FEDERAL Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash has offered a stern reminder and warning about the “devastating” consequences of banning live exports.
The WA Liberal Senator was asked today whether she backed having a fixed date to rid the live exports supply chain of old ships, to try to address animal welfare concerns.
The question comes on the back of animal rights groups having released video footage broadcast on public television highlighting welfare issues relating to heat stress for sheep exported from WA, taken mostly of a single shipment to the Middle East last year.
Despite the incident being investigated by Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud’s Department and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which cleared Emanuel Exports of any wrongdoing in breaching the 2 per cent reportable mortality rate for the cargo of about 64,000 head, it has ignited calls for a trade ban, while a government re-investigation and other reviews are still in train.
Demands for a ban are backed mostly by Greens and Labor politicians but also ignore that in 2017, Australia exported about 2 million live sheep valued at $249 million with a mortality rate of 0.7 per cent, or 99.3pc delivery success rate.
However, Senator Cash urged a calm response in saying shutting down the live export trade due to an emotive and hasty political over-reaction wasn’t the solution to the animal welfare concerns and carried consequences
“I think David Littleproud is doing an absolutely outstanding job in terms of his engagement with the industry,” she said.
“What we saw – I’m not about to make any excuses – was absolutely appalling.
“Australians were rightly horrified, but the answer is not to shut down the industry overnight.
“Labor did that with devastating effects across the Australian economy, but also for the countries who were no longer receiving a source of protein.”
Senator Cash said Minister Littleproud had stated he would respond to the issue with an evidence-based solution and was “not going to do an emotional reaction”.
She said the rookie Queensland Nationals MP had also “rightly” condemned the footage as she did personally.
“What we need to ensure is that we continue to have this trade, for so many reasons,” she said.
“I think all Australians are now demanding greater regulation and, in particular, on the ships, so we know exactly what is happening to those – the sheep in this case, cattle in a previous case – whilst they are being transported.
“But again, David Littleproud is doing an outstanding job.
“He will provide an evidence-based solution to this issue, and I really do commend him on the work he’s doing.”
Senator Cash said the older ships were subject to certain laws and regulations but did not rule out changes.
“I think there is an argument that they need to change, and we do need to know exactly what is happening whilst the sheep or the cattle are exported,” she said.
“I’m not going to stand here and try and tell you that the footage wasn’t appalling.
“It was appalling, but at the same time, there are people’s livelihoods in Australia who depend on this trade, and we need to ensure that it is properly regulated and we support the trade, but in particular, the countries to where this source of protein is actually going.”
Emanuel Exports released a letter recently saying the Department formally investigated and released its findings on March 18 for the August 2017 voyage concluding sheep were prepared and transported in accordance with Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and cause of the reportable mortality was heat stress.
It said the regulator also found that, despite the tragic result, there were no regulatory (ASEL) breaches, “thus confirming that this one tragic voyage did not reflect typical outcomes for live sheep exports”.
The letter also said AMSA also performed an independent investigation of the Awassi Express and concluded ‘all livestock services were operating satisfactorily during the voyage’.
“With the exception of the August 2017 voyage, the Awassi Express has an enviable record of success and is a sought-after charter vessel,” the letter said.
“Of the 322,270 sheep it carried over five other voyages to the Gulf in 2017, a 99.42pc delivery success rate was achieved.”
It also said 2400 sheep died during export to the Middle East after the ship struck a catastrophic weather event.
Grass roots warnings about consequences of ‘stupid, knee-jerk reaction’
A Senate inquiry into the 2011 live cattle ban by the former Labor government - referred to in Senator Cash’s comments - revealed intimate details of the snap decision’s brutal and immediate impact on not just cattle producers but other supply chain participants and their families.
At a public hearing in Katherine, in September 2011, the Owner Manager of Maneroo Station Philip Howie told the Senate inquiry he and his family left a farming property in Albany, Western Australia, in 1996 for a new venture in the NT.
“Our family enjoyed farming in Northern Australia until 7 June, when our business and plans were turned upside down overnight,” he said of the then Labor government’s move to suspend the Indonesian live cattle market for up to six months.
“For the past 18 months we have been going through an extensive succession-planning procedure - this has now been destroyed, with one of our sons and his partner leaving the property to find work.
“I do not think he will return.
“As a father I feel very guilty about this but have no ways of altering the position that we are in at the moment.”
Share-farmer and bailing contractor David Gray told the Senate inquiry that on the day the suspension announcement was made, he lost over $100,000 worth of work in three phone calls.
“I was put on the mark, just pull up, stop,” he said.
“I am at a stage now where I am looking at selling off my assets, because everything I have done with that farm over the last 17 years I have put back into the farm, so it in itself is my superannuation fund.
“At this point in time that is what I am reaching into just to keep my business going and keep surviving, because I have to pay my bills too.”
Mr Gray said “I felt like I was gutted at that time”.
“You are sitting in your tractor and going around, and you think 'right - what do I do now?',” he said.
“If you had asked me one day before the ban was in whether it would happen, I would have said ‘no’.
“I would have been confident enough to say: ‘no, that could never happen, because this is far too important for the north of Australia, for the people in it and even for the country of Northern Australia itself - even for the land. It's far too important for that’.”
Chris Howie a partner in Maneroo Station said the Indonesian live export ban “could not have come at a worse time” as his family had just taken on their own business and he wondered if there was a future in the cattle industry and the hay industry.
“Not only has a lack of hay and cattle sales since the live cattle export ban put huge financial pressure on us, but the doubt in our minds and the lack of confidence for the future is making every day a battle,” he said.
“Even though there was constant reassurance that the ban on the live cattle trade to Indonesia would not go on for one day longer than necessary and the trade would resume as a stronger trade, this was wrong.
“The very small amount of hay and cattle which we have been able to sell since the live export ban has suffered huge price reductions, turning what were once profits into losses.
“We are also faced with the rapidly approaching wet season, which could see our large stockpile of hay totally ruined and becoming a worthless commodity.
“So we face another huge cost of storage and protection of this hay over the wet season.
“The cost has been estimated at $30,000 for our business.
“Further into the future, we face the following season and problems with having the ability to borrow the necessary funds to allow us to go ahead and produce the next season's hay crop, not to mention the confidence in the industry and the effects of the huge stockpile of hay carried over to the next season.”
Cynthia Bakalian - as an owner of Northern Feed and Cube (NFC), which makes hay cubes and pellets for live cattle boats and owner of the 30,000-head cattle export depot the Katherine Cattle Yards - spoke about the impacts of the ban.
“I do not think you realise yet what the long-term consequences of this stupid, knee-jerk reaction will be,” she said.
“Our sales stopped on 7 June - NFC had sold $20,000 worth of fodder in the first six days of June, but we sold nothing after that,” she said.
“We had two trucks loaded and ready to leave that never did.
“Our expenses for June were just over $500,000 - in July it was about the same - that is a loss of almost $1 million in a short two months.”
Government’s ‘kick in the guts’ dealt to all in live exports industry
Mrs Bakalian said her business had committed to buy several thousand tonnes of hay and when the ban happened they had to decide whether to honour those commitments.
But she said their decision was to continue to bring in the hay, which meant paying the drivers and paying for repairs and fuel for the trucks, “but we felt we had to do it”.
“We have not been able to pay the growers for that hay and at this moment we cannot tell them when we will pay for it,” she said.
“Without the live export component for Northern Feed and Cube, there are simply not enough other market opportunities for us to remain financially viable.
“Since the trade resumed we got three boat orders and we have two scheduled in the next four weeks.
“Prior to the ban, our normal budgeting assumed four boats per week.
“How are we surviving?
“Our bank has delayed the $600,000 worth of repayments that were scheduled for the next six months - delayed them but not forgiven them.
“The interest is still ticking, of course.
“So far we are making the interest payments - so far.”
Mrs Bakalian said the ban was “a disaster to the small businesses that support the live export trade”.
“However, this was not nature; this was a deliberate act by the Australian government on its own people,” she said.
“I do not believe that any of you really understand the kick in the guts you have dealt all of us in this industry.
“It goes deeper than even the financial losses.
“We have lost faith in the future.
“I can speak only for myself, but I will never trust that this could not happen again or that some other claim that may or may not be true and that has yet to be put to the test of investigation could not cause our government to react without considering the consequences to its own people.”
At the Broome hearing, Andrew Stewart from the local Landmark agency said the government, with little if any consultation with anyone within industry, “in one simple sentence brought Northern Australia to its knees”.
“It is a sad day when a minority group of extremists can sway government to make a monumental decision that affects thousands of people and businesses across this country,” he said.
“By doing this we have insulted our trading partners and, more importantly, done irreparable damage to the integrity of the people who live and breathe the livestock industry.
“Regardless of the fact that the trade has reopened, I feel that the pain from this will happen for years to come.
“Is the government aware of the ramifications of its actions?
“What has this done to the values of the leases?
“It is hard to quantify as yet, as no stations have been sold since the ban.
“We have been hit by the perfect storm.”
Sack workers or keep them on, despite losses?
Jack Burton of Kilto Station said for someonwith over $1.2 million in interest payments a year, to be offered $20,000 - which was the former Labor government’s urgently delivered compensation package at the time - was “bloody hilarious”.
“They said, 'Why didn't you apply?' (but) why bother?” he said.
“I have got a $1.2 million wage bill - I employ all these people - we have just busted our arses trying to stop having to sack them.
“You do not sack them and say, ‘Don't come on Monday; stay at home’. They are at home.
“These are the implications that people just are not aware of about the outcome of this ban, this suspension.”
Maryanne Petersen - Executive Officer at the Broome Chamber of Commerce - said many of the businesses weren’t eligible for any of the relief offered by government.
“So it is a loss that is borne by the community - even if the exports get back up and running, it will be some years before the community fully recovers from the experience,” she said.
Shire of Derby/West Kimberley President Elsia Archer said “It is not just the cattle people who are suffering from all that has happened”.
“Speaking from a local government perspective, this could have a major impact on local governments and on rates because some of the pastoralists may not be able to pay their rates this coming year,” she said.
“The fencing contractor who would have had a contract to go out fencing is worried about the mortgage on his house because he does not have the contract any more to go with.
“He is worried about where his mortgage is going to be paid from.
“There are all these knock-down effects.
“At the very beginning it did affect the outlets which have supplied fuel to helicopters et cetera - there is a whole list.
“It is the people employed by the pastoralists; it is not just the pastoralists.
“It is all those people who are employed in some way or another.
“I suppose most people just thought it was an absolute bloody stupid thing to do.
“Sorry, that is how it is.
“Most people just thought it was so silly.
“Nobody condones cruelty to animals, they would all accept that, but most people in our shire just thought it was so silly—what else could happen?”
Katherine Vet Care Centre Owner and Veterinarian Dr Peter Trembath gave a scathing assessment of the ban decision.
“From what I can see the Australian government closing down exports like that is a serious insult and a slap in the face to them (Indonesia) and I do not think they will forget it,” he said.
“People around here are genuinely suffering as a result of this.
“I do not expect to wake up in the morning and find this.
“Robert Mugabe kicked us off our farm when we were over there (Zimbabwe).
“Fair enough; that is the Third World.
“This is Australia; it is a democracy.
“How can they just shut things down like that without consultation?
“A knee-jerk reaction for the latte sippers in Sydney?”
At the live export inquiry’s first hearing in Darwin, beef industry leader Troy Setter said “it is real that there are people who are hurting”.
“There are plenty of stories of people who do not have enough money to buy diesel to run the lights in their homes, plenty of stories of people looking to pull children out of boarding school because they cannot afford to pay the bills and the flow-on effect for people who were virtually on a suicide watch by neighbours because of the depression that is starting to set in,” he said.
“There are grave concerns, particularly through some of the areas of the northern Kimberley.
“Rural people are proud people; they are people who do not look for help quickly and easily.
“It is not an easy solution.
It is not as easy as saying, ‘Here's a counsellor: go and talk to them’.
“What drives rural people is to do their jobs properly; to look after their cattle properly and to look after their families and employees properly.
“So the best way to get rural people in a better frame of mind is to allow them to do their business and to allow them to deliver cattle to market properly, safely and clearly and with good animal welfare outcomes.”
Cattle station owner Patrick Underwood warned there would be animal welfare issues if cattle weren’t exported, due to lack of grass and the problem with cashflow.
“The problem is that there is a longer term issue of pasture degradation and permanent damage by overstocking and flogging country, as well as the mass of animal welfare implications,” he said.
“That is the disappointing thing for me.
“I must ring (RSPCA Chief Scientist Bidda Jones) and ask when she and (Animals Australia investigator) Lyn White are going to come up and jump on the tractor and give us a hand to feed hay to all the cattle that are going to be in trouble up here in the next few months.”