Farmers thrash out live sheep export woe

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantThe West Australian
VideoFarmers say they'll be ruined if Bill Shorten wins the next election and pushes ahead with the plan to ban live sheep exports.

Issues facing the embattled live sheep export trade were discussed at a farmers’ alliance group forum in Darkan last week.

Organised by the Compass Agricultural Alliance, the meeting included representation from WAFarmers, Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, and a range of politicians.

CAA president Tim Harrington, a Darkan sheep farmer, said the objective of the meeting was to better inform alliance members on where the industry was going as observed by a wide range of industry advocates.

“The meeting was put together in a short time frame, but was well attended with approximately 95 people,” he said. “Members of the alliance are concerned over the fallout of the live export industry.”

Mr Harrington said he was glad that Animals Australia released video footage taken aboard the Awassi Express, which had almost 2400 sheep die on its voyage to the Middle East last year.

“Farmers feel the Federal Government regulators have let the industry down,” he said. “We are also weary of misleading information which is driving the decision-making process towards a potential ban on the industry.”

Mr Harrington was referring to Labor Federal shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon’s endorsement of a phase out of live sheep exports if a Shorten government is empowered.

On the way to visit Mr Harrington on Monday, Countryman encountered a barren landscape only interrupted by long lines of sheep which had been trail fed.

Mr Harrington emphasised the care he placed on his sheep during such an unseasonal dry autumn.

“Even though we are facing uncertain and lowering sheep trade values, the flock is kept in good condition, no matter the input feed costs,” he said. CAA consultant Andrew Ritchie, of Icon Agriculture, said a potential ban on the industry would result in an average loss of $140,000 in farm-gate income, a figure derived from data from the group.

“This sum is a serious slice of the net profit, if not all of it,” he said.

“Farmers in this region of WA don’t want to resort to running less sheep, which would mean more reliance on an inefficient mixed farm ratio. WAFarmers wool committee chairman Steve McGuire said the industry must work together to ensure the transport and slaughter of sheep to the Middle East continues.

“Animals Australia’s economic analysts of the live export industry is fundamentally flawed and incorrect, which has caused great damage,” he said.

“The real truth is that farmers’ incomes from the live export trade on average account for 30 per cent of their annual revenue.”

Mr McGuire said it was hoped the McCarthy Review, set to be released tomorrow, would make headway on where improvements could be made.

PGA vice-president Digby Stretch said stopping the live sheep export trade during the Middle East summer was not an option.

Mr Stretch was referring to WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan’s suggestion that a ban should take place during that time frame.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development senior development officer Mandy Curnow attended the meeting at Darkan and provided an apology on behalf of Minister MacTiernan, who was unable to attend.

Ms Curnow undertook to provide feedback on the issues.

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies attended the meeting to voice outrage at the Labor Party’s pledge for a live export ban.

“This decision has been made to ward off the ever-increasing green vote in inner-city electorates where Labor is desperate to secure additional seats at the upcoming election,” she said. “It ignores the economic and social significance of the trade for our State, particularly in regional WA, to chase the vote.”

Ms Davies said Mr Fitzgibbon’s announcement bore striking similarities to Labor’s ban on live cattle exports in 2011.

“Many went out of business and it destroyed families,” she said.

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