South West Region MLC Steve Thomas puts the case for live export industry to be supported

By South West Region Mp, Steve Thomas
Updated May 11 2022 - 5:56am, first published May 9 2022 - 11:30pm
Live export industry should be supported

THE lack of direction and subsequent flip flopping of the Australian Labor Party on live sheep export has been an unedifying spectacle of left-wing political spin over common sense.

It is obviously embarrassing to the State Labor government, which having launched their own attacks on the industry in the past, have had to temper its ideology with a good dose of common sense.

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That's why the Premier immediately repudiated and distanced himself from his Federal Labor colleague's ham-fisted attempt to attract votes in city electorates by throwing sheep producers under the bus and abandoning voters and communities in country seats.

This cynical politicisation of the industry is not new, but Federal Labor's constantly changing positions are a new low.

As a registered veterinarian in this State for more than 30 years, I have worked in and around the live export industry while maintaining a passion for animal welfare and love of animals.

Vets who don't love animals don't stay as vets.

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Over those decades I have seen the live sheep trade change remarkably for the better.

In its early years there was little focus on animal welfare, but today that has become a primary focus.

The losses on board ships have been reduced to very low levels, and the monitoring and care of the animals has improved dramatically.

So much so that the State Premier reacted to the Federal announcement last week by saying "What I do know is the measures that are in place have actually worked effectively and have been appropriate."

This strong statement reflects a few simple realities that seem to have eluded Federal Labor.

All parts of the live sheep export trade, including farmers, and all political parties would prefer sheep exports to be in the form of chilled or frozen meat that has been processed here in Australia, where the animal welfare standards are amongst the highest in the world.

This would not only ensure welfare outcomes but provide employment and boost regional economies, and it is the ultimate aim of us all.

However, for the time being, this ideal is not deliverable.

The markets for live sheep exports will not accept processed meat instead yet, and if Australia refuses to supply that market other countries will simply step in and take it.

Most of those countries have lower animal welfare standards than our own.

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There will come a time in the future that new generations of consumers in those countries who need our sheep meat protein will accept it in chilled or frozen form, and as Australians we should encourage and support that change.

But that change will happen on their terms and in their own time, and it is arrogant and foolish to suggest that other nations will change their culture immediately to suit an Australian political agenda.

As we wait for the change in decades to come, there is much we can do to assist and encourage it.

Australia should be in those marketplaces promoting Australian chilled and frozen sheep meat products as high quality and safe products that are the best in the world.

We should be showing the next generation of Middle Eastern consumers how great those products can be.

In this way we would be actively shifting the demand from live to processed protein products, instead of taking the lazy path of demanding instant change or the industry will be shut down overnight, in doing so attacking and undermining our own farmers and the regional communities they support.

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We should also continue to support and invest in animal processing in the countries that receive those animals alive in order to raise welfare and health standards across the board.

This would be a good alternate policy the Labor Party could announce.

Sadly, Labor has a long history of attacking live export and undermining farmers.

You only have to think back to the ban on cattle exports to Indonesia imposed by the Federal Labor government in 2011.

But our focus must be on continually raising those standards rather than abandoning the field in an act of political high handedness.

In times like this, I am often reminded of the famous words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) and his commentary on Germany in World War II, where he said that when they came for the socialists, trade unionists and Jews, he did not speak out, because he was not any of them, and finished with "then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me".

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The Labor Party in recent times has come for the live shipping industry, the timber industry, and regional representation by again slashing country seats.

If they keep this up, who will be left in regional WA to speak?

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