Live Export

Ag industry unites in outrage against live sheep ban

Eric Barker, 13/05/2024

THE agriculture industry has united in outrage at the Federal Government’s four-year plan to phase out live sheep exports by sea – with many saying the Government has treated the industry with contempt and pandered to animal activists basing arguments on emotion rather than science.

Following a week of announcing support for the cattle industry at Rockhampton’s Beef 2024, agriculture minister Murray Watt flew to Western Australia to announce a $107m plan to transition the industry away from one of its key markets between now and 2028 – a market which Livecorp says is worth $143m each year.

The announcement was followed by a series of statements, social media posts and press releases from farmers and agriculture groups condemning the plan.

Timing has been one of the main issues, with the Western Australian industry currently going through a dry period and struggling to find markets for its sheep.

Minister Watt and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese kept the plan a secret at Rockhampton last week while enjoying the industry’s hospitality and making plenty of encouraging speeches without taking questions from the crowd. Ag minister Murray Watt, who pushed his way onto the Rural Press Club program on Thursday morning, did not even stay until the end of the breakfast.

Livecorp chair Troy Setter, who was also at Beef 2024, said he was kept in the dark.

“I was not even invited to the government meeting – the animal activists were, but the export industry chair was not,” Mr Setter said in response to a National Farmers’ Federation press release on Twitter/X.

“Thanks for letting me know NFF, our industry has been killed off and the food supply for many countries has been cut off.”

In further social media discussion, Mr Setter said the live sheep were likely to come from other countries that did not have the same animal welfare standards as Australia.

$107m packaged labelled inadequate for phase out

Many have labelled the compensation package put forward by the Government as completely inadequate compared to what is being proposed.

Red Meat Advisory Council chair John McKillop said the decision was ideological and not scientific.

“Today’s announcement shows that no industry is safe from political and activist agendas, irrespective of evidence of reform, improvement and performance,” Mr McKillop said.

“$107 million over five years is grossly inadequate and the plans to introduce and pass associated legislation to phase out a legitimate agricultural industry by 1 May 2028 nothing short of a disgrace.

“When it takes $6 million to produce a report on how best to phase out an industry, despite the lack of a single legitimate, science or evidence-based argument, it is clear that $107 million to actually phase out the industry is well below par. Particularly when $11.1 million of that figure goes straight into Government coffers to ‘implement and engage’.

“The transition package completely ignores the flow on impacts this policy will have on the broader supply chain and Western Australian economy itself. Live cattle export shipments as an example often rely on consignments of live sheep to be viable. The Government’s head remains firmly in the ground on this front.

 “To make matters worse is the complete disregard for the tough climatic conditions currently being experienced by many Western Australia producers. For the Government announcement to be in the media before industry is even briefed is staggering.”

 Anger at Government’s approach to phase-out

The Government’s approach to the ban over the past year has drawn consistent criticism from the industry.

An independent panel was commissioned to hear from Western Australian communities about some of the options to move the industry away from live exports – with crowds evidently condemning the ban repeatedly to the panel.

The Government then kept the report secret for the next six months, until the weekend when it had announced the plan.

While it has been formulating a plan to end live sheep exports, the Government still has an outstanding settlement to make for its 2011 ban on live cattle exports – which a court found to be unlawful.

Former Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association chief executive officer Tracey Hayes evidently gave the Government both barrels about this in a speech at Rockhampton last week.

Will cattle exports be next?

As Cattle Australia CEO Chris Parker said in response the plan, “this decision will send shivers down the spine of the live cattle industry for fear they will be next.”

While the Government has repeatedly stated it will not ban live cattle exports, the Northern Territory cattle industry been concerned about the Government’s willingness to kill off a market since it made the election commitment to phase out live sheep exports.

Minister Watt spoke at last year’s NTCA conference saying the Government supported live cattle exports and that the industry had nothing to fear.

However, the minister has been relying heavily on support from the RSPCA in talking up the benefits of the live sheep ban. The RSPCA has also been calling on the Government to ban live cattle exports.

The pressure is also on in Canberra, with other politicians criticising the ban by saying it is too long-a-timeline and that cattle exports also needed to be banned.

Most of the critics are unlikely to see any personal impacts from the ban, including Teal independent MP Kylea Tink, who said the ban was welcome in North Sydney.

“This is something we in North Sydney have called for since before the election. Disappointing though, that we have four years to wait and still no plan to end live beef cattle exports,” Ms Tink said on Twitter/X.

On the contrary, people who are directly impacted by the ban are voicing opposition – including WA Labor premier Roger Cook and many delegates at last week’s Beef 2024.

NTCA CEO Will Evans said trading partners were worried about the Government and Australian Beef Sustainability Steering Group chair Mark Davie called out banks taking anti-live export positions.

Industry vows to fight on

The agriculture industry has vowed to keep fighting the ban until the Government reverses the policy. National Farmers’ Federation chief executive officer Tony Mahar said the organisation was going to keep fighting.

“Murray Watt has decided to book us on the express train to disaster, but this isn’t the final chapter in this story. We’ll keep fighting,” he said.

“This is not just a betrayal of Australian farmers. It runs directly counter to our national interests. We’re turning our back on crucial Middle Eastern partners who have plead for this trade to continue.

“It also shows complete ignorance to the real-world implications of a ban, which will inevitably lead to poorer animal welfare outcomes.”

CA CEO Chris Parker said the ban was not going to end demand for live sheep.

“It will simply shift the market to other jurisdictions which may not have the same high standards as those of Australia,” Dr Parker said.

“To see our leaders ignore scientific evidence to pander to ideologically driven groups to capture the support of inner-city extremists is appalling. This decision is not about animal welfare, it’s about votes.

“Make no mistake, this policy will hurt animals, it will hurt people, and it will hurt our economy.”

Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said the WA industry had the full support of Australian agriculture.

“Instead of meeting with farmers and their communities on the ground, he made the announcement from an ivory tower in the centre of Perth,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.

“To add further insult to injury, the Minister advised farmers at the same time as anti-agriculture activists. They cheered on the policy, despite being on the same call as farmers and producers, with investment in the industry, who stand to lose everything.

“The Australian livestock industry would like to deliver a very clear message to WA’s sheep farmers: we are standing with you and this is only the beginning of the fight.

“Rest assured, this will be an election issue in WA at the next Federal election and potentially across Australia.”

Coalition to reinstate live sheep exports if elected

In response, opposition leader Peter Dutton has said that if the Coalition is successful next election it will reinstate live sheep exports.

Labor members have been keen to point out support for banning live sheep exports from Coalition deputy leader Sussan Ley – who made a strong push for a ban in 2018. WA publication the Countryman earlier this year reported that Ms Ley had changed her position and was on board with re-instating the trade.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said no real justification had been made for the ban.

“Industry has never had the science explained to them why they are closing the industry down. Compensation of just $64.6 million is an insult, especially when Meat and Livestock Australia figures show live sheep exports were 84,430 in December 2023, which was a 177 per cent increase in comparison with November export (58,732) and a 44 per cent increase on December 2022 exports (30,531).

“The legislation will be introduced in this term of Parliament, even though the industry embraced world leading animal welfare reforms in 2019, not only in transport but also the processing of sheep in the Middle East.”


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  1. John Kenyon, 16/05/2024

    I will not be voting Labour at the next election. This is a disgrace. Families have spent generations building their farms only to lose everything because of ” vote grabbing, gutless politicians ” who only care about themselves and lining their pockets. Inner-city voters dictating what a farmer can do. UN AUSTRALIAN

  2. Anton Hutchinson, 16/05/2024

    Vote Labor out! This is their ongoing agenda to placate the inner city socialist set and absolutely no consideration to those affected in our country or overseas. Sadly the above don’t give a damn if countries that import live meat eat or not. They don’t want to understand that some of those countries don’t have sufficient electricity to store frozen boxed meat. Another thing for the liberals to undo at the next election.

  3. Rick Kehoe, 15/05/2024

    Once again this government is pandering to vocal minorities and does not consider the needs of the community in general. I can not see any scientific evidence for this ban. The way that the country is going there will be many industries destined to the bin.

  4. Margaret O'Neill, 14/05/2024

    The livestock industry cannot pretend to be ignorant of this announcement. It was one of the Labor Gvt’s election pledges so the industry has had adequate time to prepare for this. It was a principal reason I voted for Labor at the last election.

  5. Tony snelling, 14/05/2024

    Being a 70 year butcher & having worked at abbators like Wyndham Robb’s jetty which they closed down and the labour party stoppedthe cattle trade in 2011 I would like to support the farmers ln there fight to keep the live sheep trade from being stopped too

  6. Jean brenzi, 14/05/2024

    Get rid of this current anti Australia government. Sick of all the anti this and that affecting hard working aussies that have given ALL Australians
    The life they have come to enjoy
    Those who want to protest everything get a life and STOP all this rubbish and let the hardworkers get on . As pointed out already if you think other countries who will fill the gap care about their animals like we do do research and realise how our animals are well cared for and generally loved by our farmers.

  7. Hugo Hamersley, 14/05/2024

    This is what happens when you are governed by a bunch of new Australian trade unionists who have absolutely no idea in regards to agriculture or business generally. God help Australia

  8. Alfred McDonald, 14/05/2024

    This will never come to fruition as I see it.The majority of Australians have had enough of this government and a change is imminent.And with a Liberal government with the help of the Nationals will reverse this decision to ban the export of our meats.It now up to the Nationals Party to lift its game and to promote the live export market to gain government again for the benefit of the economy survival.

  9. Peter Dunn, 13/05/2024

    You have to hand it to all Labor Governments, they plan their ideological crusades meticulously, and execute them comprehensibly. Federal Labor always saw the live sheep trade as the easier objective, the abolition of which it believes will create momentum for their ultimate target, the closure of the live beef trade. Accordingly, it is treating the sheep industry with disdain, bordering on contempt.
    Elsewhere on this site I made comment on what the Federal Government is currently doing to replace the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy with a new National Strategy on Animal Welfare. No guessing needed to work out that this new strategy will be the instrument Labor intends to use to close down the live cattle trade.
    In the light of that, and back to the live sheep trade, the time for fighting the government, on the terms which it dictates, has passed. That is what the government wants the industry to do, to joust windmills, while it rolls out $107 million worth of largesse and brings the industry to a close.
    The point which is not being mentioned, is that the Labor government can only continue to do what it is doing whilst it remains in power.
    Constitutionally, it is only able to do so up to around October next year. What it is seeking to do to the live sheep trade cannot continue after October next year, a bit more than a year from now, unless the majority of Australians wish that to be the case.
    Does it need to be said; stop talking to and complaining to the government, and instead start talking to and informing that majority of Australians who have the fate of the industry in their hands.
    Peter Dutton has committed to correcting Labor’s ideological idiocy, making the way forward even clearer.
    Forget distractions like Kylie Tink, pollsters, and other naysayers.
    Focus on bringing the Labor government’s plans to close down live trade to a shuddering halt, in October next year.

    • Jean Brenzi, 14/05/2024

      Yes please let this current government be shown the door without all the hanger ons, e.g. greens, teals, and so called independents. They are ruining this country.

  10. Howard Gardner, 13/05/2024

    Having lived in the Middle East from 1977 to 1982 I am amazed, and disappointed, to learn that a so-called free enterprise Government would make a decision to deny legitimate market access, from Australian landholders, to a market that has been a major contributor to Australia’s standard of living. A standard which is viewed jealously by the populations of most countries.
    I have not seen or heard any evidence to support statements promoting the ban on sheep exports. Do the people suggesting meat exports, as a substitute for live-sheep, understand that a carcase cannot be used for sacrificial purposes?
    Certainly there have been some outcomes that the Australian sheep industry would have preferred did not happen but, from the last figures I have seen, losses of sheep during the sea journey compare favourably with losses here on farm.
    Having witnessed sheep and goats from Somalia being discharged in Jeddah I can well understand why Middle-East countries want to buy Australia’s surplus sheep.
    As Dr.Parker has said there are many countries that are able and willing, to replace any reduction in Australia’s exports. Remember also the “flock reduction Scheme” in the 1990’s when Australia’s producers were paid $1 per head to have their sheep killed to reduce the sheep population.
    It appears that the current Government has learnt nothing from their 2011 ban on cattle exports which was found to be unlawful.
    Hopefully common-sense will prevail and the proposed ban will be reconsidered.

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