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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1108


Mr RICK WILSON (O'Connor) (11:51): I rise today to update the House on the ongoing uncertainty that overhangs a critical industry in my electorate of O'Connor—that being the livestock industry and, more particularly, the sheep industry. This uncertainty stems from the incident that occurred nearly two years ago, in August 2017, where the Awassi Express was caught off the port of Doha in Qatar and there was an unacceptably high loss of sheep on that voyage. Subsequently some footage was released and was played on 60 Minutes, and the industry was brought into disrepute. There were a series of events that followed that which have put extreme pressure on those sheep producers across my electorate who had nothing to do with that initial incident. Just to emphasise the importance of the industry, around 40 per cent of the 3.5 million sheep turned off in Western Australia are exported. That's about 1.5 million head of sheep, or about $180 million worth of product.

This uncertainty commenced around May last year, when we saw an incident where the Emanuel company had 56,000 sheep in a feedlot. They were seeking final permission to load the boat and for that boat to sail to the Middle East. At the very last minute, literally five minutes to midnight, the permission to load was withdrawn and we saw 56,000 sheep stranded in a feedlot in Baldivis, just south of Perth. More devastating for the industry itself was there were a lot of sheep in the system ready to be exported that all of a sudden didn't have a home. It was a pretty tight season in Western Australia last year, so that caused an enormous amount of difficulty for the producers across my electorate.

Come November we saw the trade resume. We had the EMS company's licence suspended in August, but come November voyages to the Middle East resumed. I want to report to the House on the results of some of those voyages. Since 12 November, we have exported 712,000 sheep out of Western Australia. That's about half the annual turn-off. The sheep mortalities across those 11 voyages have totalled 1,800 sheep, and the mortality rate on average is 0.0261 per cent per voyage, which is an extraordinary result. As a sheep farmer all my life, I know you can't run those numbers of sheep in a normal paddock situation and expect any fewer mortalities than that. So well done to the industry for producing some terrific results that we can be very proud of, I believe, as an industry.

The uncertainty going forward revolves around the heat stress review that is being conducted at the moment by the regulator, which has recommended a maximum 28-degree wet-bulb temperature on the voyages. That temperature can be reached in 10 of the 12 months the boats sail to the Middle East. That would effectively close the industry down for all but two months of the year, and that would make it completely unviable.

The other area of uncertainty that we are looking at is the discussion paper that was put out by the regulator essentially recommending that the industry's self-imposed moratorium from June to September be extended to include October. That is four months of the year, which is a big chunk of the business that is done during the year, and it is the peak turn-off period for Western Australian sheep producers.

Those are a couple of areas I have great concern about going forward. However, I am optimistic. Minister McKenzie visited Western Australia several weeks ago. She met with live sheep and cattle exporters. She emphasised that she wanted to see decisions made around the industry being based on science and hard data. The results we have seen from the industry since the resumption of shipping in November last year prove that the industry can be conducted safely and sustainably. I absolutely welcome the minister's approach to the industry going forward.

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 11:56