The federal government is destroying the sheep industry and farmers are broken.
That is the summation of Federal National Party leader David Littleproud today after the government said it would keep secret the findings of an independent report in the proposed phase-out of live sheep exports by sea.
Mr Littleproud, along with Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, Farm Weekly and several other Liberal and Nationals senators, submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the 230-page report to be released.
However requests from Mr Littleproud and others were denied, with the report to remain a secret, after access was refused due to Cabinet-in-Confidence.
The minister's office official letter said Under Section 34(3) of the FOI Act provides that:
A document is an exempt document to the extent that it contains information the disclosure of which would reveal a Cabinet deliberation or decision, unless the existence of the deliberation or decision has been officially disclosed.
The reasoning behind the refusal made it clear that this applied to the report in its entirety.
"In conclusion, I have decided to refuse access to one document," the letter said.
"I have decided that document one is exempt, in full, under section 34(3) of the FOI Act."
Mr Littleproud said Labor needed to be transparent about the report, which Mr Watt received a month ago, from the Independent Panel.
"I am incredibly disappointed that Labor sees fit to remain secretive about phasing out the live sheep export trade," Mr Littleproud said.
"If Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is so confident in his decision to phase out the industry, why won't he release details of the report?"
He said the policy was destroying the livelihoods of more than 3000 people who work in the trade and an industry worth $85 million, yet he didn't have the courage to travel with the panel and look farmers in the eye himself.
"Now he doesn't even have the courage to release the report,"Mr Littleproud said.
"This is an industry that has already lost confidence, with sheep prices plummeting.
"Labor is destroying a whole industry.
"It will impact the sheep and wool industry across Australia.
"Farmers are broken over this decision - it is also having an enormous emotional impact on thousands of people.
"A future coalition government with the Nationals will ensure the live sheep export trade is saved."
According to Meat & Livestock Australia, some sheep and lamb categories have fallen by up to 70 per cent in the saleyards in the past 12 months.
Mr Littleproud said Labor had allowed sheep prices to flatline but also failed to investigate why families were still paying high prices for lamb at the supermarket, through an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation.
"We now know minister Watt made decisions without being given proper modelling or details into the impact of banning live sheep exports and without evidence," he said.
"Unlike Labor, the Nationals support Australian farmers and their exports."