There is a different feeling around the live export issue this time than in past years, with a more open and constructive debate around how this industry is operating.
Nobody is pretending last year’s sheep deaths didn’t happen or that those numbers are acceptable.
It is a bit of a turn of events to see a Liberal MP, in Sussan Ley, come out against the trade, but she’s not the only rural voice this time around who is clearly sick of seeing live exports back in the spotlight for issues that should be under control.
It is also worth noting the absence of political name calling and a willingness for bipartisanship between the two major parties. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, it seems, is in control of what could have otherwise been a complete mess.
He has brought to the table a mature, measured response. His actions are what this trade needs.
We often talk about being a world leader in animal welfare and how live export has allowed us to take those standards across borders into these destination nations, but every time this sort of welfare bungle occurs it undermines that cause and the sustainability of the trade.
The pen conditions described certainly leave plenty of room for improvement and given the efforts the farmers who grow those sheep go to, it’s no wonder there are now rural voices joining the call to ban the trade.
However, this is also a highly politicised industry. One that’s vulnerable to attack from extreme views and in the past has been easily hijacked at the expense of rational solutions.
So what else is at stake here? The trade relationships with these Middle Eastern countries, the value of the industry to our economy, the additional diversity the trade adds to our sheep industry, and the ability to share knowledge on animal welfare with the destination markets.
Claims that the $233 million worth this industry generates is negligible is a bit flippant – it doesn’t take into account the downward pressure those sheep would have on prices locally if we had to absorb them into the domestic system.
There are issues around either the standards set by the Department of Agriculture, or the investigative process, otherwise we wouldn’t back in this embarrassing position.
If this can be addressed appropriately then there’s no reason why the trade shouldn’t continue.