Lake Grace farmer Allan Marshall recently published an excellent article outlining the important role live sheep exports play in delivering multiple benefits, especially improved animal welfare and global food security. The Lake Grace farmers’ analysis also highlighted the industry’s job-creation in rural communities and taxation revenue that’s subsequently re-invested into delivering critical public services. “Export income provides the Australian people with the hospitals, schools and many other ancillary services required by a modern society,” he wrote. Allan’s article rightly questioned the validity of “social license” issues raised by animal rights activists more than five years ago via emotive media reports, which led to Labor’s decision to ban the trade, if re-elected. “The industry responded to those concerns with livestock ships being refitted to accommodate and even to the point of suspending the trade during the Northern Hemisphere summer period,” he wrote. “The inclusion of on-board veterinary staff was introduced to monitor the health of the stock in transit and to record any deaths during the voyage. “The death rate on these modern livestock vessels is now about 0.03 per cent, which is lower than on-farm natural death rates.” So why does this closure of the live sheep trade concern Grain Producers Australia? Firstly, many of our members are also livestock producers so they are already living with the social and economic consequences, such as vastly reduced sheep prices. Secondly, the version of “social license” used to “justify” this ban is politically distorted and that problem needs to be urgently addressed so producers have clarity and certainty in future. Something’s horribly wrong with the world when an industry that’s operating with a success rate of 99.97 per cent (in preventing mortalities) — remembering there’s no such thing as zero risk — and has responded to so called “public concerns”, is now being banned, to serve a political agenda. The industry has taken its medicine from one prescribing doctor (the former Coalition government) but the new one insists the industry’s still got a deadly disease, despite evidence to the contrary. The real question should be — who’s issuing this license which tolerates such a flawed diagnosis being accepted by anyone, with evidence of better health totally ignored? Our members are watching this policy decision with intense interest, to not only try to comprehend it, but also predict what’s coming next from the “licensing authority”. We can’t continue to stand back and say nothing when such poor policy decisions are being made, contrary to facts and proof. The new 10 per cent Biosecurity Protection Levy that’s raising funds for consolidated government revenue is really another tax on growers and another example of this approach, which concerns GPA. You have to stand up for what’s right. That’s why the GPA made a submission to the consultation panel process on the phase-out of live sheep exports by sea. We also presented our views to the four-member panel at a public hearing in Sydney. Our submission said the anti-farming activist agenda would be emboldened by this ban, applying its significant funding, resources and subversive strategies to target cattle and grains. This ban will set a dangerous precedent which would encourage other extreme activist groups targeting the cropping sector, such as those ideologically opposed to the use of fertilisers, pesticides and biotechnology, despite heavy regulation and objective scientific evidence of their safety. The GPA’s submission highlighted the points raised by Allan about the flawed interpretation of “social license’’ used to justify this ban. The submission highlights the “dangerous, poor precedent this ban sets for all of Australian agriculture and the broader community”, arguing that it creates greater uncertainty, confusion and loss of confidence. The submission calls on the panel process to consider the fact that agriculture requires “a clear and transparent definition of social license to work with in future, to deliver real certainty and grow business confidence, with clearly defined meanings on key matters eg; who the actual licensing body/agent is; the communities impacted by this license; what the actual offences are and committed by whom; standards of evidence to guide the agent’s decisions; and the steps needed to remedy issues and address so called ‘community concern’ (for example, animal welfare improvements), and maintain trust, rather than invoking blunt bans”. The GPA believes that without these clear guidelines for ‘social license’, Australian producers and farming industries will face even greater uncertainty, in confronting an even more volatile future. Colin Bettles is the chief executive at Grain Producers Australia.