FREMANTLE MP Melissa Parke will remain on the Federal ALP Caucus Live Animal Export Working Group, despite her ministerial elevation.
Ms Parke was recently appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Homelessness and Social Housing and Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health. Another Working Group member and outspoken live export critic, Victorian MP Kelvin Thomson, was promoted to the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Trade following a cabinet reshuffle last month, but indicated he’ll step down from the working group to focus on government policy.
“There was a unanimous Caucus resolution late last year that the Live Animal Working Party present a model for an independent office of Animal Welfare to the Caucus by the end of February’ Mr Thomson said.
“Like other Caucus members, I await the Working Party’s report with interest.”
Ms Parke’s office also rejected suggestions of a potential conflict of interest in potentially hiring a well-known live export critic and one of the consultants used to design the proposed Independent Office of Animal Welfare.
In her speech updating the House of Representatives on the proposal earlier this month, Ms Parke acknowledged the work of RSPCA policy officer Jed Goodfellow and former WA State Government Manager Animal Welfare Dr Jeni Hood, in assisting with the proposed model.
Ms Parke’s office was contacted to clarify an online comment made last week in response to an article by Fairfax Agricultural Media about the new Office.
The comment said Ms Hood was now working for Ms Parke as an Assistant Advisor – but the WA Federal MP’s office went to great lengths to clarify the issue.
“While it is not our practice to comment on staffing matters, I can confirm that Jennifer Hood is being considered for a position on our staff,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“That position will be dedicated to assisting the Parliamentary Secretary’s work in the areas of mental health, homelessness and social housing.”
With only a short time to adjust to the new portfolios and only about six months before the federal election, critics questioned the motives behind Ms Parke’s potential staffing appointment.
One well placed source, who declined to be named, said the conflict of interest was obvious as Ms Hood was “vehemently opposed to live exports and shutting the industry down”.
WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association spokesman Sheldon Mumby said questions had to be answered by Ms Parke.
“Why is one of the strongest advocates for ending the live export trade, as demonstrated by her involvement in developing this new animal welfare office model, now working for the mental health, homelessness and social housing?” he said.
Mr Mumby said the “divorce” of the ALP and Greens federally, as announced by Greens leader Christine Milne recently, could now also signal an end to the “appeasement” of minor factions in the ALP over live exports.
He said he was pleased that Mr Thomson, who was involved in setting up the Office with Ms Parke as a backbencher and outspoken live export critic, stood down from the working group after his promotion last month.
But he asked what the ALP MP was now doing to help try and resume the live sheep trade to Iran and Egypt, and create access for other markets, in accordance with ESCAS, to assist WA livestock producers.