Farming leaders storm out on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt in protest at live sheep trade shutdown

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Angry farming sector leaders have stormed out on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s post-Budget speech in protest at the shutdown of the live sheep trade.
Angry farming sector leaders have stormed out on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s post-Budget speech in protest at the shutdown of the live sheep trade. Credit: Supplied

Angry farming sector leaders have stormed out on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s post-Budget speech in protest at the shutdown of the live sheep trade.

In footage circulating on social media, National Farmers Federation (NFF) chief executive officer Tony Mahar and other industry figures can be seen walking out after Senator Watt started addressing the “sheep in the room” — the announcement of a May 1 2028 end date for the live export trade.

As the 13 protesters filed out of the National Press Club, Senator Watt said: “Just as well I didn’t talk about it early in the speech!”.

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The response prompted laughter from some of the attendees in the room.

New South Wales Farmers President Xavier Martin reportedly told Senator Watt the decision was “absolutely shameful”, to which the minister replied: “Thanks for your opinion, Xavier”.

The protests reflect the anger inside sections of the farming community about Labor’s decision to push ahead with a shutdown of the trade, which employs about 3000 people — 80 per cent of which are in WA.

The walkout comes after Nationals leader David Littleproud urged the entire agriculture sector to unite in opposition to the Federal Government’s decision.

“The walk-out this morning by our nation’s farmers — those who clothe and feed us — was an act of frustration and a reaction to a Government who won’t listen and doesn’t understand how agriculture works,” Mr Littleproud said after the protest.

Senator Watt said he was not concerned about the NFF’s “students”, having met its chief executive and president earlier in the week to discuss projects.

“While a handful of NFF leadership and their staff walked out, a couple of hundred ‘ag’ leaders — including many NFF members — stayed to hear about the Government’s $5 billion investment in agriculture in last night’s Budget,” he said.

In his speech, Senator Watt said the Federal Government was making the “right call” to set the sheep industry up for the future.

He also defended the size of the $107 million transition package offered to the sector amid criticism, including from Premier Roger Cook, that it is insufficient.

“I reckon if you went out there and talked to the average Australian, they would say that $107 million is a fair bit of their taxpayer funds going towards funding a sector that has been in decline for 20 years — that has shrunk by 90 per cent over the last 20 years — while, at the same time, we’ve seen exports of sheep meat go through the roof,” he said.

“And that’s the direction we need to take this sector, just as has occurred in every other state in the country.”

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