WA’S Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan has been accused of pursuing a personal agenda as The Nationals WA moved two motions of no confidence in her in parliament last week.
Nationals WA leader Mia Davies moved a motion in parliament on Thursday calling for the Minister to step down, saying she had “lost the confidence of the sector”.
Her motion read “That this house notes raids by DPIRD on Emanuel Exports, withdrawal from the live export market by Livestock Shipping Services and reports today that the WA live export cattle industry has reduced by 20,000 head over the last three months and calls for the immediate resignation of the Minister for Agriculture and Food to restore WA’s reputation as a reliable supplier of livestock and agricultural produce”.
Her counterpart the Member for Warren-Blackwood, and a former Minister for Agriculture, Terry Redman, had moved a similar motion last Wednesday concerning her role as Regional Development Minister.
Ms Davies said while the agricultural sector was pragmatic and willing to work with whoever was in government to achieve outcomes, “the overwhelming feedback we are getting on the ground is frustration and concern that the Minister is actively undermining the industry’s best interests”.
Ms Davies said the State’s two biggest farm groups – WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) - had both expressed dwindling confidence in the Minister’s capacity to perform the job.
“Under the stewardship of Alannah MacTiernan, WA’s agriculture sector is lurching from crisis to crisis,” she said.
“I share the Federal Minister’s concern that the raid by Ms MacTiernan’s department of Emanuel Exports headquarters could undermine an active Federal investigation and question the Minister’s motivation for pursuing this action.
“Likewise, we see documents tabled by the Minister in the Legislative Council from the Qatari Ambassador making it expressly clear they prefer live sheep over chilled meat.
“The Ambassador said his country expects the support of its friends and partners, particularly in relation to issues of food security, in ways that ensure benefits for the peoples of both sides.”
The move by The Nationals WA came just days after Ms MacTiernan ordered animal welfare officers to raid the Emanuel Exports head office in West Perth to recover documentation that would assist in her attempts to prosecute the company under the State Animal Welfare Act 2002.
The parliamentary vote was defeated 31-11, after Minister MacTiernan was heavily defended by her colleagues.
Premier Mark McGowan said Ms MacTiernan was trying to ensure that the industry and communities understood the situation they were in.
“What (the minister) is trying to do is save them from themselves,” Mr McGowan said.
“When we are trying to save someone from themselves, it is not too often that we find that they do not want to be saved.”
Ms Davies said the Premier’s statement in Parliament that the Minister was trying to “save the industry from itself” was arrogant.
Mr Redman said there was a disconnect with the current Minister and the agriculture industry and she was pursuing a personal agenda that put her at odds with the industry and regional communities.
“The Nationals WA have heard firsthand from farmers and the communities they support that the Minister’s opposition to GMO, regenerative agriculture and playing politics with dog fence funding for the Esperance region is wearing thin,” Mr Redman said.
“In the case of live export, our farmers all demand and expect a high standard of animal welfare across the supply chain but their livelihoods are being undermined by a State Agriculture Minister who does not appear to be acting in their interest.
“The Premier has been derelict in his duty by allowing the Minister, who should be championing this industry, to actively undermine it.”
Approximately 2500 farmers produce sheep for export in WA, representing about 85 per cent of the nation’s live sheep trade.
During the debate the Premier also attacked PGA president Tony Seabrook and WAFarmers president Tony York saying the “two characters” who had been outspoken about the Minister’s actions would have the consequences of another incident in live exports “on their heads because it will be their fault”.
PGA president Tony Seabrook brushed that comment off and questioned Ms MacTiernan’s judgement over the raid on the Perth offices of Emanuel Exports.
Farm Weekly understands that computers, mobile phones and records vital to the safe conduct of live export voyages were removed from the offices – but most were returned after the documentation they were after was found.
Mr Seabrook said “doesn’t Minister MacTiernan realise she is now actually facilitating poor animal welfare outcomes?”.
He said Emanuel Exports had a vessel on the water at the time and it was bad judgement to remove Graham Daws’ personal phone so that he couldn’t have oversight of the voyage or to deal with any emergency if it arised.
Mr Seabrook said Ms MacTiernan needed to be completely sidelined on this issue.
“She is not fooling anyone,” he said.
“We all know what the agenda is.
“All Western Australians should be concerned by this abuse of power that appears to be orchestrated by a petulant State Minister.
“It is our understanding that the Minister has never spoken to or asked Emanuel Exports for copies of these documents.
“Perhaps this procedural ‘bun fight’ could have been avoided if the Minister had simply asked Emanuels for them.
“Just because Minister MacTiernan can’t get her way with the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, is no reason to take it out on Emanuel Exports.”
Mr Seabrook also said the Federal Minister (David Littleproud) was too aloof on the issue and needed to get a better understanding of the impact a phase out would have on WA.
“The Federal Minister is maintaining too much distance from this issue,” he said.
“He should have been here to acquaint himself with the facts and take ownership of the problem.
“They are so far away that they feel distanced from the issue.”
Mr Seabrook said he had invited Mr Littleproud to WA three weeks ago to discuss the issues but had not had a response.
WAFarmers Livestock Council president David Slade said despite the fact that the Federal Government had jurisdiction over the live export trade and had recently announced the delivery of recommendations from the McCarthy review; “Minister MacTiernan appeared to be determined to pursue her own agenda to cause as much disruption to the trade as seemingly possible”.
“She has pursued this course of action, regardless of the implications to the industry she represents,” Mr Slade said.
“The WAFarmers Livestock Council unequivocally supports the continuation of live export trade and every effort will be made to ensure this can be done without compromising animal welfare.
“The WAFarmers Livestock Council is becoming increasingly concerned with the actions of the Minister and her persistent attempt to undermine the agreed policies of the Federal Minister, particularly in relation to animal welfare matters.”
He said it appeared Ms MacTiernan was prepared to compromise the welfare of animals that were on their way to the Middle East or on properties within the State to pursue an agenda that was being “driven by minorities”.
“It is clear that the Minister is not acting in the best interest for the agricultural industry in her determination to shut down the live export trade, and is doing everything in her power to inflame hostility to the live export industry,” Mr Slade said.