BOLGART farmer Leon Bradley says the biggest tragedy for the live export industry was accepting conditions and restrictions, resulting from the Indonesian cattle crisis, that were certain to be impractical long term.
And now it seems the chickens are coming home to roost.
Along with fellow grains council members at the WA Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association, Mr Bradley fought an unrelenting battle over two decades, lobbying to remove the AWB single desk, which finally fell in 2008.
Mr Bradley said the live export industry had effectively agreed to “slow motion suicide” by allowing the federal government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) to be implemented, following the temporary suspension of live exports to Indonesia in June 2011.
He said the WA sheep industry now had five years left before becoming a small-scale cottage industry, due to added red tape and strain on market access for sheep sales into the Middle East, caused by push-back on ESCAS.
“ESCAS is sucking the profitability out of the WA sheep flock,” he said.
The Middle East receives almost 99 per cent of Australia’s live exports with about 2.5 million exported in 2011, valued at A$328 million, including almost 1 million to the largest market Kuwait.
WA’s contribution was 1.7 million sheep valued at $221 million.
Mr Bradley said several farmers in his district had hundreds of sheep ready for sale but were unable to off-load them due to lack of buyers.
He said animal activists were deliberately sabotaging and destroying a legitimate industry that operated effectively within the law and according to commercial principles.
Mr Bradley said the agricultural industry faced a no win situation in the avalanche of public hysteria against live exports, orchestrated by the ABC Four Corners program that broadcast images of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs on May 30.
“The only way to beat these radicals is to prosecute a strong case and not give an inch,” he said.
“The only argument they should have raised is that industry will comply with all of the relevant laws and regulations, while we have custody of the animals.
“We can’t take responsibility for things over which we have no control.
“At the highest level of the Indonesian government they deeply resent what the Australian government has done.”
Mr Bradley said the one third drop in the Green vote at the recent WA election - which halved the party’s parliamentary representation from four to two - was an indication that the radical green movement was losing credibility and that misleading social and economic arguments over issues like banning live exports, had been exposed.
In defending the government’s decision, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has said suspending the live export trade was not an easy decision but the right one to make, as it allowed a collaborated effort between government, industry and Indonesia to set up ESCAS.
He said the Australian community did not accept the images broadcast on the ABC program and ESCAS was needed to implement a verifiable and transparent supply chain assurance system for accepted animal welfare standards, with no leakage from ships, to feedlots and to abattoirs.
Mr Bradley’s warning comes with the WA sheep industry facing a looming animal welfare crisis with strained market access to the Middle East causing a domestic supply bottleneck.
WA Liberal Senator Chris Back said graziers who sent sheep to the Muchea saleyards north of Perth last week had only paid for transport fees and “did not attract a bid” after failing to earn any income selling livestock.
Senator Back said there’d been a drop in the number of live animals leaving the state, while sheep prices had dropped “dramatically”.
He warned that graziers were holding onto large stock numbers but running dangerously short of feed supplies.
Senator Back said it was a “generous” prediction to give the WA sheep industry only five years before becoming a cottage industry.
“Those of us who know anything about markets and trade would always know that when a competitor leaves - in this case the live export competitor - it affects the market,” he said.
“So we now only have the one buyer - that is, the meat industry - and the meat industry will never sustain the prices.”
Senator Back said Australia was the only country in the world that invested heavily to ensure animal welfare standards in all target markets remain “very, very high”.
He said, if Australia was forced to leave the live export trade, “one can only assume that standards of animal welfare in those countries, countries which we have serviced for many, many years, will only dissipate”.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council CEO Alison Penfold said exporters had new markets ready to operate in Iran and Egypt, to sell Australian sheep and potentially other livestock but there had been no sign of any formal movement from the government, since she publicly urged action late last month to finalise government to government Memorandums of Understandings (MoUs) and health protocols.
At the time, Ms Penfold said the lag in final approvals wasn’t due to any concerns about the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), with the waiting exporters already using the new animal welfare protocols in other markets.