I’m proud to be an Australian farmer and I’m equally proud of our Australian farmers, who work so hard, day in and day out, in this country. We often farm in harsher and more challenging farming and market conditions than any other producers in the world. Just consider the drought conditions being experienced right across Australia and in my electorate in WA’s South West.
From what we’ve heard in this debate, it’s obviously easy for some members to make the decision to shut down an industry when it doesn’t materially affect their farmers or their state. It’s obviously easy for some members to strip away a third or a half of farmers’ incomes when it doesn’t materially affect their farmers, their small businesses, their small regional towns and communities or their state. But it is going to materially affect my state, my family farmers, my small communities and the hundreds of small businesses that service the industry in Western Australia, where 85 per cent of the live export sheep come from. It’s an industry that’s worth $250 million in Western Australia. A report shows that the cost will be between $80 million and $150 million at least. What is certain is that closure of the industry will give farmers only one option: to sell to a meat processor. They will become, effectively, a captive supply of a product for a meat processor. Make no mistake; farmers will have no option but to take the price they’re given. It doesn’t matter what that price is.
Make no mistake; farmers will have no option but to take the price they’re given or get out of production. Just consider those who would be affected. Let’s look at the human cost of shutting down the industry and the effect that cutting off the millions of dollars from the industry will have on individual small businesses and small regional communities, primarily our farmers but also farming contractors; shearers; livestock transporters; feedlots, those who grow, supply and process feed for the live shippers; pellet manufacturers and staff; those loading the livestock on the wharves; tyre dealers; mechanics; welders; fuel distributors; fencing contractors; and the countless other small businesses and their workers in rural towns and communities that rely on local farming incomes coming into their businesses.
We know that we are already seeing lower prices, with the state Labor agriculture minister’s determination to shut the industry down. Unlike the members supporting this legislation, I did not come into this parliament to put farmers out of business. I did not come into this parliament to put countless small businesses that rely on those farmers out of business or out of work either. I certainly didn’t come into this parliament to rip millions of dollars out of small rural and regional communities and towns.
Talk of transition and new chilled-meat markets is just a cop-out. It’s an easy throwaway line, like throwing fish to a seal. The practical effect will be entirely different. As the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources was told during a visit to the Gulf States, if these states are forced to look elsewhere for live animals, they’ll look elsewhere for chilled meat also. So the practical impact will be that, if we phase out live trade, the chilled trade will likely shrink, and Australian farmers would lose both markets. It’s a lose-lose situation. And these countries will continue to import live sheep, but they will just come from other countries, countries that don’t have the animal welfare standards or ESCAS regulations that we have.
I have no doubt that, in spite of some of the comments we’ve heard, this puts an absolute risk back into live cattle exports. The risk is real. We know that Labor will shut our industry down. The shadow minister for agriculture has said so. I find it extraordinary that a shadow minister for agriculture is actively working to put sheep farmers out of business. It is just extraordinary. I’ve lived through the deregulation of the dairy industry and I’ve seen what happens in a small community—to the farmers, the businesses, the small towns—when you take multi millions of dollars out of an industry and out of farmers’ pockets. It is direct, it is real and we lose really good people. There is a human cost to what is being proposed here, an absolute human cost that is being ignored by those who are supporting this.
As I said earlier, I am proud to be an Australian farmer. I might be a dairy farmer but I am very proud to be an Australian farmer and I am exceptionally proud of the work our farmers do in providing some of the most amazing food and product, for markets not just here in Australia but right around the world. I will stand up for our farmers every single day of the week.