SPEECH - Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024

SPEECH - Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024 Main Image

Image Attribution - Animals Australia

I support the legislation before us. This debate has been with me for two decades now. I was in the state parliament of Western Australia with the agricultural minister, the Hon. Kim Chance, who was involved in these debates some two decades ago. I have the Hansard from August 2003. Frankly, it's interesting how little the key issues in this debate have changed. He called out the fact that someone in the reporting was not telling the truth. He raised the allegations that had been made about the evidence and the way it was put together for the 60 Minutes report at the time. He said he wouldn't build on those rumours, but he said, 'I hope someone is seeking the facts of the matter.' What was revealed were the extraordinarily high levels of sheep deaths at sea at that time.

I sat on the petitions committee of the Legislative Council that looked at the issues way back in 2002. We looked at the Commonwealth and state jurisdiction. We looked at the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2002. We looked at actions that the state government could take. We also looked at concerns that the live sheep trade was undermining the more lucrative job-creating processed meat trade. The simple fact is that, in the two decades since that time, the live sheep trade from Western Australia has declined and processed meat exports from Western Australia and the rest of the country have climbed dramatically.

I'll concede that there will be, frankly, new policy issues that come to the fore that will revisit some other policy debates that we might have had in this place from some time ago, like the fact that our processed meat gets overseas on flights from right around the country, which, for example, would bring to the fore what role Qatar Airlines might have in the future in export of processed meat from Western Australia. These are the kinds of policy issues that I contend will be part of these considerations in the future.

Today I received a text message from a friend of mine who is a wheat and sheep farmer. He said, 'Not every farmer thinks banning live sheep is the wrong way to go.' He's not the only farmer in Western Australia I have spoken to personally from different farming regions around the state who is of that opinion. When you look at the trajectory of the industry, it's little wonder that they think that. They want to see a modernised sheep industry, wool industry, meat processing industry in Western Australia. These debates have, in their view, gone on for far too long. And in that time too many people have found themselves more and more on the margins of the debate, when actually, as the report from the taskforce reveals, we just want to get on with working with these communities, growing their employment opportunities and improving the viability of the sheep industries in Western Australia.

The simple truth is that, unlike other states, which don't export live sheep, Western Australia has to some extent had its head in the sand on where we're at on this issue, because no other state has this level of dependence on live sheep. But actually it's wrong of me to say 'this level of dependence', because, frankly, Western Australia's sheep and farming industry is not dependent on the live sheep trade—far from it. We know that in 2021-22 the WA flock was 12.4 million head, which was 50 per cent lower than in the early 2000s and dramatically lower than at its peak of 38 million head in 1990.

These are the very time periods I have been talking about. This reduction in sheep numbers occurred long before many of the current live export animal welfare requirements were introduced. Merino sheep make up some 80 per cent of the state's flock, with the remainder being meat-specific breeds, such as the dorper. Our sheep flock has evolved over the past two decades, with more lambs and few wethers, largely in response to the growing demand for lamb to process as sheepmeat. If you look at the industry figures—it's got very little to do with the kind of debate and the legislation that's before us tonight—these numbers really reflect the rise of sheepmeat export and the drop in live exports across Western Australia.

I support the new jobs that will be in these industries, including meat processing. The Australian meatworkers union has said that, regardless of whether sheep are exported live or processed locally onshore, all the jobs in the supply chain up until that point remain the same. The only difference is that if the truck turns right to the port the live export sheep are loaded with a handful of stockmen, and an Australian vet accompanies them on their journey, but if the truck turns left and takes those animals to a processing facility it will employ some 500 to 800 people directly and many more in the industry.

Other evidence the taskforce heard was that major processors across Western Australia feel confident that they can expand operations and pick up any available animals because of the end of live exports. Roger Fletcher from Fletcher International Exports, which has a processing facility in Albany, has said that the number of live sheep sent overseas every year could be processed in Australia in four days. Fletcher International Exports and local processor WAMMCO have said that their processing facilities over the next couple of years could be used to deal with increased demand.

So let's take a look at the facts in the context of this debate tonight. The live sheep export industry has been in decline for many years. It's shrunk from $415 million in 2002-03, the time that I was just speaking of at the beginning of my remarks, to just $77 million this financial year. Those figures are but a tiny fraction of our overall sheep industry, let alone animal industries in Australia. Over that same period, demand for processed sheepmeat both here and overseas has been rapidly expanding, and we have an enormous opportunity, with the package before us in the parliament tonight, to take our government's commitment, a commitment of $107 million that can now be used to realise growing export market opportunities and growing job opportunities for regional communities around Western Australia. Four point five billion dollars worth of sheepmeat was exported from Australia last year, with our domestic sheepmeat market being worth $3.5 billion. Overall, that's $8 billion, with only $77 million of that in live sheep exports.

Now, with $107 million on the table in our package for Western Australia to build new processing facilities and to work with local industries, we can grow the viability of our farming and sheep industries even more. There's a strong future for the WA sheep industry with more sheepmeat processing creating hundreds of local jobs, a greater benefit to our local economy. We've done the work, and now it's time to get this funding moving and start growing Western Australian jobs.