Live Export

Australian agriculture plans live sheep export fight back

Terry Sim, May 13, 2024

ALEC chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton.

USE of the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund, a political campaign and legal challenges were being considered to defeat the Albanese Government’s proposed live sheep export phaseout by 2028, Sheep Central was told today.

Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said legal options to thwart the government’s May 2028 deadline would be considered and an application to the fund is “entering calculations.”

“But of course we need to use that wisely and over the coming days and weeks, that will be refined.

“But there is no doubt there will be a campaign and there is no doubt that legal challenges are definitely on the horizon should we need to go that far.”

WAFarmers president and National Farmers Federation vice-president John Hassell said the industry is disgusted with the government’s announcement.

“This is the Minister for Animal Activism dropping the bomb on business in Australia – it’s a disgrace.

“When did animal activists become industry?”

“They might be stakeholders, but they are not industry.”

Mr Hassell believe the announcement would escalate a political campaign in marginal federal WA seats.

“We’ve got a plan and we are going to try to put it together at the NFF this week.

“We’ll be looking at every possible way that we can defeat this reality,” he said, including potentially the AFFF.

“I think I have never seen so much anger from farmers in my entire life, me included.”

Sheep Producers Australia CEO Bonnie Skinner said what was witnessed on Saturday was a government so removed from agriculture and the people who work in and rely on this industry.

“This has always been an issue of precedent and trust for the Australian sheep industry, and this government has clearly showed it favours preference deals above the needs of producers.

“Sheep Producers Australia will continue to work alongside our industry stakeholders to consider all actions and strategies to keep fighting for our producers,” she said.

‘This is just the beginning’ – ALEC leader

Mr Harvey Sutton the industry is still reeling about the way the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry announced on Saturday the phaseout live sheep exports by seas by 1 May 2028 with a $107 million transition package.

“They thought it was appalling, the manner in which it was done.

“The fact the funding is so paltry and that this was done with activists sitting there, there was no courtesy given to the ag industry,” he said.

Sheep Central was told that the National Farmers Federation and RMAC were told at Beef2024 that a live sheep phaseout announcement would be made very soon, but without any specifics. Then last Friday, sheep and export industry stakeholders and animal welfare bodies were invited to an online briefing by Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt on Saturday morning.

Animal welfare bodies invited to the online briefing included the Australian Alliance for Animals, Animals Australia, RSPCA Australia, RSPCA WA and Humane Society International – Australia.

Mr Harvey-Sutton believed there would be a stronger reaction against the government because of the way the announcement was made.

“This is just the beginning.

“What this announcement has demonstrated is that this government applies a callousness to the way they do things, despite warnings from industry about the implications of this ban they have continued to forge ahead,” he said.

Sheep Central has been told industry stakeholders found it disgraceful that animal welfare bodies perceived as anti-farming were simultaneously notified of the phaseout date in an online briefing from the Commonwealth parliamentary offices in Perth.

“The government’s arguments have not changed, they have not listened to industry one bit and one of the more disgraceful things is that the Minister was reposting RSPCA posts on social media over the weekend, saying what a good announcement it was.

“So it was essentially rubbing the Western Australian industry’s face in it,” he said.

Mr Harvey-Sutton said Minister Watt’s office ignored industry objections to activist groups that supported an end to live exports being on the briefing.

The animal welfare/activist groups attending the briefing included RSPCA, the Alliance for Animals, Animals Australia and Humane Society International.

Mr Harvey-Sutton said “the courteous and decent thing to do” would have been notifying the industry stakeholders of the phaseout announcement first.

“Everyone quite openly said they weren’t satisfied being told with the activists’ sitting there – and that extended to everyone, including the processors.”

Mr Harvey-Sutton said the animal groups congratulated the government, while all the industry stakeholders responded that the way the announcement was made “was a complete and utter disgrace.”

He said the timing of the announcement did not appreciate the conditions in the Western Australian sheep industry.

No evidence that relationship with agriculture is damaged – Watt

Sheep Central asked Mr Watt if he deliberately opted not to make an announcement about the phaseout decision at Beef2024, and make it via an online forum on a Saturday, to avoid live questions from livestock producers and media attention. Mr Watt did not respond personally, but a spokesperson said: “No.”

The spokesperson did not state why Minister Watt gave equal standing to animal welfare bodies, farmers and exporters in the online briefing.

“The Minister held a stakeholder briefing that included 37 representatives from the industry and 5 from animal welfare organisations,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Minister Watt is not concerned that he might have damaged the Albanese Government’s relationship with Australian agriculture, rural communities and trading partners with food security issues by making the announcement to phase the trade out within four years with what is regarded as an inadequate $107 million transition package.

“No and there is no evidence to suggest so.

“The $107 million package is a significant amount for a decision that will have an annual impact of $23 million.”

On whether Mr Watt is concerned that the electoral backlash, especially in some marginal WA seats, might be enough for the Albanese Government to lose power at the next election, the spokesperson said the government’s live sheep phaseout policy “is a policy that is overwhelmingly supported by Western Australians and Australians more broadly.”

A watershed moment for agriculture

Mr Harvey-Sutton said “it is his strong belief that this actually is a real watershed moment for the relationship of the ag industry with Minister Watt.”

“I think what he has demonstrated is that he is willing to sell industry up the river and that is all a political game.

“The very fact that his office, and I believe the minister himself, was warned about the timing of the announcement and the manner of doing it with the activists present, would not be a good thing, but he persisted to do it anyway – I think that is very telling,” he said.

“And I think that right across the board industry is just basically emboldened at the moment and the backlash to this is going to be immense because this a complete fracturing of the relationship between agriculture and the Albanese Government.

“We will be continuing to fight this and we will continue to fight it until it is overturned, because we know it is wrong and we do not believe that agriculture should be a political plaything and we do not believe that this announcement gives surety to any other industry about their future,” Mr Harvey-Sutton said.

“Because what it says, in the interests of political careers, in the interests of votes, in the interests of political alliances, we will sell you out and that’s not good enough.”

When asked if the only solution for the sheep and live export industries was the ousting of the Albanese Government, Mr Harvey-Sutton said: “we will continue to take the fight to this current government.”

“What we will be doing is making it very clear to particularly the marginal seats in Western Australia that are held by Labor, that those MPs that sold out their fellow Western Australians, we will be making sure those constituents understand exactly what this government has done to them .

“And we will be making it very clear that this government does not support agriculture, does not support farmers and in fact, holds them and rural communities in contempt.”



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


  1. Kimberly Brett, May 16, 2024

    Do you really see this as purely a political decision and not a sign of the times, and the need to make better choices to minimise animal suffering? Lots of industries are forced to change for ethical reasons, at great expense to those in it, why should animal ag be exempt from this?
    What are your thoughts on the suffering endured by the animals subjected to live export?
    To the comment from Frank, surely a quick death is preferable to the live export and inhumane offshore slaughter alternative?

    • Glenn Nix, May 16, 2024

      The industry has changed. Loading densities. air flows, monitoring and stopping during our winter (the northern summer). This is about banning a industry. It has changed at great expense. No thought of flow-on to every other rural sector. Notice nothing happening to cattle out of Queensland – Watts own state. Not enough kill space and with 350,000 sheep trucked east rather proves there are no new meatworks on the books. So is starving sheep, shooting them and putting them in pits more ethical then Kimberly? Is it only un-ethical if you see it, but fine when you don’t?

  2. Frank Byrne, May 14, 2024

    This live sheep and cattle trade is vital tool for farming to control numbers, especially in dry times. Let’s not go back to the 1970s and have to shoot our beloved stock — it was heartbreaking. Let’s learn from history and let Australian farmers feed the world.

    • Katrina Love, May 14, 2024

      Better for your pocket to put them on a ship for 17 days, or 70+ if you look at the last Bahijah voyage, and send them off to fully conscious slaughter in countries with not even a concept of animal welfare let alone laws to uphold it. And this is why the majority of Australians want to see an end to live sheep exports and find it difficult to have sympathy for producers who want it to continue.

Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -