THE State government has called on the Federal government to provide a financial assistance package of at least $10 million for the WA sheep industry in the wake of the independent regulator’s cancellation of Emanuel Exports’ licence.
The State Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan welcomed the news of Emanuel Exports’ licence cancellation last week, although she said it was “a cowardly act” for the independent regulator to put out its notification of the licence cancellation at 8:30pm (WST) last Tuesday, “when you knew this was going to have major consequences for the farmers in this State”.
“They put it out when the big news is all about the turmoil (with) leadership challenges within the Federal government,” she said.
“So pretty poor form – and it comes on the refusal by the minister to be talking to the industry over the last month.”
Ms MacTiernan held a doorstop press meeting outside Dumas House last week where she reaffirmed the State government’s position that the live sheep trade should have been paused until the end of the northern summer, when less risk was involved in transporting sheep out of a WA winter into the Middle Eastern heat.
She acknowledged however that the decision has left WA sheep producers in a difficult situation despite high sheep meat and wool prices.
Ms MacTiernan said the Federal government needed to “come to the party” with financial assistance to counter the effect of market disruption and uncertainty caused to WA farmers, but also “to support farmers and processors through this adjustment”.
She said there was an expectation that “any Federal adjustment package” would take “all aspects of the supply chain into consideration”.
“We do note that any funding package that helps to boost meat processing – whether through sheep R&D or support for processors – would also help the transport sector,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“The sheep still need to be transported to the abattoirs and feedlots.”
Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of WA president Andy Jacob said he commended Ms MacTiernan’s call for compensation and said any financial assistance should go to those in “the supply chain that are hurting the most”.
He said while there may be some farmers financially affected by the lack of sheep being exported over the past 10 weeks, “most transport companies would sit front and centre” in the need for assistance because many operators had been without work for months.
Due to the changes in requirements during the July-September period, only 1482 sheep were exported in July, and these were air freighted out of Sydney.
This was a decrease of 98 per cent from the same time last year and the lowest monthly export figure since 1989.
So far this year 801,764 sheep have been exported from Australia.
Ms MacTiernan said the consequences of the Federal government’s actions and changes to the live export industry was “going to see a major reduction in the amount of live exports” from the State and there needed to be “a plan to help farmers make that adjustment to this new industry”.
She called on the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to “come out of hiding” and not “pass the buck on this” issue.
“His government is to blame for this situation, and he has a responsibility to support WA farmers as they adjust to a new reality where they simply cannot rely on live exports,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan said since June she has repeatedly tried to communicate with the minister but it has not been reciprocated.
“We have had industry leaders come to us saying they are perplexed because they can’t get in to talk to the federal minister,” she said.
“This is a challenging issue – it has got to be fixed – we need the Federal government to be engaged.”
Ms MacTiernan said the $10 million could go towards some low-interest loans to the processors, which would be on top of the $5 million that she has already announced from State funds for a further expansion of WAMMCO.
She said the funds could help “really ramp up the chilled meat exports, and make sure that we have adequate infrastructure to do that”.
Other funds could go toward the research and development of a breeding program to better suit future needs of the industry, as well as towards helping “some farmers that might need some direct financial assistance”.
Mr Littleproud reached out to WAFarmers president Tony York a few weeks ago during a whirlwind visit to WA to discuss live export issues with him, following which he announced changes to the time period that an injunction could be lodged with the department.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook was also able to meet Mr Littleproud at the airport prior to departure where he put forward his case for greater support to the producers and exporters to continue the trade.
Mr Seabrook said the minister’s response was that the trade was open for business but if exporters breached the regulations he would see them “swing”.