The federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources needed to take responsibility for its poor handling of the live sheep export trade, Sussan Ley says.
The Liberal backbencher and Member for Farrer was invited to speak about her Private Members Bill to phase out live sheep exports, at a North East Agricultural dinner in Benalla on Wednesday, hosted by Member for Indi Cathy McGowan.
Ms Ley told the meeting she believed the industry failed to properly regulate itself from day one and an investigation into the Department of Agriculture’s involvement in live sheep export was expected to be completed shortly and would show that.
“I’ve had some insight into the investigation and I can tell you that it will jump on the department, as the regulator, so hard those public servants will be spinning,” Ms Ley told the meeting.
“We should perhaps feel sorry for them but to be perfectly honest I don’t. They have had a massive conflict of interest.
“They are in the Department of Agriculture which promotes the live trade, they’re in the Department of Agriculture that’s the regulator of the live trade.
“It is an impossible conflict of interest. And they have failed at every step.”
Ms Ley said once subsidies which help fund the Middle East trade were removed the trade would be non-viable for operators.
Australia’s live sheep market was based on just two customers, in Qatar and Kuwait, and she believed wealthy customers there preferred chilled meat.
“In 2007 we sent about 260,000 head of sheep as whole carcases in the bellies of Middle Eastern airlines. Now we send 2.7 million,” Ms Ley said.
“They appear on a shelf in an air conditioned supermarket, they are the preferred product and our brand is second to none.
“The whole industry is at a tipping point … we send Australian lamb to 100 different countries, and Western Australia has more access to those countries than the eastern states.”