The holes in the Federal government's knowledge of the Western Australian sheep industry were laid bare by the opposition during Senate Estimates proceedings on Tuesday.
Not satisfied with the vague answers, leader of The Nationals and agriculture spokesperson David Littleproud has called on the Labor government and Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to release the findings of an Independent Panel Report into the phase-out of live sheep exports by sea.
The report was due to be given to Mr Watt on the extended deadline of yesterday (Wednesday October 25) and Mr Littleproud said Labor must be transparent about the report.
"Minister Watt should have the courage of his convictions and immediately release the scientific and economic modelling behind his decision," Mr Littleproud said.
"Labor is destroying the livelihoods of 3000 people who work in the trade and an industry worth $85 million.
WA producers have expressed their anger at the introduction of the policy prior to any industry consultation being done and the consultation that was conducted after the announcement was at first handled less than ideally, creating even more dissent from those who would be affected by the policy.
"Minister Watt didn't have the courage to travel with the panel and look farmers in the eye himself to say he was stopping the trade - so the least he can do is release the report," Mr Littleproud said.
The government has consistently used the argument that the live export trade was dying, but the latest figures show this is not the case and statistics provided to senate estimates by LiveCorp chairman Wayne Collier supported this.
Mr Collier said for 2021/22 sheep exports totalled 489,064 head and for the current year 2022/23 the total export figure was 691,797 to date, a lift of 41 per cent or more than 200,000 head.
Having experienced firsthand the absolute devastation the ban of the live cattle trade caused, Mr Littleproud said he could not understand why the live sheep industry was not being afforded the same opportunity as the cattle had been.
"The cattle trade was given a second chance," Mr Littleproud said.
"But the WA sheep industry has not been given a second chance.
"Even though the sheep industry has proven it has improved its welfare standards and has the science and facts to support it."
Mr Littleproud added he was dismayed that the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and
Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) admitted in Senate Estimates, it had not actually conducted any in-market research on the severe drop in sheep prices in WA, despite advising Mr Watt on the issue.
"The trade has actually increased by 41 per cent since 2021/2022," Mr Littleproud said.
"But minister Watt made decisions based on what animal activists wanted, rather than thorough and detailed advice.
"Farmers have lost confidence, with sheep prices plummeting.
"Minister Watt has turned his back on the live sheep industry.
"If minister Watt is so confident in his decision and the science behind it, details about the Independent Panel Report must be released."
He said ABARES executive director Dr Jared Greenville ruled out any link between the government policy and the phenomenal drop in sheep prices and then admitted to not actually having done any in market consulting in WA with producers, processors or anyone in the market.
"Labor isn't being transparent about the damage its policies are causing and turning its back on Australian farmers," Mr Littleproud said.
Australian farmers feel under siege by the Albanese government, with shattered investment confidence that will flow to increased grocery bills.
Mr Littleproud said there were major issues across the agriculture industry, from the biosecurity levy, to banning live sheep exports, taxing unrealised capital gains on superannuation, refusing to reinstate the agriculture visa, industrial relations laws and water buybacks in the Murray-Darling basin.
"It takes a special talent by Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to lose the confidence of Australian farmers, all within 12 months," Mr Littleproud said.
"Labor's arrogant attitude during Senate Estimates shows it has no plan to address concerns raised by farmers," Mr Littleproud said.
A National Farmers' Federation (NFF) survey of 1600 farmers across Australia, showed that a majority of farmers believe the Federal government's policies are harming the industry and one in three farmers are less positive about the future of farming than they were 12 months ago.
Mr Watt told Senate Estimates "people have opinions about that but they are not always backed up by the facts", while committee chairman and Labor senator Glenn Sterle also accused the NFF of spreading "mistruths".
Mr Littleproud called on peak bodies and their representatives to back farmers and keep the pressure on the government.
"Why should farmers be made to pay for their competitors to send products into our country?" he said.
"This is essentially what the biosecurity levy is doing."
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