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Federal Ag Minister reaffirms intention to release live export report after FOI requests denied

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
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Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt has denied that a controversial report on shutting down WA’s live sheep trade was ‘never to be released’.
Camera IconMinister for Agriculture Murray Watt has denied that a controversial report on shutting down WA’s live sheep trade was ‘never to be released’. Credit: The West Australian

Murray Watt has again insisted he will release a controversial report containing recommendations on ways to shut down WA’s live sheep trade, after multiple Freedom of Information requests to obtain the document were rejected.

The 230-page report was submitted to the Federal Agriculture Minister in late October after an independent panel completed four months of consultation and reviewed more than 4000 submissions.

At the time, Senator Watt told a Senate Estimates hearing the panel’s report would be released publicly but not until it had been reviewed by Cabinet.

He was forced to reaffirm the point this week after another media outlet — which had an FOI request to obtain the document knocked back — reported that it had been sealed, “never to be released”.

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Senator Watt told Countryman this was incorrect.

“The Government is taking the time to properly assess all recommendations in the report and develop a responsible response,” he said in a statement.

“As I have stated previously, the report will be released following appropriate consideration by Government.

“The Government will not be commenting on the details of the report while it carefully considers the recommendations.”

At least two other FOI requests — by the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council and Federal Nationals leader David Littleproud — were denied.

Media tour of Emanuel exports sheep carrying business. Fremantle port.
Picture : Sharon Smith The West Australian
Camera IconAn Emanuel Exports ship back in 2019. Credit: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

Senator Watt’s office knocked back the requests on the grounds that the report was a Cabinet document, making it exempt under the FOI Act.

“The report contains information that goes to Cabinet deliberations which, if disclosed, would reveal those Cabinet deliberations,” the response to one of the FOI requests stated.

“No deliberation or decision associated with the report has been officially disclosed.

“The exemption… is necessary to maintain the confidentiality of the Cabinet process, such that the principle of collective ministerial responsibility is not undermined.”

With Parliament due to close for the year on December 7, it appears likely the report will not be released until at least February.

Mr Littleproud reiterated his previous calls for Federal Labor — which has committed to ban live sheep exports after the next election — to release the document immediately.

“The Albanese Government is showing utter contempt to Western Australian families by keeping this report secretive about phasing out the live sheep export trade,” he said.

“We have an opportunity to stop this in the Senate, which is why I am planning on bringing Senator David Pocock with me to WA so he can see the benefits of this industry for himself.”

ALEC chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton said it was important the report was made public “in the interest of transparency”, but added that the industry would only accept the policy being scrapped.

According to DAFF’s website, the report includes recommendations on potential mechanisms to facilitate the phase-out, a suggested time frame and options for implementation, and potential ways to support the transition.

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