Live Export

Sheep export ban would set ‘dangerous precedent’ farm groups warn

Beef Central, 02/03/2023

A letter signed by 25 Australian farming organisations has warned Agriculture Minister Murray Watt that the Federal Government’s policy to ban live sheep exports is “a red line that cannot be crossed”, and would be a dangerous precedent that would encourage activist pressure to mount against other legitimate agricultural industries.

sheep being mustered into holding pens aboard “MV Merino Express” livestock export ship, Port of Fremantle, Perth, Western Australia

Signatories to the letter include the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Livestock Exporters Council, Sheep Producers Australia, and the Australian Lot Feeders Association.

However it comes as the State Labor Government in Western Australia  appears to be wavering in its resolve to protect the important market for western sheep producers.

WA agriculture minister Jackie Jarvis told ABC radio today that she had “pushed the issue as hard as I can, but we are now at the point where Murray Watt has said that this is happening”.

Federal Labor reaffirmed its policy to phase out Australia’s live sheep trade before last year’s Federal Election.

After his election victory, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the media it was unlikely the policy would be implemented in this term.

However, the issue was reignited at Senate Estimates hearing last week when Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt commented that the sheep export trade has lost its social license, and community opinion was that “live sheep exports should be phased out”.

The McGowan Government in WA has heavily resisted its Federal counterpart’s policy to ban sheep exports, a trade of significant importance to WA sheep producers.

But Jackie Jarvis’ comments to ABC radio today suggest that resolve to stand up to their Federal counterparts is now weakening.

She said she has asked the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to urgently conduct modelling work on what WA’s sheep industry would need to operate without live exports.

Letter: “Not just a livestock export issue”

This is despite the chairs and presidents of dozens of peak livestock bodies, national farming organisations and state farming organisations coming together to release a letter to emphasise  that a policy to ban live sheep exports is not just a livestock export issue, but a “whole of sector” issue.

“We will never support legitimate agricultural industries being closed for political reasons, or to suit activist agendas,” the letter said.

While recognising the live sheep industry has had its challenges, it also recognises the industry has undertaken reforms which have been recognised internationally and also by the WA premier and Agriculture Minister.

“If the live sheep industry is phased out in spite of its reform and positive animal welfare outcomes, which can all be evidenced, then an appalling precedent will be set, one which alarms all of us,” the letter states.

The farming groups warn that banning the trade would set a “a dangerous and concerning precedent” for the government to prioritise activist agendas over recognising the overwhelming evidence of reform and improvement.

“Activists will not stop at just the live sheep industry. Any accession to their agenda undermines all of our industries and the work and investment we have collectively made to Australia being a world leader in animal welfare.”

The industry’s removal would penalise farming families and international customers, while costing approximately 3000 jobs in Western Australia.

Minister Watt has said he will be conducting a consultation process shortly about how the policy to transition out of live sheep exports will be implemented.

In the letter, the groups advise the Minister that they will continue to oppose the Australian Government policy to phase out live sheep exports and continue to advocate for a change in this policy based on evidence and contemporary experience.

“As far as we are concerned, the industry must be viewed on its current standing and improvements, not stuck in the past, and it remains a vital part of the Australian agricultural sector.”


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  1. David Connolly, 02/03/2023

    Industry cannot allow itself to be involved in the transition process. The fact is, industry does NOT want this incredibly short sighted and misinformed ban so we should not be participating in any process to help shut down the trade. Minister Watt, you may have forgotten the last time your Government did this, it had dire consequences that you are even now, despite being ordered to do so, have not finalised.

    We know that it is a short step from Sheep to the next industry. What will be next?
    Labor is showing through superannuation that they have been willing to lie to the Australian public.
    Imagine a Government that will actually listen to the industry they are threatening, imagine looking at the facts and science and agreeing the incontrovertible truth that this industry has now rendered itself cleaned up. Much like the Cotton and many other industries have done over the years.

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