Who or what is driving Labor’s live sheep export ban?

Written by:
4 January 2024
Who or what is driving Labor’s live sheep export ban? - Featured image
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In this article, Lachlan Clark contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into Australia’s level of red tape and how that affects Australia’s regional communities.


The Albanese Government’s ill-considered plan to phase out live sheep exports may satisfy inner-city concerns on the east coast but it will hurt rural communities in the west, while simultaneously failing to improve livestock welfare.

While the Government and city-based animal welfare groups insist the ban is necessary to prevent animal cruelty, the reality is countries which import live sheep from us will simply purchase stock from elsewhere, such as Romania, where stringent animal welfare regimes do not exist.

The volume of regulation relating to animal welfare in Australia is immense.

Already, exporters are banned from sending sheep to the Middle East during the warmest periods of the northern hemisphere summer.

Australia is the only country that requires domestic exporters to ensure the entire supply chain of the country purchasing their stock complies with Australian animal welfare guidelines.

Regulations require independent observers to inspect animals before, during and after their journey.

Increased space and ventilation for sheep on ships is also required, coupled with heat management plans to mitigate potential risks, and mandatory environmental sensors to log daily temperatures and humidity.

Exporters are investigated by regulators when voyages have a mortality rate of just one per cent or higher.

The average annual mortality rate of sheep shipments leaving our shores has decreased by two-thirds from 0.71 per cent between 2013 and 2017, to just 0.24 per cent between 2019 and 2021.

But you won’t see bureaucrats in Canberra applauding this record of achievement.

It is likely that some, or many, of these measures go above and beyond what is strictly necessary to achieve animal welfare objectives.

What is clear, given animal welfare has markedly improved in recent years, is that a total ban on live exports is an unnecessary measure designed only to placate the sensibilities of inner-city elites in Sydney and Melbourne.

And this Federal Government should know better.

Livestock farmers and regional communities were devastated by the rushed 2011 decision to temporarily suspend live cattle exports – a ban which cost taxpayers millions in rightful compensation payments to a cattle industry thrown under the bus.

Now, some of the very ministers who sat around the Cabinet table then are poised to make the same mistake again.

This raises the question of who or what is driving the policy.

Previous National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson summed it up well when she said: “This policy has nothing to do with animal welfare. It’s about Canberra trying to win back green votes on the east coast at the expense of jobs and livelihoods in WA.”

The impact the policy will have on jobs and livelihoods in Western Australia’s regional communities cannot be overstated.

The average annual value of the live sheep export trade is $143 million and, in 2022, 99 per cent of live sheep exports were out of WA.

But just like environmental activism is not so much about protecting the environment, animal activism is not really about protecting animals – it’s about promoting an agenda that appeals to voters in the inner-city Federal electorates.

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