Watt under fire for live ex parliament inquiry 'stunt'

4 June 2024
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is under fire for only holding two public hearings as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the decision to end live sheep exports. Pic: Supplied
An article by  AAP  | Words by Liv Casben

Opposition from farmers and industry stakeholders to a ban on live sheep exports has led the government to call a parliamentary inquiry into the proposal.

Two public hearings will be held as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the federal government's divisive decision to end live sheep exports.

The government introduced laws to the lower house last Thursday that would commit to banning live exports by May 2028, intensifying opposition from farmers, industry stakeholders and the Coalition.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt acknowledged "a range of strong views on this policy".

"As such, I consider it important an inquiry into this legislation is undertaken prior to passage in either chamber of the parliament," Senator Watt said on Tuesday.

But farmers have described the inquiry as a stunt.

"If the minister thinks this will quieten the growing chorus of voices fighting for farmers and regional communities in WA, he is sorely mistaken," National Farmers' Federation Chief Executive Tony Mahar said.

Exporters are also worried by the timeline of the inquiry and the phase out of live exports.

"It's not fair on the people that are affected by this," Mark Harvey-Sutton, from the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, said.

The bill has been opposed by the Coalition, including a failed attempt by the Nationals to have the laws examined by a parliamentary committee.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture will explore the provisions of the bill and how it's applied to the live sheep export trade, especially in Western Australia.

The legislation was prompted by animal welfare concerns and would still allow for live sheep to be exported by air and cattle to be exported by sea.

The inquiry will hear from industry stakeholders with public hearings in Canberra and Muresk, Western Australia, next week.

"The public hearing in Muresk will provide an opportunity for the committee to meet those most affected," committee chair Meryl Swanson said.

The Albanese government has set aside $107 million for a transition package to help about 3000 Western Australian farmers affected by the ban.

But the package only kicks in once the legislation is introduced and it is yet to be laid out how on-shore processing will be beefed up.

"Making this funding available as soon as possible will support sheep farmers, processors and supply-chain businesses to plan and make decisions appropriate to their circumstances," Senator Watt said.

"Legislating the end date of live sheep exports by sea in a timely manner will provide the certainty sheep farmers and the Australian community have been asking for."

Labor pledged to end live sheep exports after more than 2000 sheep died from heat stress in 2017 while travelling on a ship from Australia to the Middle East.


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