A MOVE by the Greens to block Australia’s live export trade has come under fire from Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The Minister inspected the loading of the livestock carrier MV Al-Shuwaikh in Fremantle on Monday as a ship load of sheep set sail to Bahrain, marking Western Australia's resumption of live exports to that market after an eight-year hiatus.
“Every sheep on this boat is a reflection of someone who is getting a cheque back to their kitchen table,” he said. “It is a good trade and I stand behind it.”
Mr Joyce said a Greens bill to ban live animal exports – to be reintroduced in the Senate this week – was part of the party’s “underhanded tactics” to “attack agricultural competitiveness in Australia”.
The disallowance motion to be introduced into the Senate by Senator Lee Rhiannon seeks to prevent the resumption of live animal exports to Egypt. If successful, it would have a significant impact on livestock producers, particularly in WA, Mr Joyce said.
The Greens and the RSPCA have voiced strong concerns over the continued use in Egypt of full inversion slaughter boxes, currently allowable under the Australian government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) framework, but Mr Joyce said Australia’s welfare standards were “unparalleled by any other country”.
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones said the decision to resume trade with Egypt was “premature” and the emphasis should be on first improving welfare standards before opening up more markets.
“Despite previous arrangements having many of the hallmarks of ESCAS, they failed to protect Australian cattle from significant and ongoing cruelty - how can the Australian public trust it will be any different now?” she said.
Mr Joyce said the agricultural sector in Australia had nothing to be ashamed of.
Neither the government nor producers would be “held to ransom by the Greens and their extremist backers any longer”, he said, and banning live export would also deprive Australia’s export partners of access to some of the “cleanest, greenest high quality protein in the world”.
“The government’s agenda is crystal clear - we are about boosting Australia’s agricultural competitiveness and increasing returns at the farmgate and one fundamental way of achieving that is opening up and building on our trade relationships,” Mr Joyce said.
The Greens have ramped up longstanding calls to replace live ex with a boxed meat trade, in response to the reopening of several closed live export markets.
The resumption of trade with Egypt and Bahrain follows reports of significant increases in exports to Indonesia, with recent confirmation of second quarter permits to that market for around 273,000 head of cattle.
Senator Rhiannon last week claimed the Agriculture Minister was looking after “a few wealthy pastoralists” instead of focusing on employment growth opportunities in regional Australia.
“Opening up abattoirs across regional Australia would create thousands of jobs and help secure Australia a stronger place in the expanding international trade in processed meat,” she said.
“The fact that record boxed lamb shipments were sent to the Middle East in the last fiscal year and that Bahrain has totally replaced Australian live sheep imports with the import of Australian meat shows that there is a viable and more humane alternative.”
The Greens’ bill to ban live exports was first introduced to the Senate in June 2011 by Senator Rachel Siewert prior to the temporary suspension of live exports to Indonesia. It was reintroduced by Senator Rhiannon in March 2012. Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt introduced a similar Greens bill into the House of Representatives in 2011, and in February Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie introduced a bill to phase out the trade over three years - his fourth legislative attempt to stop Australian live animal exports, despite vocal support from both sides of the House for continuation and expansion of the trade.
“Australia produces and exports livestock according to animal welfare and production standards which are unparalleled by any other country,” Mr Joyce said.
“The government will strongly oppose this latest attack on Australian livestock producers by the Greens and stand behind our commitment to boosting the competitiveness of agricultural production.”