THE Western Australian sheep industry is facing a crisis of confidence and plummeting sheep prices and its high time for action.
As the Opposition agriculture spokesman and a staunch advocate for our farming communities, I've been sounding the alarm about the challenges our sheep producers are enduring.
The impending live export ban, proposed by the Federal Labor Government, has cast a long shadow over our industry.
It's not just about the dry-growing season or livestock numbers, it's about the loss of confidence that has created an impossible situation for our hardworking farmers.
In my recent meeting with Western Australian Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis, I urged her to initiate crisis talks with sheep producers, buyers and processors.
It's time for the government to step in, put aside politics and work together in good faith to address the scale and urgency of this issue.
Sheep prices have fallen to a point where it's becoming unsustainable for many in the industry - some areas are witnessing sheep prices below the cost of transportation for sale.
When our farmers are struggling to maintain their stock and factors such as the scarcity of feed and sheep carry-over compound the problem, we have a perfect storm on our hands.
In May this year, I asked questions of the government, attempting to ascertain exactly what they were doing to plan for and understand the increased livestock numbers and possible higher stocking rates.
The point of the questions was as much about ensuring that the government was conducting some kind of analysis and planning in the event that significant carry-over stock and a lack of feed occurred.
It appears that those questions and warnings fell on deaf ears and nothing has been done.
Sadly, this is not surprising.
I have been saying for years now that the havoc Labor reaped on our public sector through their "Machinery of government" changes would come back to haunt them (and us).
The merged agriculture, fisheries and regional development departments saw an exodus of experience and a struggle to find direction and focus.
Indeed, when asked about the recent closure of the meat processing facility near Esperance, the response that this "is not expected to have a significant impact on the State's red meat processing capacity" fails to appreciate that it provided an important option for farmers in that region, given the distance - and obvious additional cost - to transport animals to facilities elsewhere.
It's a critical option as prices fall too, of course.
It is clear this department, a husk of its former self, has fallen way behind on the things that matter whilst being focused on Labor's political agendas.
As a consequence, the government has no real understanding of how many sheep may be at risk or where they are.
When I asked again in parliament last week, the minister tried to tell me that climate change was responsible and that the department could provide information on dry seasonal conditions to help farmers.
I want to be clear: this crisis is not the result of climate change, it's the result of government interference.
The WA Labor Government must take immediate steps to restore confidence in this crucial industry, eroded by their Federal colleagues' complete lack of understanding of our sheep industry.
Our farmers' livelihoods and mental wellbeing are at stake.
When confronted about this issue in parliament, Ms Jarvis acknowledged the seriousness of the situation.
It's time to move beyond acknowledgement and take concrete action.
The department must rise to the occasion, work quickly to understand the problem and find a solution that can save our industry from further devastation.
My own memories of the 1990s, when my family and other farmers were forced to euthanise sheep flocks due to plummeting prices, still haunt me.
That was the worst job I ever had to do as a farmer, and I would hate to see others have to do the same now.
We cannot let history repeat itself.
This crisis is a direct consequence of the impending live export ban by sea and it's high time for the State and Federal Labor Governments to reconsider their stance.
Our prized sheep industry, which has been the backbone of our region for generations, is on the brink.
If the impending devastation isn't enough to change the minds of those in power, then what will?
It's not just an industry at stake - it's the heart and soul of our agricultural region.
It's time for action.
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