Live Export

A sheep producer’s view: live export – ‘defending the indefensible’

Sheep Central, May 7, 2018

Victorian sheep producer Peter Small

YET again Australian farmers and their organisation are caught on the back foot defending the indefensible – the live sheep trade to the Middle East.

What Australian farmers fail to recognise is that every time images of our animal’s distressed and badly treated hit the world media, their reputations and the nation’s reputation become tarnished and all our primary products are diminished in the eyes of our consumers on valuable world markets.

And we don’t engender support with our “holier than thou attitude” that we are the sole custodians of animal ethics and everyone else should just “bugger off”. Others have valued knowledge and opinions on this issue and we should learn to listen, not preach.

As usual in Australia, the issue is a political football. No-one seems interested in helping our new young and unusually dedicated Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud clean up the mess he has obviously inherited. A mess created by his predecessors going back, how far? It is impossible to tell, but built by people who should have done more than turn a blind eye.

To understand this issue it is important to look at it in its historical context. My recollection is that the live sheep trade for wethers commenced in the eastern states about 1974. Exports were out of Portland and Adelaide.

Prior to the commencement of the trade, farmers were receiving about $5 per head for surplus sheep for slaughter. The meat processing industry was in turmoil, with Wally Curran, the militant Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union secretary, running amuck.

Suddenly with the commencement of the trade, farmers were receiving $20 for shorn wethers, nicely rounded and around 60kg liveweight. What a lift that was to our incomes. Needless to say, when the live trade was threatened, we were out manning the barricades at the docks to ensure the trade continued. It was our lifeblood.

Fast track 45 years and virtually no live sheep are exported out of the eastern states. In its place, thanks to entrepreneurial action, a new meat industry has emerged, based on good industrial relations, business acumen and massive investment.

In the 1970’s on our farm, we would load sheep on trucks to be transported to Hynam, near the South Australian border. They were off-loaded and re-loaded on to trains for export out of the Port of Adelaide and then sent a long sea voyage to the Middle East.

Today there is no rail at Hynam, though some sheep are still loaded out of Adelaide. So what has happened? In the intervening 45 years, a silent revolution has taken place in our industry. Today, it is not unusual for our sheep to be transported one day to the meat works, killed next morning, chilled and that evening transported to Tullamarine – and in the market in the Middle East the next day their time.

And the on-farm prices we receive are nearer $120 than the $20 of 45 years ago. So what is wrong with WA? As our meat processing industry in the east learnt from New Zealand, so WA needs to learn from us. This needs pushing along by a Federal Government providing tax incentives for investment in the west and a planned phase-out of the live trade over a number years to provide for time for adjustment. Perhaps stopping the export of sheep during the northern summer is a start.

Whilst support for the current live sheep exports hinges on the argument – ‘If Australia doesn’t supply the sheep someone else will’, we must ask ourselves, what other country puts their animals through the torturous journey we do to get to market? And is the continual risk or abhorrent publicity worth the damage to the image we have as a nation supplying clean, green, ethically produced food and fibre?

If we don’t act, others will decide for us. All our livelihoods at risk.

Peter Small, Wilderness, Gritjurk, Victoria.


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  1. Ruth Blake, May 22, 2018

    Thank you Peter for such a well-balanced and informative article. I completely share all of your views. It’s just a pity the Prime Minister doesn’t and chooses to ignore the obvious and allow this horrendous trade to continue. I, for one, will not be voting Liberal at the next election, if this is allowed to continue.
    Thanks again.

  2. Jennifer Buckmaster, May 19, 2018

    Thank you Peter, for putting it into perspective and showing us we’re we have come from. We certainly need to stop this horrendous trade. The livestock we produce deserve our greatest respect.

  3. Kathy Lochowicz, May 19, 2018

    Thanks Peter Small for your well-informed article. This needs to be published in other papers for others to read. I do wonder also about in one of your comments about there being a ‘bag man, or bag men’. I think your are so right. It explains a lot as to how this vile and cruel trade has continued for so long, and with neither governments putting a stop to it. Something evil and corrupt is happening.

  4. Elizabeth Shanahan, May 18, 2018

    Thank you Peter. A man with a heart.

  5. Tonia Norton, May 18, 2018

    Thank you Peter, for a great article that answers a lot of questions I had.
    Surely if the live trade stopped and we exported frozen meat, then abattoirs in WA would be working to capacity as they would be providing a lot of that meat to the Middle East and Asia?
    And I agree, in any case, our reputation as a civilised nation is being tarnished by this disgrace of a trade as we have seen by Israelis rallying to have it banned.
    I think we really have to keep up the pressure. We mustn’t let this public outrage pass. We who care and want to feel proud, not ashamed to be called Australian, must keep being heard and seen and not let the government get away with its cover-ups and pathetic attempts to show it is doing something.

  6. Anne Leeson, May 16, 2018

    Very well written Peter Small. I share your views; what a disgrace Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and David Littleproud don’t. I come from a third generation farming family of wheat and sheep in WA and can see this trade is allowed to continue on with business as usual even after horrific cruelty shown on an industrial scale over many years with no penalties, prosecutions – nothing. It is clearly about money and greed with not one ounce of decency. It makes me feel ashamed to be an Australian. This trade needs to stop.

  7. Jerry Jameson, May 11, 2018

    Thanks Suzanne for putting the whole thing in perspective.This horrendous trade has been going on for decades under a veil of secrecy. If these live exporters had nothing to fear, then long ago they would have welcomed anyone boarding with a camera or phone. Also,they have opposed CCTV independently monitored to be installed every time an inquiry comes up.
    There are no excuses,and it seems inconceivable that any farmer that raised sheep or cattle, could not have heard the true outcome of their animals.
    Another thing, why are we allowing any of our sheep to be subjected to the Festival of Sacrifice? This archaic ritual has been known about by Australian farmers for decades. Times are changing,and everyone has to change with it.

  8. Leonie Powrie, May 11, 2018

    Peter Small -and all voices of compassion – thank you.
    I’ve just received a long response from the Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud. I was one of many who wrote to his office, begging him to stop the cruel live exporting trade. His return email voices “animal welfare as the highest priority..” yet he remains supportive of a “sustainable livestock export trade..” and “expects exporters to work hard at meeting their animal welfare responsibilities..” What rubbish! How might “tighter” regulations guarantee that our sheep will be safe on the long journeys once they’re off shore? What a horrible price we all pay for allowing money and profit to rule our ethical thinking. And don’t ask me to be concerned about the ‘poor farmers’ who might be hurt by an export ban … not while the images of suffering, dying sheep remain to haunt me. As for my vote .. definitely not a chance it will go toward propping up a Coalition Government.

  9. Suzanne Cass, May 10, 2018

    Peter, thank you for this. I was a speaker at the 1000-strong rally in Adelaide last Sunday, protesting the loading of the ancient hulk Al Shuwaikh, one of three remaining with the dreadful double-tiered pens. How many pregnant ewes are recklessly loaded, giving birth in their one third of a metre filthy space? It is heading well into the winter here and searing 50 degree temperatures in the gulf and MENA ports. The outrage is out there across the world and Littleproud sits on his hands. His thundering about penalties is the same empty rhetoric we have heard for decades. As for the whining of the farmers, they have known for decades the brutality their animals face in importing countries. The missing piece of the picture was the journeys, and given the regulations, it was always going to look like what we saw – 3 sheep per square metre, many in double-tiered pens with feed and water troughs full of urine and faeces. What was not within the regulations was the pitiful sight of newborn lambs, born to live just hours. The public is sickened, outraged and devastated, and politicians who fail to see this will feel the pain at the next election. The rage is not going away.

  10. Peter Small, May 8, 2018

    A wonderful response from so many. Jennifer Macdougall a livestock producer from NSW posses the question: of how we go through this endless cycle of revelation of cruelty, ministerial outrage, another inquiry, assurance the trade is now cleaned up, back to business until the next revelation, then off we go again. I have thought about this for years and I can come to only one conclusion, somewhere there is a bag man, or bag men. And if we had a Federal ICAC, like NSW, we might discover where and who the bag man is.

  11. Jan Kendall, May 8, 2018

    Thank you Peter Small. The live export industry has had myriad opportunities to improve itself. Atrocities occur continuously and they hope it will blow over. DAWR has a lot to answer for. The fact that it is still giving permits for these ancient rust buckets from hell to sail is a travesty. And what can a single observer do? Absolutely nothing. And taxpayers foot the bill. I for one am sick of my taxes being used to prop us this disgusting industry and the bureaucracy it takes to administer and regulate it. All of which has failed – to the detriment of the reputation of all Australian farmers. I too am from a farming family and I want this cruel trade stopped ASAP.

  12. Jennifer Macdougall, May 8, 2018

    I am a livestock producer from northern NSW where there are a lot of sheep farmers and they are appalled at the image being broadcast across the world of how our sheep are treated. This cruel trade had brought abject misery to over two million animals that have died on the ships alone, let alone brutal slaughtering and handling in the importing countries. The cover-ups, the lies and the failure to act on past disasters has left us where we were 40 years ago, but now the whole world has seen our so-called best practice that we preach about. Heat stress has killed tens of thousands of animals. Why was there no outcry from Barnaby Joyce when over 4000 died in August 2013 as he came into government? And nothing done about so many shipments with over 1000 deaths and two with 3000 and 2000-plus – and so it goes on and on – 64,735 dead since the Coalition came into government in September 2013. It is good to see a farmer speaking out, and he must now cringe at what his sheep in the past suffered.
    Yes, WA has been asleep at the wheel. It should have transitioned out of the trade long ago and we must focus also on long-haul cattle shipments to places like Mexico, and Japan and China where the trade is equally horrific. Cattle suffer terrible injuries when ships heave and roll. That trade has to be phased out too at least to those distant destinations as a first step.

  13. Anthea Openshaw, May 8, 2018

    There is no argument, including protecting the industry in WA, that can defend this vile trade.

  14. Tanya Fordyce, May 8, 2018

    What is wrong with the government? If this was happening in another country we would be outraged. How come everyone else can come up with a solution? Every politician and anyone who is anti live export trade should read this article.

  15. Scott Torrance, May 8, 2018

    Your lack of humanity makes us all look like degenerates. If you don’t change yourselves, we will remove you with the absolute and relentless commitment only Australians can provide. In your family’s and business’ interests, clean up this pathetic excuse for a industry.

  16. Peter Small, May 8, 2018

    Rachael Plowman is understandably frustrated about any commentary coming from the east. I am sympathetic to her position, but continual bad stories from the live sheep trade are putting much more at risk for our nation.
    In respect to the demand from the domestic market in the east, yes of course, that is important. But the price of meat in the butchers’ shops here is driven by export demand for boxed and chilled meat; otherwise meat in the shop would be much cheaper than it is.
    I stand by my position that if the live trade is fazed out over a reasonable timeframe and the Federal Government provides tax incentives for investment in adapting, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t have WA farmers enjoying the same returns, or better (you are still nearer world markets than us) with those of us in the east, and without the anguish.

  17. Mary Cook, May 8, 2018

    No matter how many meetings or investigations are held, the sheep still seem to be loaded onto ships. Thanks to some brave people, more of the public are aware of the cruelty that some politicians seem to be able to ignore. However, they underestimate the anger that is rising among the voters and I for one will not vote for anyone in a party that allows this cruel evil trade to continue. Australian politicians need to take a good look at all animal welfare laws in this country. The live export of sheep to the Middle East is just the tip of the iceberg.

  18. Peter Small, May 8, 2018

    Vikki Warne asks how much of the value of a sheep of $120 is profit?
    Every farm has a different cost structure; the same as any businesses. So it is impossible to give a definitive answer and an average is misleading. However, the best farmers today are probably making 5 percent or a little more. Many farmers are making less. And of course, in times of drought and market downturns, the figure is often zero. So working on 5pc of $120 results in a profit of $6 and at 2pc for example it is $2.40.

  19. Madeleine Ellis, May 8, 2018

    Thank you Peter, a voice of reason in a wilderness of barbaric cruelty. Ban live export.

  20. Rachael Plowman, May 8, 2018

    We are all upset by the cruelty exposed recently. However, I am getting a bit sick of comments from farmers and industry people on the east coast commenting that they don’t mind if the live export trade ends. As Peter is obviously aware, most of the exports are from Western Australia – 85 percent. WA does not have the domestic market that the east coast enjoys. Most of our abattoirs are not running at full capacity even now. I wonder how they will react if the export trade is stopped and the east coast market is flooded with excess WA sheep transported across the Nullabor?

  21. Vikii Warne, May 8, 2018

    If a sheep can be sold for $120, how much of that is actual net profit ?

  22. Susan Manning, May 7, 2018

    Thank you Peter.

  23. Kathleen Duke, May 7, 2018

    Well written Peter Small. It is a pity that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and David Littleproud do not share your views. I will not vote for a party that allows this cruel evil trade to continue.

  24. Pam Blunt, May 7, 2018

    This is a brief historical synopsis of the live sheep trade. Could Peter liaise with WA sheep producers and the Agriculture minister regarding the change to chilled carcase?

  25. Juli Smith, May 7, 2018

    Thank you for your willingness to listen and protect the industry against the short sightedness of those whose values belong in medieval times. Australian animals belong here and we have responsibility to ensure our standards of decency are applied.

  26. lynn simpson, May 7, 2018

    Great article! Sensible thinking and a huge step in the right direction.

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