Live Animal Export
Posted on Monday, 15 October, 2018
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:41 I rise to speak on the Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports Bill 2018, this private member's bill by the member for Hunter. It seems to me that, in so much of our political conversation in Australia, conversations taking place are often mired in misinformation. Certainly, so it is in the case of the live export trade. As someone who farmed for over 30 years and had sheep on my property for about 95 per cent of that time, I can tell you that I am completely committed to the welfare of the animals. I understand that animals are raised with a specific purpose. In the case of merino sheep, they are for wool, but they are also for human consumption. Somewhere along the line there comes a reality about that, and we need to recognise that reality.
Farmers produce animals for various reasons. I touched on the merinos. Merinos, of course, produce one of the finest fibres in the world, one that is actually riding on a great high at the moment. But farmers need to sell their stock. Sometimes they've reached the end of their useful life; sometimes they are surplus to requirement owing to droughts; and always we hope for an increase in our flock that will go to the human consumption market.
In the case of lambs, lamb is Australians' preferred way of eating sheep. I won't say mutton, because 'mutton' refers to a sheep at a different stage of its life. A lamb is something that's less than 12 months old, but the 12 months is actually measured by dental development in the animal. The day that those first two large front teeth—just like our children when they are six years old—cut through the gum, they turn from being a lamb into being a hogget.
Now, 'lamb', of course, is a very marketable name. We've invested a lot of money in Australia into marketing lamb. Unfortunately the day it turns to 'hogget', it does not seem to be so attractive to the public. I think that's misinformation in itself. A number of people over the years have said to me, 'I don't want to eat old hogget.' Of course, there isn't any such thing as old hogget, because that particular sheep is only a hogget until it cuts its four teeth—until the next set of teeth come through. They come through in roughly 12 months time again, so that's what we would call a two-year-old. Then of course the meat becomes 'mutton'.
Once it's become mutton, it's particularly unfavourable for the Australian public. We've got to think about why farmers would keep a sheep until it turned into mutton rather than having sold it off as a lamb. Firstly, when the lambs are born, about 50 per cent of them are male and about 50 per cent are female. The females are generally kept for breeding purposes, but they will be assessed on their wool value sometime after they become hoggets, not when they are lambs. Consequently, there is already a part of this market where Australian marketing is not preferable. The wethers are castrated at around four or six weeks old. They might be for wool production for a time, and then they need to be sold off.
The export industry is largely based on wether sales and ewes that are deemed to be unpregnant. They might be barren ewes is, for instance. They need to be preg tested before they go on boats. The industry is very necessary—it is the safety valve for Australian farmers. It's the reason why the trade exists. It's good for farmers, because it's a necessary way of unloading sheep that are not particularly palatable for our domestic markets. They are also not particularly palatable for our chilled markets, in so much as the areas that we sell these live sheep into demand that they have a live sheep.
Whilst they are prepared to accept some chilled beef, it is worth reflecting on the market of Bahrain, for instance. Up until about 2015, Australia was supplying around 11,800 tonnes of chilled meat into the Bahrain market. We lost our pre-eminence there as the live sheep provider, and we lost 40 per cent of the chilled meat market along with it, because these companies—these countries—actually trade as an entity. They are looking for trusted trading partners, which is why we need to be steady and careful about the things that we do in this place that disrupt those long-term trade arrangements we have made with other countries. With all things, I urge caution around the live sheep trade. It is very important to the farmers, particularly of WA and certainly of my electorate of Grey as well.