While the cattle trade was front of mind at the national live export conference in Darwin, sheep live exporters were reassured that the continuation of their industry remains very much on the radar of Australia's live export industry.
Opening day two of the conference, Australian Live Exporters Council chair David Galvin sent a clear message that any government phase-out of the trade was not just a sheep industry issue but an issue about agriculture's right to exist.
Noting that the death of more than 2400 sheep from heat stress on board the vessel Awassi Express in 2017 had been a tragedy, Mr Galvin made comparisons between the reactions to that incident and the 2011 suspension of the live cattle trade following the release of footage showing inhumane treatment of livestock in Indonesian abattoirs.
He said remedial action had taken place in both circumstances and people had worked out how to reform the industries.
"In the case of sheep, it was moratoriums on summer trips, lower stocking densities, on-board recording of temperatures, and independent observers on board all live export ships to the Middle East," he said.
"So, why has this not had the same result as it has for cattle live exports.
"For me, a government phase-out policy shows there is no natural justice.
"If the industry hadn't reformed, I can see why you would want to phase it out, but one incident on one boat should not shut down a whole industry."
Mr Galvin noted the presence of Saudi Arabian representatives wanting to invest in the industry in Australia but questioning a federal government phase-out policy, and said his organisation would not stop progressing the issue on behalf of members.
One of those representatives, Dr Fars was part of a panel discussion on international perspectives on Australia's live export trade and said while they imported sheep from many countries, they looked favourably on the health of sheep from Australia.
Meat & Livestock Australia representative Amanda Hodges added that there was a push to grow the sheep market in the Middle East, where red meat was a big part of the diet and recognised as being of nutritional value.
"They see Australia as a safe source," she said, adding that operators recognised that good welfare was good for their business.
Ms Hodges said operators were questioning their heavy investment in the industry while the Albanese government has reiterated its election promise to phase out the trade.
"There is some confusion - have they done something wrong," she said.
"Those trading with Australia for a long time have complied with ESCAS rules.
"And there is affront at the suggestion that live animals can be replaced with boxed meat.
"Culturally, it can't be, so it's a vexed space."
The issue was also raised by Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association president David Connolly in his address to the conference, unequivocally saying he believed the ALP's policy on exporting sheep was wrong and would do more harm than good.
"All Australians must be invested in the protection of Australian agriculture," he said. "Most have never been exposed to food security concerns."
He described negative social activism as hypocritical virtue signalling, saying that it had been extended by banks.
"A number state they won't do business with the live export trade but they're happy to do business with the pastoralists who supply it," he said. "They make claims for commercial gain."
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