Abandon sheep: report backs future ban on live exports

Andrew Brown |

The “time has come” to bring live sheep exports to an end, says the chair of a committee that stamped its approval on legislation to ban the trade.

A report examining the government proposal to end the practice by 2028 calls on parliament to pass the laws, despite concern among farmers and the opposition.

The agriculture committee also urged for the federal government to work closely with the WA government on a transition support package for those affected.

The government has already announced a $107 million package to help the transition.

Sheep destined for the Middle East onboard a ship at Fremantle
A dissenting report claims the live sheep export trade by sea is “rebounding and growing”. (Trevor Collens/AAP PHOTOS)

Committee chair and Labor MP Meryl Swanson said while there was opposition to the ban, a prohibition on live exports was overdue.

“The time has come to transition away from this trade. Like all transitions, it will not be without pain, but the outcome will provide industry with long-term certainty in line with community expectations,” she said.

The federal opposition has vowed to overturn the ban should it win the next election.

In a dissenting report, coalition MPs said the industry had extensive animal welfare practices in place.

“Any transition package proposed in this bill will be rejected by WA farmers and industry supply chain participants who believe the live sheep export industry is not only viable, but a growing industry,” the report said.

“The live sheep export trade by sea is a rebounding and growing trade that government chooses to deny at the peril of Australia’s reputation as a valued and reliable trading partner.”

Coalition MPs had called for a separate inquiry that would hear from all impacted communities in WA’s live sheep export industry, which would report by the end of 2024 at the earliest.

There had been criticism from the opposition the parliamentary inquiry was rushed, with little time for industry to comment on the proposal.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the inquiry was disingenuous.

“Imagine how insulted farmers feel today after taking the time to write submissions, only for Labor to treat them with contempt,” he said in Perth.

“The Nationals don’t need an inquiry to understand the consequences of phasing out the live sheep export trade.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud
Nationals leader David Littleproud and WA’s farming peak body oppose the live sheep export ban. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

WA Farmers livestock president Geoff Pearson also hit out at the report, saying the impacts of closing down the industry had not be examined properly.

“Labor isn’t interested in live sheep exports or our future, despite our industry undertaking significant reform,” he said.

“Around 3000 livelihoods are being destroyed and farmers are becoming increasingly desperate.”

Live sheep exports by sea have dropped by 90 per cent from 2001/02 to 2022/23.

Labor had promised to end live sheep exports following incidents where thousands of sheep died of heat stress while en route to the Middle East.

Ms Swanson said while farmers had concerns with the phasing out of live exports, community expectations had called for an end to the practice.

“Broader community expectations in relation to animal welfare cannot be met if the live export of sheep by sea is allowed to continue,” she said.

“Given the limited size of the live sheep export market relative to the broader industry, the committee is persuaded that the negative effects of the transition can be effectively mitigated with well-targeted assistance.”