Live sheep exports have become a poison chalice for the Federal Labor government

Sheep producers and support industries staring at a $255 million shortfall from live export losses reveal how the ban could leave many in jeopardy

The second of two public hearings into Federal Labor’s intended Bill to end live sheep exports was held in WA’s wheatbelt at the Muresk Institute in Northam with the ruckus set to explode further on 21 June when an advisory report is released

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt started the ball rolling in a post-budget speech he gave on 15 May that saw the National Farmers’ Federation and other farm industry bodies stage an unprecedented walk-out when he announced the live sheep trade would cease forever by 1 May 2028.

Adding to their disdain as they exited the budget breakfast was a remark from Minister Murray Watt that is still echoing in sheep yards around the country, “Just as well I didn’t talk about it earlier in the speech.”

Ever since Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has continued to kick the can along the road signalling the end of the live sheep trade, and just about everybody in farming is becoming more incensed with the rattle and roll that is estimated to cost the industry over $250 million in the short term.

Witnessing the of an industry that was gathering pace and giving sheep producers a solid foundation for growth has possibly been the hardest pill to digest.

Meat and Livestock Australia confirmed figures that show live sheep exports were 84,430 in December 2023, a 177% increase in comparison with November 2023 figures of 58,732, and a big increase over December 2022 exports of 30,531.

Through several inquests into live sheep exports, the industry went on to embrace world-leading animal welfare reforms in 2019, not only in transport but also in the processing of sheep in the Middle East. The industry was on an upward spiral.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture investigating government legislation banning live sheep exports held its only WA hearing at Northam with a range of opinions, both for and against the trade with about 2,000 people in attendance

The Nationals Leader David Littleproud was as surprised as anyone as to why Minister Murray Watt would treat his portfolio recipients in such a way, “Look, at the premiere speech of the Agriculture Minister after the Budget, and for the NFF to walk out on that is unprecedented.

“Such is the disdain for this Minister and what he has done to Australian agriculture, whether it be live sheep, whether it be the AgVisa, whether it be the biosecurity tax, but this is something that I think NFF has shown some courage and good on them.

“I give this strong commitment that the next Coalition Government with The Nationals and the Liberals will reinstate this industry. It’s about not only supporting our export industries, it’s about supporting the 3,000 jobs in Western Australia, but primarily on animal welfare, not just here in Australia, but globally, The Nationals Leader David Littleproud added.

The current crossroad we sit at during this debate follows Labor’s announcement of a $107 million package for the live sheep phase-out. This has been criticised heavily by a House of Representatives Standing Committee inquiry in Western Australia saying it falls millions of dollars short of what is required,

It was a long road to Northam WA as the highway was clogged with farmers, truck drivers, live exporters, meat processors and local government leaders all about to have their say

Founding member of the Livestock Collective and Sheep Producers Australia board member Bindi Murray said farmers would require at least $255 million; $100 million in support for processors, $100 million for the supply chain, $20 million for market development, $15 million for air freight, $10 million for community support and mental health and $10 million for exit payments.

“I can show you the envelope that I used to work those numbers out, however I am yet to see the envelope used by the government in their calculations,” Bindi Murray explains.

“It is naïve and disrespectful to think this is a clear and current alternative and that farmers are just too lazy to take it,” Bindi Murray adds.

Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud makes a point on how Labor’s ‘box ticking’ inquiry had treated farmers with contempt.

“Labor’s assumption that live sheep farmers can simply farm something else is pure folly,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Thousands of submissions were reportedly sent to the committee, and it is clear the submissions will not even be read, let alone contemplated or investigated before the committee hands down its findings one week from now, on 21 June.

“This committee is rushed and disingenuous, causing even more anxiety among farmers. A future Coalition Government will bring back the live sheep export trade,” Minister Littleproud concluded.

Labor’s inquiry also heard closing the industry will hurt not just the WA economy, but also the local environment.

Agronomist from the Southern Dirt Grower Group Courtney Piesse told the inquiry only 80% of the land in southern WA can be cropped, leaving 20% of land facing ruin.

“The land will either become not used or not used well and not treated properly, as it will not be utilised,” Courtney Piesse adds.

“Therefore, it might go into disrepair which therefore is not good for the climate, it’s not good for anyone downstream. This will be the side of the straw that will break the camel’s back.

“The live sheep industry is the pressure relief valve, when we have issues there has always been this option. If we don’t have this choice, the land we have bought or invested in becomes unprofitable.

“There will be people that will have to exit their businesses and people that will be gone from support industries and the farm industry forever,” Courtney Piesse concludes.

Merredin and Districts Farm Improvement Group president Neil Smith said Labor would send many farmers broke.

He described demand for Australian sheep in the Middle East as “astounding”, because countries overseas want the best true “Aussie lamb”.

“Sheep production is integral for poor seasons, when many paddocks are not cropped, reducing the risk financially, socially and environmentally,” Neil Smith added. 

Martin Moses the CEO of Moses & Son outlines how the ripple effect will run deep with livestock producers and the entire sheep industry

Devastating effect being ignored

“The Federal government’s plan to ban live exports by sea by 2028 is poised to unleash a ripple effect that could devastate numerous regional communities. This move threatens to dismantle generations of hard work for some families and is poised to compound the challenges faced by the already struggling economy,“ explains Martin Moses the CEO of Moses & Son.

“This decision proves that the government is completely out of touch with its regional constituents and has abandoned us – again. They are using us as a sacrificial lamb to meet their carbon emission targets.

“This isn’t about farmers playing the victim; it’s about farmers saying enough.

“Without a Government that collaborates with the agricultural sector, Australia may see a mass exodus of producers. Many farmers will walk off the land, what then.

“Predictions are we will see dangerous drops in sheep numbers and wool production. So why would we want to be part of an industry that is intentionally being wound down. We can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, and the resilience that we are known for is waning. Farming may become too difficult.

“It is time the government wake up and realises how much this country relies on farmers for the food on their tables, the clothes on their backs, and the significant contribution we make to the country’s economy.

“Rather than criticising and destroying a sector, they know nothing about, I personally invite any politician to come to our region and meet with our sheep producers and other farmers to witness our welfare practices and to see how much actual science is behind our enterprises,” Martin Moses concluded.

About Moses & Son

Martin Moses is CEO Moses & Son a highly esteemed, fourth-generation, family-run business in the Riverina and surrounding regions of NSW. Since 1920, the company has provided exceptional wool marketing and quality handling services. They are dedicated to the ethical, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible production of sheep meat and wool for current and future generations.

Federal Labor tried to introduce a fresh food tax called a biosecurity protection levy that would have forced farmers to pay but it was voted down in the SenateLeader of The Nationals David Littleproud (second from right) stood with NFF members to gather support to defeat the bill

Labor bloodied in the senate

Just to prove Labor holds no great power to pass all legislation the party proposes, when they tried to introduce a fresh food tax, called a biosecurity protection levy, that would have forced farmers to pay for the biosecurity risks created by international importers and competitors.

A policy that The Nationals Leader David Littleproud said was a Labor reckless tax and one that would have driven up the price of fresh food amid a cost-of-living crisis.

According to Minister Littleproud, “The tax was so bad that The Nationals were able to convince even the Greens to vote it down in the Senate.

Minister Littleproud added, “Agriculture Minister Murray Watt should be ashamed for even contemplating the idea, let alone trying to push it through and introduce the tax on 1 July 2024.

“The fact Minister Watt refused to listen to concerns and instead doubled down, carrying out a rushed and confusing policy which lacked in detail, is either lazy or arrogant.

“It was senseless when better alternatives were offered by The Nationals, such as an importer container levy, which would charge importers, not our own farmers, to pay for biosecurity risks being created as produce comes into the country,” Minister Littleproud concluded.

Federal Labor is getting a far greater caning than it expected with the introduction of a Bill to ban live sheep exports by 1 May 2028 and with the next Federal election to be held on or before 27 September 2025 this one will be taken to the polls

Live Sheep Exports by Sea Bill 2024

How the live sheep export bill has gathered pace. On 3 June 2024, Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, wrote to the Committee requesting that it conduct an inquiry into the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024 and produce an advisory report by 21 June 2024. On 4 June 2024, the Committee commenced its inquiry and set a submission closing date of 11 June 2024.

This is what the bill intends to achieve

The Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024 (the Bill) would amend the Export Control Act 2020 (the Act) to prohibit the export of live sheep by sea from Australia and to provide authority for Commonwealth spending on activities related to preparing for, or adapting or responding to, the phasing out of export of live sheep by sea. 

The Act sets out the overarching legislative framework for the regulation of the export of goods, including food, agricultural products and live animals, from Australian territory. 

The Bill would amend the Act to:

  • prohibit absolutely the export from Australia of live sheep by sea on and after 1 May 2028;
  • ensure that offences and civil penalties apply to a failure to comply with the prohibition on the export of live sheep by sea; 
  • allow the export of live sheep by air to continue;
  • allow the export of all other livestock, by sea or by air, to continue (including the export of live cattle); and
  • provide authority for Commonwealth spending to assist individuals, businesses and communities in relation to preparing for, or adapting or responding to the phasing out of the export of live sheep by sea, including sheep producers and sheep supply chain businesses.

Further information about the Bill, including the Explanatory Memoranda can be found on the Parliament’s website.