Standing up for the live sheep trade
I rise today to speak strongly in support of the live export trade, which underpins a massive number of businesses in my electorate of O'Connor. The electorate of O'Connor provides around 60 per cent of the 1.5 million sheep that are exported out of Western Australia, worth about $150 million per annum. As I say, the trade underpins a whole range of businesses: truck drivers, feedlot workers, pellet mill operators. These are labouring-level jobs that good, hardworking people in my electorate rely on for their living.
I say to the member for Melbourne, who claims to speak behalf of sheep growers, and I say to the member for Wentworth, the member for Mayo and the member for Denison, who just walked out of this place: come to the Katanning sheep sale in my home town next Wednesday—the minister was there a couple of weeks ago—and speak to the several hundred farmers, the truck drivers, the stock agents and the associated industries that rely on that trade and you will hear a different story to what we just heard from the member from Melbourne. They know that the live export trade unpins the market. It underpins the whole sheep market in Western Australia. We know there is at least a $30 premium for live export sheep over what the domestic market will pay.
But what you probably don't know is that, of the 3.8 million sheep turned off in Western Australia, 1.5 million go overseas. If you dump that extra 1.5 million into the current processing trade, you will crash the market. We saw that in 2011, when the previous Labor government pulled the plug on the live export trade completely and caused chaos, just absolute disaster, for the agricultural industries across Australia. And we're seeing it unfold again. They talk about sheep—that's just a Trojan Horse, isn't it, Member for Melbourne? Are you saying that you support the live cattle trade? Are you saying that as well?
So this is the first step in closing down the live export trade. I've only recently heard of this allegation that the whistleblower was paid US$200,000. I've only just heard that from an animal rights group. I'm not a lawyer—I think there are far too many lawyers in this place—but I would think that, in a court of law, that would rule that evidence out. Think about somebody who is being paid a pretty low wage, admittedly, on these boats and is offered US$200,000 to get some footage of some animals suffering. Does that not give that person a motivation?
Maybe on seven decks of sheep, 60,000 sheep, there were a few pens: 'We won't clean them out; we won't look after them because there's $200,000 at stake. I can retire to Pakistan on $200,000.' But let's for the moment accept that the Awassi Express voyage last August was unacceptable. I think that's been widely agreed in this place. The footage that we saw that was gathered by the whistleblower getting his $200,000 to retire in Pakistan was completely unacceptable.
But the government has reacted very strongly. I've got to say the minister and I haven't always agreed. I've thought that the minister has gone too hard. He went too hard on the industry. We saw six months where there were no boats leaving Australia, because the reduction in stocking rates has made those voyages unviable. That's why we didn't see boats leaving for six months, Member for Melbourne. So the government did react very strongly. I will concede to the minister that some very strict new standards were applied to the industry, and, as the boats are going again, we are now seeing the results of that. The Al Shuwaikh recently arrived and unloaded in the gulf with a mortality rate of 0.24. That's a little over 100 sheep out of 60,000. I've been a farmer for all of my life, someone who grew with up that offensive smell of sheep manure in their nostrils. I know the member for Fremantle will probably raise how offensive that is to the people on the latte strip in his electorate as those trucks go by. I grew up with that smell in my nostrils, and it's not that bad, believe me—once you get used to it, it's not that bad.
Let me tell you that the people of O'Connor, who also grew up with the smell of sheep manure in their nose, are prepared to fight for this industry. In July, at very short notice, we had 1,000 people turn up to a meeting at Katanning. I was very proud to stand alongside the member for New England, who travelled over to support the industry in my state, to support those hardworking rural and regional agricultural people in my state. The member for Hunter asked why the member for Petrie would stand up to support those hardworking working-class people in my electorate. It is because he is a decent fellow who actually supports working-class people. I say to the member for Hunter: I'll support the coal workers in your electorate. You won't, but I will, because I support working-class people too. The divide in this country is no longer between the working class and capital; it is between the inner city elites and those people who live and work in electorates like my electorate of O'Connor, who produce the billions of dollars of wealth in this country that allow the social programs we all enjoy—in your electorate, member for Fremantle, and in your electorate, member for Melbourne. They are paid for by the people who work their backsides off and sweat every day in my electorate. The $250 million live sheep trade and the $1.6 billion live cattle trade pay for a lot of the bills that come out of your electorate. What about the $9 billion of mineral exports that come out of my electorate? They pay the bills for the people in Fremantle. They do—who else pays for it? There is $50 billion that comes out of the member for Durack's electorate in iron ore exports while they don't pay any bills.
If I had my way, they'd all be living in my electorate and the member for Durack's electorate—and we'll do something about that.
Come to the Katanning sheep sale next week, or any Wednesday you'd like to name, and I'll meet you there. When you come to my electorate you'll meet truckies like little Benny Poett, who is a great mate of mine. He has been carting stock for my family for three generations. When he stood up at that meeting in July, he said 'I'm working one week out of four weeks in a month now, and I'm struggling to meet the payments on my truck.' He's one of those 'evil small business people' who work 60, 70 or sometimes 80 hours a week. There is no sympathy on that side of the House for Benny Poett, but there is a lot of sympathy from me because I know him, I know his family and I know his kids. I want to make sure he's got a future and a living.
Chloe McDougall is a young farmer's wife who is actively involved in their business, just like all the farm wives I know in my electorate and my region. With her young son on her hip, she says: 'What's the future for my son?' When I look at the people across the chamber here, they've got no sympathy whatsoever for Chloe McDougall and her family; they could not care less about those people. Let me tell you about one of the most profound contributions that I've seen at the myriad public meetings I've held in my electorate.
At one or two days notice, 160 people turned up in Mayanup. A young lady stood up. She had a baby with her. She is married to a local farmer. She told her story, which I thought was very profound. She said she was currently a vegetarian. She had been a radical vegan. She had been a Green all her life. Three years ago, she married a farmer. She had always been opposed to the live export trade, because that's what Greens do. That's because Greens don't understand the industry, they don't know what it is about, and it's an easy target for signalling your virtue: 'I oppose the live export trade.' This young lady, Amy Dyer—and she has been on ABC Radio, so anyone who wants to check this is welcome to go and look it up—said: 'When I married a farmer and I started to understand how the industry work, I changed my mind.' She said that what really changed her mind and flipped her from being a strong opponent of the live export trade to being a strong supporter was that Australia imposes the ESCAS on the rest of the world.
Our standards, enforced under the ESCAS, have lifted the standards for the live sheep trade across the world. But it is not only the sheep that are shipped in boats; the domestic processing industries in the countries that we deliver to have massively lifted their standards. If Australia vacates that space, there is nobody who is going to set a standard for the rest of the world. Let me tell you: there are 10 million sheep that are going to be traded whether Australia is in the game are not.