Media Release

Footage of sheep shearers

11 July 2014

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, today stood by sheep producers and those involved in the industry, saying footage of sheep cruelty was not representative of how the industry operated but representative of an individual mistreating sheep.

"I don't, and the Australian Government does not, condone the mistreatment of animals," Minister Joyce said.

Minister Joyce said that the bona fides of the footage must be determined by PETA. Among the questions that need to be answered are where did it happened; when did it happen; who took it; what authority did they had to film the workers on the farmer’s property; were there any other factors involved; did they immediately report the incident; are they in possession of any other footage; did they hold a court order; and did they tell the Australian Workers Union (AWU) of their actions so other shearers were aware they were being filmed?
"The police and RSPCA are responsible for animal welfare legislation and for ensuring investigations happen and, where needed, charges are pursued through the courts," Minister Joyce said.

"I understand that PETA has now submitted the footage to the relevant state authorities and the RSPCA. I am confident this will be investigated appropriately.

"There is no doubt these images are disturbing, but it is important we do not tarnish the whole industry based on the practices of a few and select pieces of footage that are yet to be investigated.

"I do not condone the method by which this footage was obtained as it sets one group above the law in how they act and I understand it was filmed over a period of seven or eight months.

"When bad practice is identified it should be reported. Otherwise it can be seen as not so much an attempt to end the cruelty, but rather another mechanism to attack rural industry in Australia.

"It is against the law to go on to private property and film people against their wishes. It is against the animal's interest to hold this footage till the time of most convenient political effect.

"Wool growers are committed to their industry and continuing improvements in practice. In the past five years Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has invested over $7 million in shearer and wool handler training to build wool handling and shed skills. This includes $2.8 million in 2013–14 to train more than 4000 shearers and wool handlers.

"If an owner saw their worker acting in this manner, overwhelmingly they would instruct the person or the contractor for that person to have a change in behaviour or have a change in jobs.

"While I don’t condone the activity, if a man kicks a dog you don't ban the ownership of dogs or automatically think all dog owners are cruel.

"Similarly, if a there is a shearer who hits sheep we don't ban shearing or assume all shearers act in the same way.

"The wool industry has been responsible for so much of the historic economic growth of the nation.

"An emotional response without full investigation, including why it has taken so long for PETA to release the footage, does not result in better husbandry practices. It just reinforces the belief that PETA is an extremist group that wants to end livestock production and to irreparably damage the economy and the reputation of Australian farmers."