WA Farmers Say ‘Avalanche’ Coming For Industry as Live Export Ban, Aboriginal Heritage Debate Continues
By Asha Couch, Sophie Johnson and Mark Bennett
West Australian farmers say they are “under attack” from state and federal governments amid plans to phase out live sheep exports and the messy introduction of the state’s new heritage laws.
It was the largest gathering of farmers in Western Australia in recent years, as hundreds from across southern WA met in Katanning on Monday afternoon for what was dubbed “Let Farmers Keep Farming”.
More than 300 farmers and pastoralists descended on Katanning for the meeting.
WAFarmers organised the meeting in the wake of two issues that have dominated agricultural headlines recently — the ending of live export and Aboriginal Heritage Act changes.
It comes as the WA Government faces increasing public pressure over implementing reforms to the heritage act, particularly with WA’s Lands Department receiving an average of 25 calls and 50 emails a day from concerned landholders since the new laws took effect.
‘They’re begging for their livelihoods’
Speaking on a panel at Monday’s meeting, Gidgegannup sheep producer Tamara Michalek said farmers felt the pressure of policy changes.
“The confidence in farming, in general, is at an all-time low,” she said.
“We’re told what to do, where to go, change business practices, do this, do that. It’s not viable.”
Ms Michalek said calls to increase meat processing in Australian abattoirs to help the industry transition away from live exports were unrealistic.
“That’s not going to fix the backlog of livestock if live export ends.”
Ms Michalek was also deeply concerned about the flow-on effects on human welfare, including how industry-reliant towns would stay afloat.
“Communities and small towns are already on their knees. Things like the Heritage Act and the live sheep trade are the tipping point,” she said.
‘Shows how serious issues are’
WAFarmers President John Hassell told the meeting that the pressure on local farming communities continued to build.
“At the moment it feels like an avalanche coming at us as farmers,” he said.
He said the size of the meeting showed the government how serious these issues are for those in regional WA.
“We’re here to show the government there’s very strong support for keeping an ethical trade that shouldn’t be banned on emotion rather than facts and the science,” he said.
The group also said it plans to march at Parliament House in Canberra to voice its concerns.
“We’ll go to Parliament House. One [march] will be cultural heritage, and one will be live trade,” he said.
“I’m really surprised and pleased with how many people we got here today, and I’d hope we get the same going there.”
Littleproud vows to fight for live exporters
The federal government wants to phase out the estimated $92 million live export industry should it win another term of government.
That decision was opposed in WA, where the livestock are produced and sent to the Middle East.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said the Coalition would overturn any decision to ban live exports when it next formed government.
Mr Littleproud said citing animal welfare as the reason behind the ban did not fit with reality.
“They want to shut down an industry predicated on ideology, not on science,” he said.
Premier slams opposition ‘stunt’
While the state government was unrepresented at the event, a spokesperson for Premier Roger Cook hit out at the federal Nationals’ live export criticism.
But the representative declined to address any criticism of the Cook government’s handling of the new Aboriginal Heritage Act.
“Mr Littleproud’s meeting request was nothing more than a political stunt,” a spokesperson for the Premier said.
“The Premier is focused on achieving outcomes, not playing politics.”
The spokesperson said the state government’s position on live export had not changed.
“The current measures in place, including the northern summer export ban, are effective and appropriate,” they said.
“We have made this position clear to the federal government repeatedly, at all levels.”
The spokesperson said the government remained committed to ensuring the best outcome along WA’s sheep supply chain and all impacted regional communities.
Agriculture minister declines to attend
WA Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis was invited to the meeting by WAFarmers but said she was unable to attend due to prior commitments.
“They have confirmed I was invited to attend as a courtesy only, and I had no role at the meeting.
“I am committed to continuing to fight for the best possible outcome for our sheep industry in Western Australia.”
The ABC contacted federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s office but received no response.