Wagin Woolorama: Peter Dutton describes Labor’s push to shut down live sheep exports as ‘anti-WA’
Mr Dutton has recommitted the Coalition government “100 per cent” to overturning a future live exports ban if it returns to power.
The Liberal leader and a number of his WA colleagues used a visit to Wagin Woolorama on Friday to throw their support behind the sector, which has been left reeling after Labor this month appointed a four-person consultation panel to map out how and when it would be shut down.
Labor went to the past two Federal elections promising to phase out live sheep exports after the deaths of about 2400 sheep on a ship from Fremantle to the Middle East in 2017.
Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE
Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.READ NOW
Mr Dutton said the Albanese Government was pushing ahead with the ban to please voters in inner-city Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, describing its decisions as “anti-WA and anti-farming”.
“They (Labor) have no regard for farming families in the West,” he said.
“What we’re here for is to stand up for those families.”
After “wiping out” the live sheep trade, Mr Dutton said the Albanese Government would ultimately set its sights on live cattle.
“If people think a ban on live sheep export would stop there, that the people who are against this industry would be happy to put a full stop there, then they have no idea what the future agenda is,” he said.
“I’d like to make it very clear today that we will support the industry, firstly to fight against Labor’s attempts to close it down, and if they do close it down, our commitment (is) to reinstate it.”
The live sheep trade employs about 3500 people across the supply chain — 80 per cent of them based in WA — with more than 600,000 sheep exported from ports across the State in 2021.
Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt told The West Labor intended to deliver on its election promise.
Senator Watt said the Government would work with WA’s sheep industry to secure its future, including by exploring the potential for more onshore processing.
He also accused the Liberals of being divided on the issue, pointing out that Mr Dutton’s new deputy, Sussan Ley, pushed a Bill to ban live sheep exports in 2018.
“West Australians know where Labor stands on this issue, unlike the Liberal Party, who are still split,” he said.
Mr Dutton toured the British and Australasian Breeds sheep shed, chatting with students from WA College of Agriculture — Narrogin, and farmers, and meeting Wagin Woolorama Rural Ambassador Chloe Blight.
He then moved next door to the Merino shed, where nearly 100 farmers and industry representatives watched his press conference and pledge to support the industry.
Among the notable WA industry representatives in the crowd were The Livestock Collective managing director Holly Ludeman and director Steven Bolt, a Corrigin farmer, WAFarmers chief executive Trevor Whittington, Stud Merino Breeders Association of WA president Allan Hobley and Wagin Woolorama co-founder Malcolm Edwards.
Mr Bolt said Mr Dutton’s trip to WA proved “his commitment to the WA sheep industry and greater agricultural industry in WA”.
When asked whether the phase-out of live export had been driven by animal activists, Ms Ludeman said animal welfare improvements needed to be considered.
“There have been significant improvements in animal welfare all through the supply chain that need to be acknowledged… we have exceptional outcomes in voyages and in market,” she said.
“Our trading partners are getting valuable nutrition with high quality meat from us… with the clean, green image Australia has, we should not leave the market for another country to fill.
“Our State Government, Mark McGowan and Jackie Jarvis have been really supportive of the trade and they know what it means to the regions… from farmers, to shearers… everyone here at Woolorama are the heart of WA.
“They are supporting us as much as they can with their State capacity.”
Flanking Mr Dutton was fellow Coalition frontbencher Michaelia Cash, WA-based Federal MPs Melissa Price, Rick Wilson, Slade Brockman and Matt O’Sullivan, as well as WA MPs Steve Martin and David Honey, and Tasmanian Liberal Senator Gavin Pearce.
Mr Martin, Mr Wilson and Mr Brockman were at the event to promote and gather more signatures for a petition the trio started against Labor’s proposed ban on the industry.
“We’re up to about 3000 signatures. . . it’s been a very good response. People are very concerned,” Mr Wilson told Countryman.
“There’s a lot of sheep out there that farmers are running short of feed for and they need to get rid of, and there’s nowhere to kill them now because the processors are fully booked for months.
“This is, I think, a taste of things to come. . .. and what we’re going to see is that more and more people will just find the running of livestock — sheep in this particular instance, but cattle are next in line — is getting too hard.”
WA Nationals MLA Peter Rundle and MLC Colin de Grussa brought their own petition to the two-day event which Mr Rundle said had so far attracted “well over 2000” signatures.
“I’ve never seen a response like it in any field day or agricultural show that I’ve been involved in,” he said.
“Probably 80 to 90 per cent of people who approached us, that was what they wanted to talk about, and they wanted to show their support.
“It wasn’t just farmers, it was community members and people from across the supply chain.”
Despite the ban being at least two years away, Mr Rundle said it had already caused “underlying confidence issues” in the sector.
“There’s a lot of people I spoke to over the weekend that have got 500 or 2000 wethers that are in limbo at the moment,” he said.
“Saleyard prices have dropped off and they’re struggling to work out where they’re going to go.”
Fremantle Labor MP Josh Wilson said Mr Dutton and his entourage were “in denial about reality”.
“The live sheep trade has been in serious decline for 20 years because of entrenched animal welfare failures and a sensible shift to increased chilled and frozen meat exports,” he said.
“If Peter Dutton wants to campaign in WA with posters supporting the live sheep trade I would say — bring it on.”
The Australian Alliance For Animals — the activist group that leaked Labor’s live export policy two weeks before last year’s Federal election — “condemned” the Coalition’s pledge to reinstate the trade should it be returned to power.
AAFA policy director Jed Goodfellow said the move would “harm animal welfare, export Aussie jobs overseas, and be resoundingly rejected by the Australian community”.
“Polling commissioned by the RSPCA in 2022 shows that 78 per cent of Australians — including 79 per cent of Western Australians — support a phase out of live sheep exports if farmers are assisted in the process,” Dr Goodfellow said.
“Any attempt to continue this cruel trade will not be well received by the majority of Australians, and the level of concern just gets higher with every generation.”
Of the hundred or so countries that export live animals, Australia is the only one that regulates to ensure they are treated in line with international animal welfare standards, according to the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s website.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails