SUBJECTS: Transitioning the live export sheep trade.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: If a Federal Labor Government wins office at the next election which could be at the end of this year or it will be next year, it will call for a complete ban of live sheep exports. Not immediately but according to Agriculture Spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon the end has to come within a decade. I’ll speak to him shortly but as I say we have got a state wide audience today and that will take in all sides of the argument so give us a call. I’d like to hear from you. Joel Fitzgibbon good evening to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: G’day Geoff from the beautiful Hunter Valley of New South Wales.
HUTCHISON: Can we be very clear Labor will take this to the election and will vow to end the trade of live sheep inside ten years?
FITZGIBBON: We don’t believe this has a future Geoff and from day one we will drive the transition. In fact I’m already doing that now developing the policy, consulting farmers, meat processors and everyone along the supply chain. Look its time has come we are not going to do anything precipitous. We believe we can create more value here in Australia, create more jobs here in Australia, lift animal welfare standards and indeed lift farm gate returns for farmers pursuing those higher value premium markets.
HUTCHISON: Okay, you say that we must move quickly, because that market is changing. Just explain that to our audience.
FITZGIBBON: Traditionally, and indeed still today in a sense, live ex goes to developing nations and developing nations thank goodness become developed nations and consumer preferences change, we talk often about the emerging middle classes, China in particular and other Asian countries and that’s also happening in the Middle East. And you know live sheep exports are in decline. It’s a commodity market one where we are increasingly price takers. We want a Red Meat Strategic Plan which chases the value, adds more value here in Australia, creates more jobs and of course we’ve got to establish high premium markets around the world and we believe we can do this. The live export market in sheep - and John Howard by the way suspended it in 2006 and they said then that they would fix it - here we are 2018 almost on a daily basis we’re hearing more reports of animal welfare failings and we believe it’s time to drive the transition.
HUTCHISON: According to some stats I was looking at today from the Australian Livestock Export Industry, last year Australia exported nearly two million live sheep, a market valued at a quarter of a billion dollars. Most of them went to Kuwait and Qatar followed by Turkey, so what are you counting on here? Are you counting on some of them being more willing to take chilled and frozen lamb or are you relying on markets like China to make up for this shortfall?
FITZGIBBON: We want to pursue those premium markets for a higher return on our investment, a higher return for farmers and all those in the supply chain. Look we’ve got abattoirs in this country in every state which are either closed or working at sub-par capacity. We can use that capacity to add value here in Australia and export into those new premium markets. Now that won’t be easy and it’s going to take a whole of Government approach. There are least six Government portfolios and therefore six Government Cabinet Ministers will be involved in this process. It’s about visas, it’s about workforce, it’s about education and training, it’s about the cost of quarantine and inspection services, it’s about the cost of energy. The list is very, very long but you know taking the whole of Government approach I believe we can make the shift to value adding here in Australia, to benefit the economy, increase jobs, benefit animal welfare standards and of course benefit the farmers. And we will work with the farmers. We don’t want to impose the transition on our farmers we want to take them with us on this journey, a journey which is a win-win all round.
HUTCHISON: Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Opposition Agricultural spokesperson 1300 222 720. Just on the subject of those farmers were a state wide programme this afternoon. What kind of support would farmers receive for this to happen because whilst I appreciate this is right across the supply chain what support will farmers receive?
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s talk about support when its necessary, if it’s necessary. We want it develop a plan which in fact increases farm gate returns for sheep meat producers and I think that’s evidently possible if you have leadership from Government, strategic guidance from Government and a Government prepared to put the work in and take a whole of Government approach. There are emerging export markets just waiting for a country like Australia with our clean, green, safe, high quality food image to export to them and yet we’re not doing that. We are a commodity market where we are price takers. We are shoving 60,000 sheep onto a vessel for a 5 week voyage in the hottest of conditions where they can’t access water without climbing over one another where they can’t lay down for 4,5 and 6 weeks, where we could be using that same supply to go to our local meat processors creating Australian jobs and adding value to that supply chain. This is my ambition and my aspiration and I believe with the right leadership we can get there.
HUTCHISON: The Prime Minister today said that your line was actually reckless coming two weeks before the finding of an investigation into the industry is handed down. Do you not need to see what that investigation reveals or will it reveal what this country has known for a long time?
FITZGIBBON: Well I welcome the fact that after almost a month the Prime Minister has made some contribution to the debate. He’s been absolutely silent. David Littleproud his Minister came out of the box very quickly with some very robust statements and has now completely gone to the ground but the Prime Minister is just playing politics. He’s wrong, he hasn’t thought about this and you know initially when I extended the bipartisan hand on this issue I said we would wait for these reviews but, two things happened this week. One we had that report that the industry itself had written to this Government alluding it to the problems in the industry. A letter the Government ignored. And then they had one of these key industry leaders tell us that this incident we saw on 60 Minutes was driven by a climate that no one can control and therefore cannot give any guarantee in the future that we wouldn’t see a repeat incident. So he has effectively conceded that no matter how hard we regulate and no matter how we improve oversight and no matter how tough we make the penalties the industry can’t guarantee we won’t see a repeat of what we saw on 60 Minutes. Well when they concede that I think it is time to move on.
HUTCHISON: I appreciate you talking to me tonight Joel Fitzgibbon, the Federal Opposition Agriculture spokesperson.