End of live export sparks dissent: Farm sector declares war

24 May 2024

With the Federal Government's announcement to end the live export of sheep by 2028, the Australian agriculture industry is united in its opposition to the plan.

The policy move, condemned by almost the entire industry, has caused trust in the federal government to plummet to an all-time low.

Last week, for the first time in 39 years, farmers from across Australia determined that they no longer have confidence the government to represent their interests. This vote followed an unprecedented walk-out by farmers on the Agriculture Minister's budget address.

This palpable loss of trust underscores the depth of discontent within the agriculture industry regarding the government's decision to phase out live sheep exports. It reflects a broader sentiment of disillusionment with the government's approach to agricultural policy and highlights the urgent need for meaningful dialogue and collaboration between policymakers and industry stakeholders.

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Amid the urban-rural divide, the primary argument for banning live export was disappointingly not based of science.

Farmers remain concerned that the phase out of live export will occur sooner than new markets for producers can be developed. As a result, many producers are concerned that the domestic market will face oversupply and price challenges.

The $107 million allocated in the recent budget will not come close the amount required to support producers establish new markets or boost local processing capacity.

The export market is crucial during dry times for destocking and provides producers with alternative markets, thereby enhancing their negotiating power domestically with processors.

With over half of Tasmania's fat lamb production currently sent to the mainland Australia for processing, we are already seeing processing being constrained by capacity.

This may alter the general market dynamics for Tasmanian producers, particularly if factoring in freight costs.

There is an unfounded argument from special interest groups that the government was elected on the promise of banning live exports.

Read more: Aussie beef selling at lower prices in Japan than Australia

The reality of the politics and this policy decision is now unfolding in New Zealand, where the Labor government banned the practice. However, the newly elected conservative government plans to reverse this decision due to sustained industry advocacy.

What the industry requires from the government is proper consultation and transparency in making science backed policy decisions.

The lack of a comprehensive strategy to develop alternative markets and processing infrastructure, coupled with insufficient funding, underscores the need for a more informed and collaborative approach. For the future of Australian agriculture, it is imperative that the government engages meaningfully with farmers to develop policies that support the industry's sustainability and growth.

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