SUBJECT/S: Transitioning the live export sheep trade
HOST LAURA JAYES: Welcome to News Day, I’m Laura Jayes. Labor has responded to what many have been calling for today. And today Labor has committed to ending the live sheep trade. If Labor wins Government at the next election they will ban this. This footage from Animals Australia shocked so many of you. 2000 sheep died last year on the Awassi Express, they died from heat exhaustion, overcrowding and a lack of food and water. They were standing in a month’s worth of their own faeces. Despite industry reassurances and promises of improvements, Labor have today said enough is enough and if the Government continues to do nothing, they say well they will try and put in place their plans before the next election. I spoke to the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: It’s bad news almost every day now Laura, and yet despite talking the talk early on, David Littleproud has now gone completely missing in action. It’s clear the Government has been for a long time now turning a blind eye for animal welfare breaches and of course the Prime Minister has had nothing to say on this over the course of the last month. This is front and centre in the community conversation now and Malcom Turnbull remains silent.
JAYES: Well what is labor saying about it? What are you going to do about the live sheep trade in particular? I had a former Trade Minister Craig Emerson in tears over this in the last month on my program. We have seen other high profile people say enough is enough, so are you going to do something about it?
FITZGIBBON: Well by its own admission, the live sheep trade sector this week has said that it is impossible to absolutely guarantee we can avoid high mortality rates in the future. He said we can’t control climatic conditions therefore we can’t give a guarantee. We need in this country a strategic Red Meat Plan. One which adds value here, creates jobs here and one which I believe can lift the profitability of the farmers. We don’t want to impose a transition out of this sector. We want to work with the framers and the sector more generally to transition out of live sheep exports in an orderly fashion, in a way that creates jobs here and lifts the stocks of farmers. So let me be clear, I see and Labor sees a bright future for meat processing, a bright future for jobs in that sector right across the supply chain in the red meat processing sector – a better future for farmers, but Labor sees no future for live sheep exports.
JAYES: So you don’t want to see the continuation of live sheep exports? You talk about a strategic Red Meat Plan, do you have one in place and when will you unveil it?
FITZGIBBON: Labor is developing one and it goes across a suite of policies and a suite of Shadow Ministers and hopefully it goes to work force issues, visa issues, energy costs, quarantine and inspection costs. We need to build a super viable red meat processing industry in this country employing local Australians. There are many abattoirs in Australia now which are either idled or only working at one ship for various reasons, including supply of cattle and sheep and supply of a work force. So let me be clear, Labor sees no future for the export of live sheep, we want that value adding here. We know the transition cannot happen overnight, it won’t take months it will probably take years. But it absolutely can’t take something like a decade, it has to happen more quickly than that. And in the meantime, we called on the suspension to the summer trade of course immediately until David Littleproud’s review has been done, but while we are making that transition, we have to impose higher standards and of course we need to make sure we have a framework which properly and adequately punishes people who breach those standards.
JAYES: Ok but Mr Fitzgibbon let me be absolutely clear, so what you are saying is that if Labor is elected at the next election, you will start the end of the live sheep trade to the Middle East – you will put that process in place, as you say it might take years, but you at least will start that transition?
FITZGIBBON: We will begin the transition. We don’t see a future for live sheep exports. We do know it will take some time, we do know it needs to be done in an orderly and consultative fashion to make sure farmers benefit and are not disadvantaged. I think the market will take care of this in the longer term in any case, so if we want those sheep meat producers to be sustainably viable, we need to help them through this transition now.
JAYES: The live sheep trade last time I looked was worth about 250 million dollars to the Australian economy. Is it going to cost that for you to transition the live sheep trade into packaged meats in Australia, do you have any idea how much this would cost in terms of a dollar figure, but also a cost to the economy and the number of jobs?
FITZGIBBON: Well lets develop a plan, it may be that we can quickly move sheep meat producers to a more profitable platform more quickly than we believe. They are in an old model, from a different era. I have been checking some of the reports about animal welfare concerns in the live sheep industry that go back at least to the early 80’s. The economics has changed since then, and look I accept that live exports gives sheep produces a different market and therefore creates competitive price tension in their favour. But if we can focus more on premium markets, chilled lamb for example to those bourgeoning middle class markets in Asia, we can lift the profitability of our famers. This can be a win-win, and that’s what I want it to be.
JAYES: Are we seeing a similar situation to what we’ve with the banks in the agriculture industry, and I say that in a sense where we were seeing ASIC and APRA being accused in recent days of being too close to the people that they are trying to monitor. Is that the case also in the live export sector? I note that Alison Penfold used to be, I think, Chair of the Australian Live Export Council – now she’s Chief of Staff to David Littleproud?
FITZGIBBON: Well there is no doubt we have regulatory capture. The culture in the Department, which is the regulator, is all wrong. And culture comes from the top, the leadership from the Minister and Barnaby Joyce gave the Live Export sector an unconditional leave pass and this is what you get as a result. I don’t want to say too much about Alison Penfold, I don’t want to wander into staffing issues. I know Alison Penfold; I respect her. But the idea in the middle of a live export crisis that the Minister would appoint as his Chief of Staff the former CEO of the Australian Live Export Council shows very poor judgement I’m afraid on the part of David Little Proud.
JAYES: Have you spoken to the current Chair of the Australian Live Export Council Simon Crean about Labor’s plans? Is he on board with this? A former Labor Trade Minister.
FITZGIBBON: I have had many conversations with Simon Crean. I believe he is doing an excellent job at ALEC. As the Chair he is bringing the exporters into 21st Century. If you like, trying to get them to understand you can’t keep just shoving 60,000 sheep on a vessel for a month long voyage in the hottest of conditions. So he is pushing for transition in the industry. Obviously he represents not just sheep but cattle. I think he is doing a good job but he is up against it at the moment when his own members -
JAYES: Is he onboard with the plan to end live sheep export?
FITZGIBBON: Simon Crean has been very professional in his dealings with me. He understands Labor’s concerns. He understands community concerns. He has lobbied me and put a powerful case to me. He has not tried in any sense to pressure me and I appreciate and respect that.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon, we thank you for time today.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure Laura.