgetting about the tens of thousands of sheep that didn’t die but who suffered for the whole period of that voyage.
BARTHOLOMEW: The review expected to recommend as you say more space for sheep, better ventilation and some other stricter measures to ensure better animal welfare. That’s not good enough?
FITZGIBBON: Although they would all be welcome things in the trade more generally remembering this review being released today is only about the summer trade. We are yet to have the more broad review about the trade more generally in balance of the months of the year. Densities aren’t a solution per se. What the Government will say today based on this is the equivalent of saying you can’t leave three young children in the car in the searing heat while you run into the supermarket but what you can do is leave two children in the car while you do your shopping. The outcome for the children in the car remains the same. Regardless of stocking densities, in the hottest periods in the Middle East, the outcome will be the same for the sheep.
BARTHOLOMEW: That is a dramatic comparison. Now calling for the suspension of the trade I guess is a lot easier when you are not running the country and in the safety of Opposition, but for the Government, isn’t there a responsibility to those whose livelihoods depend on this industry.
FITZGIBBON: Of course there is and the responsibility started with this Government five years ago when Barnaby Joyce took ten steps to retard what the former Labor Government had been doing to further progress animal welfare standards and the way the industry operates within them. Now if that hadn’t been the case the industry would now be in a far better place to deal with the Awassi incident last August, or indeed I like to think the Awassi incident last August would never have occurred. So it is the lack of government leadership that has let the industry down.
BARTHOLOMEW: Former Liberal Health Minister Sussan Ley looks to be a dissenting voice within the Government, she says she still intends to introduce the Private Members Bill to phase out the trade in the dangerous periods. What sort of response will that get in Canberra?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, she does intend to introduce that Bill, I understand she intends to do it on Monday and it is very very likely that Labor will be supporting the Bill. We have just got to tick off on a couple of small issues between now and then. The Bill will do a couple of things, phase out the trade over a number of years, probably five years, five years should give us the opportunity we need to ensure that farmers transition to something better, something more profitable for them.
BARTHOLOMEW: But you wouldn’t expect it to have the numbers in the Parliament?
FITZGIBBON: Well, numbers in the Parliament are pretty tight but we are pretty confident in the Senate. We have had a setback with the loss of a number of MPs now going to byelections.
BARTHOLOMEW: You have.
FITZGIBBON: Prior to losing them, we were quite confident we would secure the numbers. But we are not giving up on that proposition, those byelections, in the process of proceeding a Private Members Bill through the Parliament is a very slow one and we are hopeful those Members will be back for the vote if and when it occurs.
BARTHOLOMEW: What about the broader election, if Labor wins power at the next election, what is the future for this export industry?
FITZGIBBON: We have made it very clear, and I have made it very clear, that we don’t see a future for the live sheep export trade. We’d prefer to work with farmers to transition them to something better, something more sustainably profitable, and something that meets community expectations on animal welfare standards. And of course it is about adding more value to products here in Australia, chasing premium markets and of course, creating more jobs here in Australia.
BARTHOLOMEW: With the processing done on shore . Let’s see what the McCarthy Report does recommend in a few hours time. Joel Fitzgibbon, thanks for your time.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks very much Glen