SUBJECTS: Government’s delay in releasing McCarthy Review into northern summer live sheep exports, transition away from live sheep export trade.
LAURA JAYES: The long awaited report from vet Michael McCarthy will be released tomorrow. We will have a Government response along with that as well. Expect significant changes to the industry that will see essentially bad operators weeded out. McCarthy was asked to look at two significant factors: the stock density limits, how many sheep are on one boat; and stricter requirements for ventilation and airflows on those closed livestock decks. Now it is understood a further reduction in stocking density and tougher measures could see at least one of the five operators exit altogether because they couldn’t see a viability operating under stricter conditions. The Minister, as I understand it, is also keen on an independent observer, there will be further pressure too on the Australian Maritime Authority. Cabinet Ministers met yesterday they are also alive to the political nature of this, if it doesn’t address the issue of the summer trade public backlash might extend to the live beef trade and that as they see it would be a disaster, and despite the concerns of at least two city-based Ministers, about the continuation of the trade and how it might affect their electorates, the Government believes it has come up with a plan that imposes the strictest possible regulations without threatening the viability of the trade as a whole. Now diplomatic relations with Kuwait and Qatar are of huge importance and those countries in recent times, as I understand it, have been seeking assurances from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that Australia was not going to turn around and leave them in the lurch with their snap decision. But there still could be huge embarrassment for the Government on this issue. There is still a chance that Sussan Ley’s Private Members Bill will succeed. Sarah Henderson will second it, others are considering it. Joining me now is Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel Fitzgibbon where is this Bill up to? With these byelections it makes it difficult for Labor to get an absolute majority in the House which it needs to consider a non-Government Bill.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: I understand the Bill will be introduced on Monday Laura. I believe we are very close to an arrangement which will allow the Labor Party to support the Bill. So it will have significant weight behind it given the cross benches have been involved as well. A few t’s to be crossed and I’s to dot yet but two of the big criteria for me have been no less than a 5 year phase out because I don’t believe we can successfully transition our farmers to something better in anything less than 5 years; and there has to be a more immediate response to this summer trade which really is just appalling and as the Australian Veterinary Association has pointed out cannot be made to operate in a way which is consistent with our animal welfare expectations.
JAYES: But Mr Fitzgibbon, let’s talk about the numbers on the floor of the House? How close are you? You require, I think, at least four Government back-benchers to cross the floor. Do you think that will happen?
FITZGIBBON: More than that now, Labor started with 69 now we are down to 66, we need 76, so with now 4 cross benchers, so we need seven or eight back-bench members to cross the floor at the moment. If the Bill was delayed until after the byelections, which is entirely consistent with the pace of these things, in the House of Representatives, we would be back within striking distance. I suspect if the Government believes we are close to 76, then it will have no choice but to do something more.
JAYES: As I reported earlier today, the Government is not going to follow suit, they are not going to follow Labor’s lead and start to transition out of the industry nor ban it. But there will be strict new measures in place, that go to stocking density, that go to the issue of ventilation on these closed decks, but also go to AMSA and their monitoring of these ships. I also understand the Minister is open to looking at CCTV footage on some of these vessels. Are they are all considerations you would think are adequate?
FITZGIBBON: That is very radical of them isn’t it Laura, CCTV makes perfect sense and I don’t understand how anyone could oppose that initiative. But what is passing strange here is that the Cabinet wasn’t able to make a decision yesterday afternoon. It is obviously a divided Cabinet on this issue. And yet, here we are today, people aren’t in a position to tell you what the Cabinet decision is. I think we need to wait and see. My best theory based on the intelligence I have is, David Littleproud took to Cabinet conditions that were something less than what Dr McCarthy was recommending, and not unsurprisingly, moderate members in the Cabinet particularly those representing marginal city seats were very, very concerned. The Government had said it would base it’s decision on the science, but it appears on the advice I have been given, that David Littleproud took something much different to that advice to the Cabinet last night.
JAYES: So contacts within Cabinet Joel Fitzgibbon?
FITZGIBBON: Almost as good as yours Laura.
JAYES: Almost, not quite. David Littleproud didn’t get rolled. This is a complex issue that goes to stocking density, ventilation, the amount of weight that sheep put on on ships. It is my understanding that no one took a proposal to Cabinet to actually ban the live sheep trade altogether. There was some city-based Ministers that certainly had concerns about this is playing out in their electorates particularly in the lead up to a couple of byelections. But no one in Government is suggesting a ban, because of some of the diplomatic issues that come into effect here. Have you considered those?
FITZGIBBON: Well let me go to your last point. First of all let me say, David Littleproud organised for stakeholders to fly into Canberra last night and have some sort of lock up this morning before his announcement later this morning. Early in the evening last night, that was all called off – why? Because David Littleproud was unable to get his propositions through the Cabinet. You can call that being rolled or something else but it is quite clear that Cabinet rejected his propositions last night. I still suspect it was because it was something less than Dr McCarthy was recommending. On the issue of long term phase out or the short term phase out with respect to the summer trade, not only had the Australian Veterinary Association said that this trade cannot continue under any conditions with a guarantee for animal welfare standards. The industry itself, Graham Daws from Emanuels, a week or two ago said what happened in the Awassi depicted on 60 Minutes was a climatic event that no one could control and therefore a guarantee cannot be given no matter what the standards the trade can operate without breaches of animal welfare standards.
JAYES: Now this Report tomorrow from McCarthy does not recommend banning the trade altogether, will you reconsider the recommendations that he puts forward?
FITZGIBBON: We will have a look at what McCarthy has to say. Of course many stakeholders have been critical of the appointment of Dr McCarthy because he has a long term association with the live sheep trade. In other words he has worked as a veterinarian in that industry but we will take him seriously. The problem is that the Australian Veterinary Association, which I also have a high regard for, has clearly said that you need to drop stocking densities by about 50 per cent on the trade generally, but for the summer trade no matter where you take those densities you still have a problem, so we will see what McCarthy says tomorrow but I will be sceptical if he doesn’t say something very, very substantial.
JAYES: Okay but you seem to be undermining his credibility at this Report ahead of the release saying he’s too close to the industry. Is that your view?
FITZGIBBON: I fear David Littleproud and the Cabinet are undermining his credibility. I mean they received his report as I understand it maybe a week ago and it was peer reviewed so it has been through this very significant process and then last night either the Cabinet rejected his review or the Cabinet rejected what David Littleproud wanted to be the response.
JAYES: I’m asking about you Joel Fitzgibbon, your Leader Bill Shorten said you would wait to see this review before you made any decision, policy decision. You didn’t wait for the review, you are now paying lip service and saying that you will look at what he has to say but you are not leaving open the opportunity, the possibility that Labor would continue the trade with stricter conditions.
FITZGIBBON: Well Bill Shorten made that statement on my advice. At the time I was hopeful that we could await the review but a few things have happened along the way or course the review is late and we are quite cynical about the way it has been politicised last night and again tomorrow by now again reconvening this lockup and this announcement. We have the letter to Darren Chester from Wellards. We have had more event, one of them only on a trade between Adelaide and Perth. In other words the inability of the industry to demonstrate it can maintain standards on that short voyage and of course we had the industry itself through the Emanuel’s boss concede that when these climatic events hit, there is nothing anyone can do guarantee standards are maintained and on that basis we concluded that well, what are we waiting for? Why don’t we put an orderly process in place now so that this trade can at least be suspended? Because Laura five weeks on from 60 Minutes, nothing has changed. As we speak ships are leaving ports in Australia to go into that northern summer environment.
JAYES: What’s the point in even reading this review from McCarthy if you’re not willing to move an inch on your own policy?
FITZGIBBON: I wouldn’t have had the McCarthy Review. I don’t think it was necessary. The science is writ large Laura. You could cover your coffee table with the science. It has been done to death. The AVA and all those others who study these things have known for a long, long time that it is just not possible to maintain or meet community expectations and Government expectations on animal welfare when you are putting more than 60,0000 sheep for weeks on a ship into the hottest parts of the world.
JAYES: Joel Fitzgibbon we will hear from you tomorrow when you speak to Sky News again.