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Transcript of interview with Will Ockenden: ABC National Rural Reporter: 28 July 2009: [mulesing debate]

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interviewed by Will Ockenden, ABC National Rural Reporter

28 July 2009

JOURNALIST: The Federal Government says it has no part to play in the politics of the mulesing debate and that it's for the wool industry itself to sort out. As you've just heard, the fallout from AWI's decision to abandon the 2010 deadline is continuing today.

But Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke, says the more than $11 million provided by the Government, money which matches grower levies, is still safe.

TONY BURKE: The deadline that was set was always an industry commitment and it's for industry to work out whether or not they think they can meet that commitment.

The comments from AWI seem to be reflective of what the current situation is, which is that for those markets that want to buy wool from sheep that have not been mulesed, they're able to get it and they're able to get from Australia. From those who don't mind what they buy, whether it be mulesed or not, then they're able to get that too.

We need to remember mulesing takes place for good animal welfare reasons. There is nothing good for an animal in dying by being eaten by flesh-eating maggots. That's the reality of what can happen in a bad fly season if you have - if you have fly-blown sheep.

WILL OCKENDEN: Were you consulted prior them making the decision and announcing it?

TONY BURKE: My office was told that they were going to put the announcement out. I have not tried to tell them what they should or shouldn't do. It was never a government commitment; it was always something that was given by one portion of industry. It was always a controversial one.

But for those markets that want to be able to verify that the wool they are buying is from sheep that have not been mulesed, they will be able to continue to do that.

WILL OCKENDEN: What kind of message does it send to the market, though? You've got the retail consortiums in Britain and the US now which have signalled their concerns about this decision. Do you think that it could affect wool sales in Australia?

TONY BURKE: The important thing is that those who want to buy unmulesed wool, there are now verification systems in place that go through the processing stage so that that verification is available. People who want to be able to buy wool from sheep that have not been mulesed will be able to do so, and they'll be able to do so with Australian wool.

WILL OCKENDEN: Are these comments from AWI something that the wool industry's research and development body should be doing?

TONY BURKE: The AWI is an industry-owned corporation. They have the R&D function; they also have a marketing function. And so if they were purely on R&D, I'd understand the question. But

given that they have a marketing role, making statements to the market is something where I can understand why they felt the need to make the statement.

WILL OCKENDEN: How connected do you think it is to wool poll where they have to decide the future of AWI in a couple of months?

TONY BURKE: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know the answer to that, and that'd be a question you'd have to - you'd have to put to AWI.

WILL OCKENDEN: What would you say to PETA who could very well start boycotts and calling for consumer boycotts against wool from mulesed sheep?

TONY BURKE: Let's not forget PETA launched a campaign in 2008 to boycott Australian wool on the basis that we hadn't met a 2010 deadline. Now, PETA are who they are. Ultimately they are against the use of sheep; they're against the use of animals at all. And so they began a campaign in 2008. How you can claim in 2008 that you haven't met a 2010 deadline is beyond me. PETA were always going to launch a campaign, and in fact, they already had.

WILL OCKENDEN: They had agreement though with AWI, a legal agreement between the two to stop legal action. Do you think that agreement now stands?

TONY BURKE: Well, I think that agreement was cast into serious doubt when they ran their campaign in 2008 which claimed that a 2010 deadline hadn't been met two years before it was meant to be met.

WILL OCKENDEN: Is the Government happy to continue funding AWI when it makes these statements which go against what the wool industry has agreed with retail federations overseas?

TONY BURKE: The role of AWI in both R&D and marketing is an important one, and the Government maintains its commitment through the RDCs to research and development.

JOURNALIST: Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke, speaking there to our reporter, Will Ockenden.