Monday, March 4, 2024

A government at sea: John Hassell

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John Hassell, President, WAFarmers, Vice President, National Farmers’ Federation

There has been much commentary in recent weeks about why the Albanese Government is facing serious trouble. One such reason is that middle Australia now feels worse off financially than they did two years ago. As we know, it is middle Australia that decides elections.

This would be ringing alarm bells nationally to backbenchers in marginal seats, including those crucial seats here in Western Australia that secured the Prime Minister majority government – and could potentially take it away. Political polling and focus groups increasingly are telling a story of the rising cost of living; exorbitant energy fuel prices, and; ever marching inflation thieving any modest wage increases.

In the midst of the pain that everyday Australians are feeling, why then the Government’s dogged pursuit of a ban on live sheep exports? The industry only directly affects a small proportion of the population, but one that is critical to Australia’s food and fibre production and our trade relationships overseas.

While it is critical to farmers and our wool and sheep industries, banning live exports won’t result in more votes for Labor from suburban families, who are more concerned with increasing rents and school fees. Particularly when the Government has backflipped on numerous election commitments already.

Instead, it is now very clear that this is an ideological attack designed to placate a very niche group of inner-city elites who have little understanding of the importance or operations of this vital agriculture industry. Look at how well ignoring everyday Australian families worked for Government in pursuing a voice to parliament.

The truth is that live sheep exports are critical for many farmers and provide a market for older sheep (mutton). It offers a quick destocking option without collapsing prices to help protect the land during drought and provides food security to other nations who have invested in Australia to supply their people with quality produce.

The live export industry has worked hard to improve standards across the board and now has an enviable animal welfare record delivering sheep to longstanding Australian trading partners and allies.

As our Labor Premier in WA Roger Cook has consistently said “we believe the welfare arrangements that are in place, the checks and balances that have been put in place as a result of the reforms around that, are sufficient.”

The Government, deaf to the advice of industry and farmers, and the WA Premier, insists that local processing could be a boon to the agriculture industry, conveniently ignoring the facts: market specifications, a lack of abattoir workers, increasing costs of production, limited air freight capacity to export the chilled meat and a clear message from our trading partners that they want livestock and will never replace live sheep imports with chilled and frozen products.

So, if the Government won’t listen to industry, won’t listen to farmers and won’t listen to everyday Australians struggling with a serious cost-of-living crisis, who is it listening to? The answer is it takes advice from niche animal activist group Animals Australia, through its membership of government advisory boards, an organisation mired in controversy and out of touch with the real-world struggles of middle Australia.

Everyday Australians can see the Albanese Government is distracted by niche vanity projects and elite self-interest, and has little regard for mainstream Australia in the face of the decline in standards of living and dramatic increases in costs of living. Alarm bells will be ringing in Labor MP electorate offices as backbenchers sit by watching their own Government misread the concerns of the community, once again.

Australians throughout the cities and suburbs support farmers and they have an innate radar for fairness. The Government should also rest assured that if it continues down this pathway of ignoring farmers then we will be targeting our city friends in the urban marginal electorates in Western Australia and saying to them, just like you we are being ignored. Just like middle Australia, we will have little choice but to reject this government unless we start being listened to.

It’s not too late.  As WA Premier Roger Cook says Federal Labor’s policy is an “unnecessary burden” on WA farming communities – on everyday Australians – and says Prime Minister Anthony Albanese “should reconsider”.

The ban on live sheep is inherently unfair and Australians can see it. Roger Cook can see it. Let’s hope for the Albanese Government’s sake they recognise it too before the next election. Underestimate Australia’s farmers at your peril.

See: Live exports

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