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By Grain Producers Australia Chair and WA grain producer, Barry Large

Grain Producers Australia has made a strong submission to the House Standing Committee on Agriculture’s inquiry into the legislation that’s been tabled in Federal Parliament, to ban live sheep exports by sea after 1 May 2028.

This short, sharp inquiry has farm representatives such as GPA working overtime to sharpen their views to make strong submissions before the June 11 deadline.

The inquiry was announced on June 4 and the Committee is set to deliver its findings and recommendations by June 21.

GPA has already demonstrated our support in standing opposed to this ban based on solid principles; including when we presented at a hearing of the Independent Panel’s inquiry into the phase out of live sheep exports by sea, held last year.

We also made a written submission to the inquiry in June last year, which summarised our strong concerns about these matters.

GPA’s submission made it clear that many grain producers also run livestock including large numbers of sheep, especially across WA, and it’s important we express a strong voice for our members whose farm businesses are also directly impacted by this political decision.

That includes on my own farm at Miling in WA’s Northern Wheatbelt where sheep and wool are integral to our overall farm production program, farming systems and business diversity.

It’s also vitally important to support those people in our communities who rely on this important trade and are also feeling the serious stress and strain of this political intervention and the impacts they’ve experienced in their lives and businesses for some time, such as reduced prices.

With dry seasonal conditions also persisting across my region of WA in the past couple of years, there’s no doubt this looming ban adds to mounting pressures being felt, not just by farmers.

Our submission to the Panel inquiry said:

‘GPA vigorously disagrees with the Government’s policy for Australia to withdraw from the live sheep export market – especially when our nation is widely regarded as world-leading in animal welfare standards and our involvement in this trade contributes to lifting standards in export countries, with sustained investment of government funding and grower levies. These markets will continue to source livestock supplied by other countries where no such welfare standards and oversight systems apply, such as the tracking and traceability provided by ESCAS. Given mortality rates are at record lows, this decision is counterintuitive to the core values on animal welfare and the role of food producers, shared by the community. This ban will also have negative impacts on our trading partners in the Middle East who also buy Australian grains, including for feed stock, and our overall international trading reputation.’

GPA’s submission also said the ban has: ‘inflicted a significant dent in trust of governments and due process, by kowtowing to the will of activists, despite scientific facts and broader evidence’.

‘Social license considerations are of key concern for GPA members, with fears this government ban sets a dangerous precedent which emboldens other extreme activist groups targeting the cropping sector, such as those that ideologically oppose the use of fertilisers, pesticides, biotechnology etc. despite already being heavily regulated and/or demonstrated to be safe, including with objective scientific evidence.’

Put simply, this means everyone in Australian agriculture is watching this policy decision with great anxiety due to the precedent it sets, with ramifications far beyond the live sheep sector.

We know it’s not just the cattle industry that’s now exposed and at risk to blunt political interventions based on extreme activist ideology.

We’ve seen governments around the world make bad decisions recently that have directly impacted farmers’ livelihoods and our ability to keep producing food and fibre sustainably, and affordably for consumers, such as banning fertilisers.

Other vital, basic farming practices are now in the firing line of populist government decision-making driven by extreme, emotionally charge activist campaigns where the ends justifies the means – where facts and scientific evidence are sacrificial lambs used to feed misinformation; especially on social media.

It’s bewildering how an industry can be actually be shut down by a government despite performance.

The average annual mortality rate for live sheep shipments has decreased from 0.71 per cent in 2017 (when the 60 Minutes program broadcast seven-month-old video footage supplied to them by animal rights activists from the Awassi Express which triggered the political backlash) to 0.17pc in 2023.

Quite simply, this industry has done everything it can and more to resolve issues on animal welfare and increase standards, according to so called ‘social license’ principles to build community trust.

Despite this evidence, and the fact ESCAS is a world-leading animal welfare system introduced by Labor in response to the Indonesian cattle ban of 2011 to safeguard industry, this trade is still being shut down.

Going forward, how can anyone in Australian agriculture ever again trust the concept of community trust and social license, when the punishment and pain is still being administered by a government for political gain, despite these salient facts and obvious truths?

  • This article was first published on Countryman, 14 June 2024: HERE


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