SUBJECTS: Leys PMB; live sheep exports, One Nation preferences.
FIONA PARKER: There have been lots of calls for the live export trade to be banned and thats the idea behind a Bill being put to Parliament today by Liberal Backbencher Sussan Ley. Labor has said they will support it. Joel Fitzgibbon is Labors Agriculture Spokesperson. Joel Fitzgibbon, a very good morning to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Gday Fiona, good to be with you.
PARKER: This Bill would end the live sheep export trade to the Middle East prohibiting the trade to the Middle East and prohibiting live exports during the northern hemisphere summer months. Labor will support that Bill, why?
FITZGIBBON: I will be putting a recommendation to the Shadow Cabinet tonight and to the Party room tomorrow. I am very confident it will secure the support of both the Shadow Cabinet and the party room. Why? Because it is the right thing to do and reflects the partys values, but more importantly it absolutely reflects the view of the Australian community. You said you have had many calls and I am the same. All Members of Parliament are the same. Its pretty easy to see this has pretty much overwhelming support out in the community.
PARKER: How does it reflect Labors values?
FITZGIBBON: Well because we believe in fairness and what this industry has been doing is basically externalising in the markets animal welfare abuses. The Government last week ignored the science. The Australian Veterinary Association, the RSPCA and others have made it clear that it doesnt matter where you set the standards or rules in this northern summer trade, it cant be done or continue to be undertaken in a way consistent with community values on animal welfare standards.
PARKER: But many are saying if you ban live exports its going to kill the trade because the ships are going to the Middle East; if youre going to send packed meat there, there is nowhere to store it at the other end, no refrigeration, which is why they need the live animal export at the end port.
FITZGIBBON: Thats now pretty much a tired argument Fiona. I mean consumer preferences are changing both here and overseas. Chilled and frozen meat in those markets has been rapidly on the rise and live exports have been in decline. You know traditionally we sold live sheep to developing nations, in what we used to call Third World Nation;, and like so many of those, Middle Eastern countries are now rapidly coming out of developing nation status and their growing middle classes are looking for something of higher value and something of better quality.
PARKER: But wont the better quality come from slaughtering the animal at the end port?
FITZGIBBON: No we believe we can produce a premium market here creating jobs in Australia, and doing more processing in Australia and sending both frozen and chilled meats to the Middle East. There is a big opportunity there for Australia and we are well placed to do it. You will hold that transition back by continuing to be a cheer squad for the live export industry at a time when live export industry has been unable to demonstrate it is capable of doing that trade in a way which is consistent with community standards.
PARKER: What about the farmers who are selling to that trade? They will lose out wont they?
FITZGIBBON: Well I have insisted that the phase out happen over at least a five year period so we can transition those farmers to something more sustainably profitable. This is the commodity end, the low end of the trade. I do understand the live export market gives them price competition against the local processors but what is happening in the trade now is that animal welfare has been externalised. So more and more sheep go on giving a high profit to the companies, which in turn sends some of that profit back to farmers, which in turn is a disadvantage to local processors and local jobs. We want an outcome which is good for farmers, good for the economy, good for jobs and of course delivers better animal welfare standards.
PARKER: In terms of animal welfare standards, the Government has announced tougher restrictions and penalties on the trade, a reduction in the number of sheep packed onto vessels, increasing ventilation on the ships. Why is that not enough?
FITZGIBBON: Let me take ventilation for an example, what indeed the Government has said is it will impose new standards in 2019. We are about to enter into the 2018 northern summer trade and none of those new rules will be applied. There will be a ship leaving Fremantle as early as this week and David Littleproud, the Minister, wants us to believe the standards he dropped on Thursday last week are going to suddenly and quickly applied to the next ship departing. Its hard to see that happening and of course we must have faith in the same regulator -
PARKER: But why not give that a few years. Like you would phase out live exports, why not sort of phase in these new restrictions and see how we go with that?
FITZGIBBON: Thats exactly what the Government is doing. It is phasing them in.
PARKER: What is wrong with that?
FITZGIBBON: Because 60,000 sheep could be about to leave Fremantle under no better conditions than was the case the last time a ship left Fremantle. Now David Littleproud would contest that, but what I said we have to have confidence that the same regulator, which has been proven to be adequate in the past. I mean, David Littleproud has a review by the Attorney Generals Department into the regulator, yet we are supposed to, pre that review, believe those new standards are going to be imposed this week. I suspect they wont be and sheep will continue to suffer in that northern summer heat and that is unacceptable to the majority of Australians.
PARKER: The Government doesnt want to stop live sheep exports. They are going to do what they can to stop this Bill getting up and even to be debated it in the first place. What sort of hope is there for this?
FITZGIBBON: Well first of all the problems we face and the reason we saw this 60 Minutes footage is because Barnaby Joyce gave the industry a full leave pass for the last five years. He took a light touch approach to regulating the industry and they abused that. Now that has to change, and needs to change, and must change.
PARKER: And before we let you go Joel Fitzgibbon, we are talking to Joel Fitzgibbon the Shadow Agriculture Minister from the ALP in the Federal Opposition. One Nation this morning said theyve threatened to direct preferences to Labor ahead of the Coalition in Queensland marginal seats at the next Federal election after the Liberal Nationals rebuffed an offer to swap preferences at the Longman byelection. What do you think about that? Would you be happy to take One Nations preferences?
FITZGIBBON: We will continue to focus on our own policies Fiona and our own strategies. We will leave it to the Government as it always does to dance with One Nation. One Nations votes with the Government in the senate 90 per cent of the time. At least this is a blew between two friends.
PARKER: They have rebuffed an offer to swap preferences for the Longman byelection. Theyre not dancing with them there.
FITZGIBBON: Well we will see where that takes us. I will let our party organisational wing deal with these matters but we will focus on our own policies and our own strategies and we are determined to get rid of this terrible Government and to hopefully take Government at the next election.
PARKER: Even if it does mean taking One Nation preferences?
FITZGIBBON: I dont think you will see the Labor Party doing any deals with One Nation.
PARKER: Definitely not?
FITZGIBBON: Its not my position to say but I dont think youll see the Labor Party doing any deals with One Nation.
PARKER: Thanks for joining us this morning.
FITZGIBBON: Its a great pleasure.