Three Western Australian farming women who took their case to parliament this week believe the live sheep export industry has a sustainable future, beyond whichever major party forms government.
Wongan Hills wheatbelt farmer Sue Middleton, Woodanilling sheep producer, Bindi Murray, and mixed farmer from Kendenup, Lyn Slade, made up the all-female delegation that opened the doors for conversation, giving oxygen to an industry once thought unsavable.
“We are three farmers from three different farming areas in WA, we understand the importance of the issue and we are up for change,” said Ms Middleton, a former Rural Woman of the Year winner.
“We have to do it well. If we do it well we will have an opportunity to put our case to any future government.
“Joel Fitzgibbon said he would work with us, if they were to form government.”
The current Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA) proposal would not only shut down all trade during the northern summer, but also the shoulder months of April to October.
But Ms Middleton believes there is a cleverer way to change the live export industry, one with a different approach to heat stress risk.
“An approach that, like the current HSRA proposal, aims to greatly minimise the risk of heat stress in the trade,” she said.
“Our proposal includes an indefinite moratorium on shipping between June, July and August.”
Their proposal also calls for innovation that would see improvement to ventilation, source stock protocols and objective, evidence-based approach to risk and consequences.
Ms Murray said the industry must continue to evolve and getting the science right is part of it.
“Exporting sheep is something that sounds really simple – you get some sheep together you put them onto a vessel and you send them off,” Ms Murray said.
“But it is complex. Sheep are on different vessels, there are different breeds of sheep, different sex, different weights.
“Combined with different times of the year, different climatic conditions and different destination markets.
“Being able to deal with all of that complexity and to create a model that does all that while also changing to something which puts the welfare of animals as number one.”
When WA sheep farmers saw the images on their screens of sheep dying and suffering, they were devastated and outraged.
Outraged that their animals endured such circumstances and devastated about the supply chain.
“This was a huge wake up call and when you get something that is that much of a jolt, you can either walk away or you can try and make it the best that it can be,” Ms Murray said.
“We run about 17,000 sheep on our farm. In the past when the truck left my farm with sheep destined for live export it was a very natural thing for my focus to shift back to the sheep which were still on-farm.
“But if I wanted the live export supply chain to be the best it could be, then I knew that that wasn’t good enough.
“I knew I needed to understand the process from then on. So that is what I did. I engaged with exporters to try and understand what it looks like from their end.
“I have spoken to the livestock carriers, exporters and regulators and understand what it looks like from their angle as well.
“We are applying a really complex change here, so we need to be working together and understanding all the different perspectives.
“It is very easy when you are in an isolated place like a farm to just see it from your own perspective, so I have looked beyond that and I now understood the entirety of the change we need to put through.
"Change is always difficult and it takes time to achieve genuine change. But we need to get it right because rural communities demand it and depend on it and urban communities expect it."