Legislation passes to end live sheep exports by sea

Liv Casben |

The Albanese government has been accused of treating farmers with contempt after legislation passed in the Senate to end live sheep exports by sea in May 2028.

Last-minute lobbying by West Australian farmers and business owners was not enough to have the legislation blocked, with Labor forcing the bill through the Senate late on Monday night.

The proposal will mean an end to live sheep exports by sea on May 1, 2028, with a $107 million transition package to flow to affected farmers.

“This is an election commitment that we took to not just one, but two elections, and we’re now delivering on that election commitment as Australians would expect us to do so,” Agriculture Minister Murray Watt told the Senate on Monday. 

A file photo of Murray Watt
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Labor was following through on its election promises. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Keep the Sheep supporters travelled to Canberra on Monday to again plead their case, and they vowed to target marginal Labor seats if the legislation passed.

“We will be targeting every marginal Labor seat across this country to try and get what we need,” president of WA Farmer’s John Hassell told a media conference in Canberra on Monday. 

The coalition has vowed to overturn the legislation if it is re-elected. 

Nationals leader David Littleproud said Labor had “once again treated farmers with contempt”, ignoring pleas to save live sheep exports, and live cattle shipments could be next. 

“Farmers now know Labor is willing to sell them out and shut down a successful, world-class trade based on ideology,” he said in a statement.

“This decision is simply Labor bowing down to animal activists, even though Australia has the world’s best animal welfare standards.” 

West Australian Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash said on Monday night a vote for the coalition was a vote for a vibrant sheep industry in WA. 

“There are some very basic questions that need to be answered by the prime minister in relation to turning his back on Western Australia … Why do you hate WA farmers so much?”

But Senator Watt said the live sheep export trade had been shrinking for some time. 

“We know this is an industry that’s been in long-term decline … and the numbers of sheep being exported by sea have fallen by 90 per cent over the last 20 years,” Senator Watt said.

A file photo of sheep in an export vessel
Moves to end the trade came after thousands of sheep died of heat stress en route to the Middle East (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

The legislation also won the support of Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi who wanted the trade dropped because of animal welfare concerns. 

“Nothing can be done to make live export ships safe for animals, this cruel trade is irredeemable, and the only option is to shut it down,” Senator Faruqi told the Senate on Monday night.

“Now it is beyond time, to shut down this industry, once and for all.”

In June angry farmers warned a parliamentary inquiry that travelled to regional Western Australia some WA towns will die if the legislation is passed.

Labor vowed to end the trade following animal rights concerns after thousands of sheep died of heat stress while en route to the Middle East.