Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Live Animal Exports
It's with a great deal of disappointment that I use the opportunity of this grievance debate to once again talk about the plight of the live export trade; in particular, the live sheep trade. Over 65 per cent of the sheep that are exported out of Australia come from my electorate of O'Connor in Western Australia, and Western Australia provides the bulk of the balance of those sheep. A couple of things have happened in the last week or so that have put this industry and the trials and tribulations it's been through back on the agenda.
The first thing was the release of the Mecardo report. The report was commissioned by Meat & Livestock Australia, and it outlines the cost and impact of the disruption to the trade since May 2018, when disturbing footage emerged of sheep in great distress at a port in Qatar—and I'll get back to the veracity of that footage in a moment. The Mecardo report identified that $148 million was the cost of disruption to the trade. As I said, most of that trade, 65 per cent of it, emanates from my electorate. We can break that down into the disruption of the trade between June and October 2018, when the estimated cost was $83.6 million nationally. I've also estimated—and I think this is quite a robust figure—that around 45 per cent of that value is returned to the farm gate, to the farmer, so the actual loss to the farmers in my electorate and other electorates was around $37.6 million.
As part of that number, the Centre for International Economics, a well-known economics consultancy, estimated that there was a 30 to 50 per cent reduction in sale prices. That was across the board, not just for live sheep. When the live exporters aren't in the saleyards buying sheep for the live trade, it leads to a 30 to 50 per cent reduction in saleyard prices. That was an additional $9.3 million to $15.4 million that was lost during the 2018 season. During 2019 we had a moratorium that was imposed by the industry, a voluntary moratorium, which was extended by 21 days. It's estimated that the cost of that was around $29.6 million to our farmers and around $65 million to the industry overall.
This cost is borne not just by farmers of course. There are a lot of people in the supply chain who rely on the live export trade. Road transport operators are impacted very heavily. Andy Jacob, who was the president of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA, was quite vocal in defending the industry. Unfortunately, he had to leave Western Australia, take his business elsewhere, because he could no longer remain viable without 12 months work for his trucks. We've got pellet manufacturers—three across Western Australia—some of whom had to lay off workers during the suspension of the trade. We've got livestock agents, sheep buyers who buy on behalf of the exporters, and, of course, the actual exporters themselves.
There were some major changes made to the way the industry operates after May 2018. Probably the most important was the reduction in stocking densities. This has led to a great improvement in mortalities on the boats, and that's a very, very pleasing outcome, although it has led to an increase in cost, effectively, and a reduced return to farm gate. But I think most farmers accept that we're better having an industry that's running with very low mortalities and getting a few dollars less per head than having an industry where we run the risk of having a high-mortality event and losing the industry altogether.
The impact of the lower stocking densities has seen a 54 per cent reduction in mortalities over the 2013 to 2017 period, which is a terrific result, but the changes in the industry have led to a great deal of uncertainty. There are a lot of people wondering whether they're going to continue running sheep and livestock, because of the uncertainty and negativity around the industry. Along this journey, we've had some significant issues and events crop up that have created that uncertainty and that negativity about the industry. I will go back to July 2018, when Emanuel Exports had a cargo of 65,000 sheep that were ready to load. They were asked by the Department of Agriculture to delay the loading by 24 hours—they just needed some additional paperwork, et cetera—and then at midnight they received an email saying that their licence had been suspended. So those 65,000 sheep were suspended in Australia, stuck in Australia, for three months. They needed to be fed. They needed to be looked after at great expense. And, of course, that expense often gets passed back to the farmer, at the end of the day.
On 23 May 2019 the Ocean Drover was due to leave port, and Animals Australia made a 700-page submission to the Department of Agriculture objecting to the voyage and RETWA, the exporter, was given 24 hours to respond to a 700-page document. I think that was absolutely outrageous. Those sheep were in the feedlot, ready to be loaded, and this was just a tactic. I believe that the department was colluding with Animals Australia to make life as difficult as possible for the exporters.
I want to draw your attention to the comments of the Animals Australia legal counsel Shartha Hamade. She said that it was 'just madness for this shipment to go ahead'. She made the comment:
Having them at the feedlot for three months with food and water … is much better than being cooked alive on a vessel in the open ocean.
Firstly, the way the world operates—in the real world, out of the Animals Australia world—is that if they're in a feedlot for three months they've got to be fed, watered and looked after. That costs money, and someone's got to pay for that. This was a deliberate attempt to try and cause as much disruption and cost to the industry as possible. But, as I've said previously, that cost just gets handed back down to the grower.
But the Ocean Drover did department Fremantle on 26 May. It had 56,915 sheep and 135 cattle. The sheep mortalities were 65 sheep—or 0.115 per cent, which is I think almost a record low. So despite the claims of Animals Australia that these sheep were going to be cooked alive, this shipment, which left on 26 May and arrived in the Middle East in the middle of June, was an incredibly successful voyage.
Animals Australia have just released the Pegasus Economics report, which they've obviously commissioned. It makes a whole lot of claims, including conceding that there is a discount in the market when the live export trade isn't operating. But a really important concession that they do make is about market substitution with animals from a country without the same welfare requirements:
Deputy Speaker Gillespie, you would be aware, as many people in this place are, that Australia is the only country—of the 100 nations that participated in the live export trade—that has an export supply chain assurance scheme. We set the standard, and our standard is very high. What Animals Australia are conceding in their own report is that, when Australia is out of the market, importers just go to any of those other 100 countries that export animals, often with terrible results. I was in Qatar in October last year and I heard of a very poor result for some sheep from Romania—they didn't have the protections that Australian animals have. So, as I said, I rise tonight to put the plight of our live exporters on the record here in the House.