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Live Sheep Export Ban

25 June 2024

Over 13 per cent of the letters that arrive in my electorate office in Mackellar are about the live export trade. It's one of the top five issues that spur constituents to write to me. Australians across the country, in both regional and urban areas, are sickened by the footage that we too often see in the media of Australian animals from Australian farms suffering on ships as they make their way to markets halfway around the world.

Most recently in January of this year, we saw the example of the Israeli owned MV Bahijah ship with 15,000 sheep on board that was ordered by government officials to return to Western Australia. It was about 15 days into a live export voyage to Israel. But, because of fears about the attacks in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels, the owners of the ship proposed to sail around the Cape of Good Hope instead. This would have turned a 17-day voyage into one that was nearly two months long, with thousands of sheep crammed together for weeks on end. This was not the first time this exporter had come to the attention of authorities for horrific abuse of livestock. A related company had been the subject of an investigation in 2015.

These sorts of incidents show that, despite regulation and diligence from Australian regulators, animal cruelty aboard live export ships continues. Even across Western Australia, the historical heartland of live sheep exports, people in both regional and urban areas support the phase-out of this cruel trade. Independent polling commissioned by the RSPCA and conducted in May 2023 found that 71 per cent of Western Australians support the federal government's policy to phase out live sheep export by sea. This includes 72 per cent of people in metropolitan areas and 69 per cent in rural and regional Western Australia. As Australians, farmers and city dwellers alike, we pride ourselves on being a compassionate nation, one that treats animals with dignity and one that embraces world's best practice when it comes to farming and the slaughter of animals for food.

Since at least 1985 we've known that live exports are inconsistent with our values. That's when the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare report found that live exports were 'inimical to good animal welfare'. Since then, there have been a plethora of media exposes, government reports, independent investigations and court cases about the trade. The fact is that the practice is inconsistent with animal welfare and with our values.

According to the RSPCA's research published in 2023, over 60 per cent of independent observer reports on live sheep exports published between 2018 and 2023 revealed indications of heat stress. Starving and underfeeding was reported in over 80 per cent of cases of death and illness onboard, and 26 per cent of reports indicated issues with ventilation. Issues of noncompliance with the Australian standard for exporting livestock were recorded in approximately 70 per cent of journeys. But, as the RSPCA points out, many ships sail without an independent observer—about two-thirds, according to the RSPCA.

Regulation has failed. In my view and the view of the RSPCA, that's because it is not possible to humanely transport thousands of sheep, packed together, halfway around the world through equatorial heat for three weeks and sometimes longer. So it has to stop, and that's why I'm supporting this bill to end the export of live sheep. I would prefer to see a quicker timetable than May 2028, but I understand why the minister has proposed this timeline. It is helpful that there are viable alternatives to live sheep exports, alternatives that will benefit Australian workers and Australian communities. There is no reason why livestock cannot be slaughtered here and transported in refrigerated ships. We have the technology, and we have the expertise to kill animals in a way that meets the requirements of Middle Eastern markets.

Moving processing onshore would add jobs and ensure that abattoir activities are conducted in line with Australian animal welfare standards. The processed meat trade is already worth far more than live exports. WA's boxed and chilled sheepmeat export trade is worth $648 million. That is eight times more than the live sheep trade. It is projected to continue to grow in the short to medium term. I note that the minister has already announced a $107 million transitional support package. I would also encourage the minister to adopt the findings of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, which has recommended additional funds. The committee suggests that these be made available at the 2026 stocktake of progress.

Lastly, this bill only deals with live sheep exports. Australia is still exporting over 700,000 live cattle each year, mainly from the Northern Territory to Indonesia. Again, there have been recorded incidents of appalling conditions in Indonesian abattoirs, which highlight the difficulties Australia faces in managing animal welfare once livestock leaves our shores. In my view, we should follow the lead of the United Kingdom and New Zealand and end the entire live export trade. I commend this bill to the House.