SUBJECT/S: Transitioning the live export sheep trade
HOST ASHLEIGH GILLON: We are still waiting for an independent review to be completed into live sheep trade export. But Labor has already jumped the gun, announcing that it wants to bring on the end to that live sheep trade export industry. Joining us live from Canberra is the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. I appreciate your time Mr Fitzgibbon. The Government has described this as a “knee-jerk” emotional response. WA Premier Mark McGowan is also at odds with you over this, he says the Government should be focused on weeding out the bad apples rather than shutting down the trade entirely. He is pointing out Western Australians who drive trucks, run farms, work on ports, they all rely on the live exports for a living, do you acknowledge that your decision will be harming some rural and regional communities, particularly in South Australia and Western Australia?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Ash, Malcolm Turnbull’s reflection on me was also a reflection on many on his own backbench, Sussan Ley, Jason Wood, Ian Goodenough, all saying exactly what the Labor Party is saying. And that is, over time transition out of the live sheep sector and start creating more jobs and more value here in Australia.
GILLON: We are already seeing some of these changes with live export traders who have already volunteered to reduce stocking densities on live export ships by 17.5 per cent, I think, in the hotter months. Under your plan, you mention over time – just how long is it going to take for the industry to be phased out?
FITZGIBBON: We accept a transition like this will take many years. We don’t know how many exactly, it would be wrong for me to put a timeline on it. Though I did say last week that I expect it to be nothing like ten years, we expect it to be quicker than that.
GILLON: Mr Fitzgibbon, sorry to interrupt, what is your policy if you can’t even put a proper timeline on the end of an entire industry? Not even give a rough estimate. Are you thinking, I know you have said less than a decade, one to two years? Five to six years? Seven to eight? That means a lot to the industry and the people who are working in it as to what timeframe you are working to.
FITZGIBBON: The last thing farmers and the industry more broadly want is a stop dead date. We want to further develop a plan we have already begun creating in Opposition. We want to work with the sector and with farmers in particular. Over the course of the weekend I had a number of conversations with meat processors, they are critical to building further capacity, creating jobs here in Australia. Just this morning, I met with the National Farmers Federation and the organisation representing sheepmeat producers. We will extend this conversation to have a deep and meaningful dialogue about what this transition plan will look like. But it is all about creating a new environment for sheep producers. One which is focused on premium markets, higher value, more jobs in Australia and of course, higher returns for farmers.
GILLON: So what is the plan politically? You have mentioned a number of Liberal MPs who are backing Labor on this; how will you actually go about bringing about this ban? Do we wait until the result of the next election? Do we try and bring on a ban via Parliament? Obviously you’d need an absolute majority to suspend Standing Orders, do you think you are close to having that?
FITZGIBBON: First of all, can I just add that this is about putting sheepmeat producers on a sustainable footing. We can stick our head in the sand like some senior members of the Government are wont to do, or we can listen to community and consumer concerns. And that, push our sector further up that value curve to create more Australian jobs and returns to farmers, and of course, improving animal welfare standards. I am meeting with Sussan Ley sometime soon, to discuss her Private Members Bill; I haven’t seen it or know the detail of it. But I began this conversation by adding a bipartisan hand to the Government with a view of securing deep and meaningful reform and we will work with anyone interested in working with us to put this transition in place to create jobs here in Australia, to improve animal welfare standards, and of course, to improve profitability for our farmers.
GILLON: But again, how confident are you that on the floor of the Parliament you would be able to get the numbers? I assume that any Government members likely to cross the floor wouldn’t do that until the independent review comes out.
FITZGIBBON: Well, what I said last week was that if we are elected to Government, if we are given that privilege, we will further develop the plan and start this transition from day one on. I am less focused on what is happening in the immediate, in the Parliament, but if we can arrive at a position with other parties within the Parliament, with other groups within the Parliament, that will accelerate those opportunities, we will certainly take it. I haven’t seen Sussan Ley’s Bill yet. I haven’t seen the Greens Bill yet. But I am very keen to, again, secure that bipartisan approach to this thing. We want deep and meaningful reform, but we want reform that is not going to overturn by a future government many years down the track.
GILLON: Given that last time I interviewed you, you pledged that a total ban on exports wasn’t something Labor would do in Government; how can the industry trust Labor on this, when they are seeing shock decisions from you on these issues, not only on the last few days, but over years when you consider the temporary ban on live cattle to Indonesia. Can you confirm a total ban on live exports is not something Labor would be considering in Government?
FITZGIBBON: Members of the Government like to reflect back to 2011 when we had a suspension of the live cattle export sector. What that did of course was put the live cattle sector on a sustainable footing. And it has been pretty much incident free since 2011. Of course, the cattle sector is much different, the voyages are shorter, and they are in different climatic conditions. The sector is determined that the cattle arrive in good shape because they are there to be fattened to go into that Indonesian market in particular. So we are talking about two very different things here. I said very early on of course that our preference was not to phase out the live sheep sector, but unfortunately, along the way, we have had incident after incident and the sector making it clear itself, that it is not possible to guarantee the animal welfare standards with respect to that northern summer trade.
GILLON: Joel Fitzgibbon joining us from Canberra, we appreciate your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.