IF spending is anything to go by, live exporters and those who supply or gain their income from the trade may need to commit to funding a campaign to save the industry, after Animals Australia (AA) has revealed it spent a whopping $4.4 million in the 2017-18 financial year to end the live sheep trade.
While WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) both have campaigns to raise funds, the support from industry has been been described as disappointing with about $30,000 in the WAFarmers promote agriculture fund – gofundme account – and an unspecified amount far below expectations in the PGA coffers.
The financial details of AA’s Annual Report 2017/18 has highlighted the enormous amount of funds set aside to influence the end of live sheep exports, which made up 53 per cent of its campaign funds.
AA reported a total income of $9.3m for the year – up by $3.6m on the previous year, with 42 per cent of the donations being generated from campaigns ($3.99m).
AA spent $8.3m of its funds on animal protection programs and of that 53pc, or $4.4m, was dedicated to advertising, promotions and costs associated with live export.
A detailed breakdown of how that was spent was not given in the report but AA-sponsored material on TV, social media, in print and other forms of advertising that often rehashed images from the 60 Minutes report about the Awassi Express in August 2017.
Staff were also reported at various export locations including Israel where they filmed Australian livestock and met with politicians and other animal welfare groups to promote their cause
AA claims it receives no government or corporate funding, with 100pc of its funds coming from individual donations.
The agricultural industry has been advised by political adviser Toby Ralph, at the PGA convention in Perth last year, that it would need to generate at least $1m to counter AA’s campaign and sway public opinion on the value of the live export trade and its importance for rural and regional Australia, particularly WA which supplies the majority of sheep to the trade (85pc).
He said the trade was a “dead man walking” unless the industry could sell its story well.
The live sheep trade is an industry worth about $250m to the national economy each year, and exporters ship about 30pc of WA’s sheep and lamb off-take per annum – roughly 1.6 million head.
Industry insiders now believe in light of AA’s spending, $1m appears to be a starting figure.
While there has been open frustration over the lack of support for a counter campaign, PGA president Tony Seabrook said a new push would be starting soon.
He recognised the small window of opportunity to influence the debate before the next election, which could be crunch time for the industry, depending on the outcome.
While the coalition government supports the industry, there is growing dissent from the current stance within Liberal ranks and Labor has vowed to phase out the trade if elected.
In the past Mr Seabrook has called on producers to commit to contributing $1 per sale of all livestock in WA but the “contribution by industry to defend itself has been pitiful”, he said.
“If AA carry the day, many producers will have to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they could have done more to defend it.
“We have had some generous contributions from people but we have spent no more than $300,000 on our campaign.
“In the face of what we are up against, it just won’t cut it.”
Mr Seabrook said AA had captured words like “horrendous, horrific and cruel” and while they were incorrect in their description of the normal standards adhered to within the industry, if AA stated it long enough people would believe it.
He said industry bodies were “talking” and “making a lot of noise” about doing something about it but discussions hadn’t progressed to anything more yet.
Mr Seabrook said the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), Sheep Producers Australia, the PGA and others would be getting together this week to discuss the way forward.
While it has voiced its position in the past, many producers have felt that the NFF has been a bit quiet in defence of the industry.
This week NFF replied to questions that it was supportive of the live export trade as its efforts showed last year to link up with WAFarmers and Sheep Producers Australia and make available the liveexportfacts.com website, which provides facts about the trade and introduces WA producers involved in the trade to those who want to know more.
A NFF spokesperson said the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council was a member of the organisation, as well as WAFarmers, and “we also work well with the PGA”.
“Live export is one of our most important issues,” the spokesperson said.
“Last year, we organised two delegations of producers to travel to Canberra and meet with politicians to outline the value of the trade to not only farmers, but rural communities and associated industries.
“We also established this website and associated social media campaign which we are looking to build on early this year.”
Mr Seabrook said he had tried to met with politicians about the trade.
“It is seen as a vote winner to phase out the trade so until politicians understand the broader communities’ sentiment and are not concerned about losing votes we have a fight on our hands,” Mr Seabrook said.