Albanese Government will end live sheep export

Published on Thu 27 October 2022 5:30pm

We have committed to transitioning out of the live sheep export trade. Hallelujah! We’ve been waiting for that for decades. It will occur, and it will be conducted in a prudent, steady, consultative way by Minister Watt and by this Labor government.

Mr Wilson (5:30pm) – The most important thing for the Australian community to understand is that the Albanese Labor government has made a commitment to transition out of the live sheep export trade, and we will keep that commitment. The minister has made it clear, on a number of occasions since the election, that that is what it will deliver, and the minister is undertaking that work.

I acknowledge the member for Clark’s consistent position and his relentless advocacy in relation to seeing the live sheep trade come to an end. It’s a position, needless to say, I share. I’ve been part of that campaigning almost my whole life. Ninety per cent of the sheep that are involved in the live sheep export trade come from Western Australia, and they all go out of the port of Fremantle. The civil society advocacy efforts that have recognised the deeply rotten fundamental nature of this trade began in Fremantle and have continued in Fremantle over the last 30 or 40 years. The question for the Australian community and this House to consider is how that is done, and it’s not done by this disallowance motion.

I want to address some of the things that the minister said before. It’s not right for the minister to come into this place and try in any way to suggest that the previous government took the rotten nature of the live sheep export industry seriously. It’s important to remember that it was one of the very first things the previous government did upon coming to office: it removed the inspector of live sheep or live animal exports. As a consequence of a number of changes that were made—relaxation of export conditions and animal welfare protection measures—we saw, yet again, a sequence of animal welfare atrocities, including that of the Awassi Express.

The previous government came into office and, to the detriment of everyone—to the detriment of the animals most of all but even to the detriment of the farmers who had participated in the trade—they took away, altogether, what relatively flimsy and pathetic protective measures were there. What ensued was, quite predictably, another set of animal welfare atrocities. So the fact that the minister was proud of the months that he had to spend trying to take some belated remedial action—it has to be seen in that context. Everybody who knew something about this trade knew that the sequence of terrible animal welfare circumstances would roll on, again and again—and the fact that the previous government moved as fast as it possibly could to take away the very few protections that were in place at that time only ensured that those things happened.

To the extent that there were people in Western Australia, whether they were farmers, truck drivers or feedlot operators, affected by the response, the moratorium that had to be put in place—they should level that blame where it belongs. They should level that blame on the jokers over there who came and took the brakes off, who thought that it was clever to take the relatively flimsy and pathetic protections that were in place away altogether. They took them away altogether. The result was the Awassi Express. The result was the death and suffering of thousands and thousands of sheep in the most appalling conditions. Australians have seen the truth of that. They have judged that, and the expectation is crystal clear about the lack of tolerance in the Australian community for those kinds of outcomes. There is not a sliding scale that makes animal suffering acceptable at a certain price. The kinds of animal suffering that have occurred through the live sheep export trade is abominable, and it was enabled by those opposite. The fact that tens of thousands of sheep on voyage after voyage after voyage had to go through that hangs around the necks of those opposite. And the other effects—which, frankly, aren’t as important—on farmers and transport operators hang around the next of those opposite.

We have made it clear that we are going to do what has been necessary for a long time. This is not a growing industry; this is an industry in decline. You can look at the year-on-year trade in live sheep. There were about six million animals a year at the turn-of-the-century and there are now fewer than 500,000 animals. If you look at a bar graph of this trade, it is a 45-degree angle down. It has decreased in pretty much every one of those 20 years. There might be two or three where it has slightly ticked up. That’s nature of this industry. It is doomed, and this government is doing the responsible thing that those opposite never had the strength, the courage or the capacity to do.

We are managing a transition that has been under way for 20 years. We’re going to do that in a responsible way. We’re going to do that in a consultative way. The minister has met with everybody involved, from farmers to exporters to transport operators and, of course, to the animal welfare sector and community advocates. He is moving steadily, as you’ve already seen this government do in a number of areas in our short life, to implement what we have committed to doing. We have committed to transitioning out of the live sheep export trade. Hallelujah! We’ve been waiting for that for decades. It will occur, and it will be conducted in a prudent, steady, consultative way by Minister Watt and by this Labor government. I completely understand where the member for Clark is coming from, but as my friend the member for Solomon pointed out, the actual impact of this disallowance motion would be to take away some of the measures that were put in place recently that actually improve animal welfare, and that would be counterproductive.

Going to another point that was made by the member for Maranoa, about the best practice that he claims exists, he would know well that there was a review commissioned by the former government into the summer moratorium and how it was working, but that the review was compromised. That review occurred during the COVID period, and there were supposed to be independent inspectors on every voyage, but for two entire calendar years—2020 and 2021—there was an inspector on only one of those voyages. On every single voyage, even on the so-called model voyage on the shoulder of the moratorium period, there was scientific evidence of heat stress. There was scientific evidence of heat stress, even though the government influenced the departmental settings to try to increase the chance that the heat-stress levels might be acceptable. And that didn’t occur. They didn’t locate the heat-stress measures on the decks where the animals were kept—the heat-stress monitors were up on the bridge, which is just utterly ridiculous.

We’re not going to continue turning a blind eye to the way that this industry has actually worked. We’re not going to cherrypick and use what you might describe as creative scientific assessment methods to get you the outcome that you want. We’re going to look this issue and this trade clear in the face. That’s what the minister has been doing. That’s entirely in keeping with our commitment to manage a sensible transition out of an industry that has been in decline for 20 years, that is at death’s door, that has no social licence, and that has no broader social and economic necessity. As any sensible person in Western Australia will tell you, the nutrients manager, when asked about the cessation of the trade and whether that would in fact, as some people have hysterically claimed, lead to lower sheep numbers in Western Australia, said, ‘Absolutely not.’ Sheep numbers in Western Australia will continue to increase because there are lots of potential markets and existing markets for sheep in Western Australia. But the live sheep trade, which has consistently produced animal welfare failures, animal welfare atrocities and a range of other serious regulatory failures, will come to an end. It should have stopped a significant time ago. Those opposite didn’t have the courage to manage a sensible transition. They didn’t even have the courage to keep in place half-sensible animal protection measures; they stripped them away, and we saw the Awassi Express.

You’re going to get different outcomes under this government. In this area, as in almost every other area of life, you will get sensible, prudent, consultative management of a transition that has been underway for some considerable time. I can tell you that my community of Fremantle and the people of Western Australia and more broadly will welcome a properly managed end to the live sheep trade.

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