Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018

I’m proud to say I’m here to support WA’s sheep farmers, their small businesses and the communities that rely upon them. The Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018 will significantly increase criminal penalties and introduce new criminal offences and civil penalties for livestock exporters. The bill ensures that penalties and sanctions provide the deterrence and punishment necessary to protect animals on export vessels, penalising those who would obstruct or hinder an accredited veterinarian or authorised officer. Exporters who commit an offence for a commercial advantage over their competitors will face penalties. A company would face a fine of $4.2 million, three times the benefit gained by the company or 10 per cent of the company’s annual turnover. A director of a guilty company could face 10 years in prison or a $2.1 million fine. An individual could face the same prison sentence or a $420,000 fine.
There are additional increased penalties and fines for individuals and companies. Courts will be able to name and shame those who commit offences or contravene civil penalties.

Well, I don’t want to see our farmers, small businesses, and rural and regional communities punished by closing the live sheep trade. Of the hundred-plus countries that export live animals around the world, Australia is the only country that is invested in, and continues to invest in, people, training, welfare and education. Added to that, this legislation introduces some of the highest penalties in the world. However, the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union wants to shut the live export industry down, so, of course, Labor wants to shut the industry down as well. Labor’s shadow agricultural minister was quoted in the WA Farm Weekly as saying, ‘Labor will shut down live sheep export.’

My state of Western Australia has the most to lose. A third of WA’s sheep go into the live export market. Shutting it down would have a massive impact in Western Australia. WA has averaged nearly 85 per cent of the total of live sheep exports over the past five years: 1.6 to 1.7 million sheep. Critically in our state, there is a direct interdependence between trade lamb, mutton and live exports markets—something that’s not well understood outside Western Australia. The live sheep exported are mostly older sheep; they’re mutton. The chilled-box sheep trade is mostly lamb. They’re two different markets. We have a very small domestic market compared to the far greater domestic demand on the east coast. The east coast also has a distinct freight advantage into the US market. But, of course, as we’re hearing tonight, those on the east coast actually know much more about our market in Western Australia than our WA farmers do.
The live export trade in WA is worth $250 million. It supports jobs and economic development in our regions. With our predominantly merino flock, the flow-on effect on prices would be substantial. It would force people out of sheep production. Some believe there would be a collapse in sheep values that would have most impact on our producers in WA. A report I read recently put the cost between $80 and $150 million—it could be more. There’s a lot of support for competition in Australian markets, but rarely, as we see from the other side, is there support for competition that improves farmgate prices. We’re hearing it tonight repeatedly. This is a classic example. Labor will leave sheep producers with only one option—to sell to a meat processer and, certainly, to sell their oldest sheep. There is absolutely no question this would force prices down. The processors are probably rubbing their hands at this. But the producers know they will be absolute price-takers. There will be no competition. There is no magic transition here. The Gulf States ministers and livestock importers have said that if they’re forced to look elsewhere for live animals, they’ll look elsewhere for chilled meet also. Effectively, this means that, if Labor shuts down the live trade, the chilled trade would likely contract and our farmers could lose both selling markets. Just consider those who would be affected.

Let’s look, for a start—for the first time tonight, perhaps, apart from my colleague the member for O’Connor—at the human cost of shutting down the industry or cutting millions of dollars from the industry. There is the effect it will have on individuals, 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 wharfs; 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 farm incomes coming into their businesses. What about livestock agents? There are over 1,200 agency businesses across Australia who play a very important part in the livestock and wool sectors. There will be families who lose income and will not be able to afford to send their kids away to school. What sort of risk are we seeing already? I was talking to a contractor carting sheep feed out the back of Darkan, and he said the word from the farmers was that the banks are already nervous. I wonder how the banks are actually pricing the increased risk sheep farmers and those dependent on the industry are currently facing when they’re applying for a loan.

In WA, this will impact right across the state, from the Wheatbelt through to Williams, Narrogin, Northam, York and Esperance, just to name a few. Take 35 per cent off farmers’ incomes, and they cannot spend this in their small regional towns and businesses. They can’t support the emergency services and the sporting and community service clubs in the same way. And how about the mental health issues? It’s a massive issue already in rural and regional Australia. We’re tight for feed in WA right now. Here’s another layer of pressure for our farmers.

It doesn’t matter how the members opposite try to package this and say there’ll be some sort of magic pudding transition. We all know that there will be businesses that won’t survive. It’s not okay for those opposite to just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘They’re just collateral damage.’ They are farmers like me. I didn’t come into this parliament to put farmers and small businesses out of work, and I didn’t come into this parliament to make decisions that put at risk, erode or destroy small regional communities.

Labor has said it will shut the industry down. Well, I was in this parliament in 2011 when the Labor government suspended the live cattle trade to Indonesia. It was disastrous for Australia’s cattle industry. It destroyed some pastoralists, and I know only too well the impact on farming families in regions right around Australia and the impact directly on beef prices in the South West of WA. So Labor’s ban on live cattle exports proved without a doubt that the live export market underpins the meat-processing trade prices. When live exports ceased, livestock prices crashed. When the live trade resumed, domestic prices in sale yards increased significantly. But what about that human cost? I saw the trauma and frustration of our farmers, graziers and small businesses.

There are direct parallels between what Labor wants to do to the live sheep industry in WA and my dairy industry, and I speak from personal experience. The industry deregulated in 2000. I’m the only dairy farmer in this parliament and the only person who’s experienced what happens when there are sudden or ongoing cuts to farmers’ primary source of farm income. The price for our litre of milk supplied to a processor went from 48c a litre to 28c a litre. It was said at the time that $28 million to $30 million exited the Harvey shire overnight. We had around 300 dairy farmers in the industry at the time and around 125 in the Harvey shire alone. Now there are barely 150 in total in the WA dairy industry and very few left in the Harvey Shire.

Of course, when you cut between a third and a half of farm incomes, it
directly affects the farmers, their workers and the whole community. I was president of the local AFL footy club. We were fundraising to build our first clubrooms. Those cuts to our local farmers’ incomes meant that we were down $30,000 a year on our fundraising. The local dairy farmers who supported us with hay, cattle and personal donations couldn’t afford to do it anymore. The local businesses—the rural agency, the hardware store, the newsagent, the furniture shop, the car dealer, the supermarket, the local mechanics, the welders and the local cafes—were all affected when what was the local major industry took such a hit, just like the sheep industry. Those same businesses suffered reductions in their income and either reduced or completely cut their donations as well.

This was an industry that at the time underpinned much of the local and regional economy. In the very small town of Brunswick Junction, where I grew up, there was a strong contingent of viable dairy-farming families who underpinned the local community. The local supermarket was thousands of dollars down in its turnover in the first week following deregulation. The majority of those small dairy businesses did not survive, and the farmers left Brunswick. These were the people who were very committed to and active in the local community, just like our sheep farmers. They’re the ones who financially and physically supported the local primary school P&C. One of the farmers used to coach the kids in sport and in basketball and take them to and from games. They supported the local volunteer St John Ambulance and fire brigade fundraising. These families had to sell their properties for what they could get and left the district. What a gap they left, both financially and physically. We really miss their commitment to the community. In other communities we saw local sporting, community service and emergency service organisations struggle for numbers of volunteers as well as financial support. It had been the farmers who provided the physical and machinery power to get the jobs done—something a lot here take for granted.

As someone who tried so hard to support those dairy-farming families during this time, I saw and dealt with the massive mental health problems. This was the real human cost and the risk involved in what those opposite are proposing.

It’s what you can’t see behind closed doors that matters. There were both men and women who would break down and cry whenever I met them in the street or in a paddock. Some of those people never ever recovered. They carried to their graves the anger and frustration, particularly for some industry representatives and for the politicians who failed to stand up for our farmers—those who failed to understand just what a devastating effect this decision had on their families, their lives and their communities.

There is no question that dairy farmers in WA are now absolute price takers. We have three major processors, and last year we saw three dairy farmers told their milk would no longer be required. There was an excess in the market and they were put out of business. No other processor would take their milk. They had nowhere to go and they had a perishable product, so they had to shut down.

I look at the parallels with the live sheep industry. Labor wants to take millions out of the pockets of our sheep farmers, particularly those in Western Australia. We’ve heard talk in this place about transition, but transition to what? I’ve lived it and I’ve been there. Is it transition to processors? Well, why not come and walk a mile in my shoes. Let’s have a look at what happens when I am reliant on processors; I am an absolute price taker in my industry. There is no magic pudding in this space, and there will be no magic for our sheep farmers. That’s why I am very proud to come into this place and stand up for every one of those farmers and our farmers right around Australia.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people who take for granted where their food comes from, how well it’s grown and, equally, how much of the rest of the world we feed. It is a very important job, and, unfortunately, what we see here is people taking farmers, their businesses and those small communities for granted. Look at some of those more remote and small communities it’s going to have a massive effect on. If it’s what I saw in Harvey and Brunswick, in those towns that actually have many more people and small businesses than those rural, regional and more remote areas in the Wheatbelt region, the compounding effect will be huge. But what about the human cost?

Those opposite think that farmers and those communities really don’t matter. Well, they do. They absolutely do. Their mental health matters, their contribution to our economy matters, their contribution to the Western Australian economy matters and each one of their families’ matters. So I’m saying to those opposite: you be very careful what you’re actually proposing here. I’ve been through massive change in an industry, and I know what’s ahead for our sheep producers. I also know what’s ahead for those small communities and for the organisations, emergency services, sporting clubs and community groups that actually rely on those fantastic farmers who support and underpin so much of our regional economies.

I’m desperately concerned about the human cost of what is being proposed. It is not simple and there is no magic transition. I’ve lived it and, as I said earlier, I did not come to this place to put farmers, small businesses and those that support them out of business. I didn’t come here to see small regional communities further eroded or more people leave rural and regional Australia. I am always proud to stand up in this place for our Australian farmers, and I do so in this debate.