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WA farmers president boycotts meeting on sheep exports

Liv CasbenAAP
WA farmers have been unhappy about the handling of MV Bahijah, which was forced to return to port. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconWA farmers have been unhappy about the handling of MV Bahijah, which was forced to return to port. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Western Australian Farmers Federation president John Hassell has boycotted a meeting he requested with the federal agriculture minister, saying farmers are being treated with contempt.

WA farmers have been unhappy about the handling of livestock export ship MV Bahijah, which was forced to return to port in the state this month after five-and-a-half weeks at sea.

“We actually asked for the meeting, then we finally get a request for (federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt) to meet with him, with the people of his choice, not the people we asked for,” Mr Hassell said.

“It was only for half an hour, not enough time to do anything really,” Mr Hassell told AAP.

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Senator Watt, who will address evokeAg, a major agrifood event in Perth on Tuesday, said he was taken aback by Mr Hassell’s absence at Monday’s meeting between the minister and representatives of WA Farmers.

“I was a bit surprised Mr Hassell boycotted a meeting that he demanded we have, but we had a respectful discussion with those who did turn up,” Senator Watt said.

“It was a respectful meeting that gave me a chance to set the record straight on the department’s handling of the MV Bahijah issue.”

But farmers remain frustrated by the lack of detail from the Albanese government on their plan to phase out live sheep exports.

One meeting attendee, WA Farmers Livestock president Geoff Pearson, said he was unable to get any answers on a report commissioned by the government over the phase-out.

“He could not give us a time or date or give us any context of what was in the findings,” Mr Pearson said.

Elsewhere on Monday, dozens of protesters gathered outside where federal cabinet met in Perth to continue their opposition to the live animal export trade.

Senator Watt will outline the short-term challenges facing the agriculture industry when he presents a keynote address at evokeAg on Tuesday.

Start-ups, investors, producers and innovators have converged on Perth for the two-day event.

The conference will examine how artificial intelligence is helping to shape agriculture and what it means for production, consumption and trade.

Matthew Pryor, from Tenacious Ventures, which helps raise capital for companies in the food supply chain, said evokeAg was an important tool for start-ups to gain traction.

“It’s an opportunity for Australian early-stage companies to really shine and get national attention,” Mr Pryor said.

“AI is just scratching the surface of what will become a really important tool.”

John Pattinson, from former agricultural start up Goanna Ag, said the company had expanded into the United States since gaining exposure at the event.

“We have had commercial partnerships that are as a direct result of evokeAg,” Mr Pattison told AAP.

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