Live Export

Live export penalties set to increase as sheep farmers reject adjustment offer

Terry Sim, May 4, 2018

Sheep suffering heat stress on an export vessel.

FINES totalling millions of dollars and jail terms of up to 10 years for live export company directors responsible for animal welfare breaches are likely under legislative changes being considered by the Turnbull Coalition Government.

Sheep Central understands the fines and jail terms are being considered for company directors who are aware of breaches and failed to act, and would bring penalties in the sector in line with other industries.

However, Sheep Central has been led to understand the increased fines and jail terms would not be retrospective and it is not known whether penalties are being considered for recent live sheep losses or alleged animal welfare breaches.

 WAFarmers support fines and jail terms to safeguard trade

WAFarmers said the Federal Government’s plans to impose fines and jail terms to company directors who fail to act to prevent live export animal cruelty was an opportunity to further safeguard the future of the trade.

WAFarmers president Tony York said the body had “continually called for measures to be put in place to stop the cruelty, not the trade, as the alternative would destroy the livelihoods of thousands of farmers across the nation and have the potential to decimate regional communities.”

“We do see these penalties as being an additional safeguard for the future of the industry, and wonder whether any additional suggestions will be put forward in the McCarthy Review to further discipline those who fail to act to prevent live export animal cruelty.”

It is believed Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud will announce details of the penalties in the coming weeks, WAFarmers said. The release of preliminary fine and jail term details today came as political pressure on the Federal Government over live exports increased, after the Australian Labor Party moved to turn community ire over trade standards and sheep deaths on recent shipments into a potential federal election issue.

The federal Opposition this week said it would phase-out the live sheep trade inside 10 years if elected at the next Federal poll, although agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has avoided any discussion of likely compensation for affected farmers or exporters.

In an ABC Drive Perth interview yesterday Mr Fitzgibbon told presenter Geoff Hutchison, on the issue of farmer support:

“Well, let’s talk about support when it’s necessary, if it’s necessary.

“We want to develop a plan which in fact increases farm gate returns for sheep meat producers and I think that’s evidently possible if you have leadership from government, strategic guidance from government and a government prepared to put the work in and take a whole of Government approach,” he said.

$65 million a year is cost of trade loss to farmers

Mr York said Labor’s foreshadowing the closure of the live sheep trade if they gained government was very disappointing.  He had hoped Labor had learned it’s lesson from the temporary closure of beef cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, that caused serious financial stress to producers and who sought to sue the Federal Government for $600 million in compensation.

“A cessation overnight would have radical consequences to many farmers here in Western Australia and would push back some quite significant issues in terms of managing livestock on their farms and trying to find other markets to manage that livestock turn-off.

“It undoubtedly would initiate a loss of income for many many farmers.

“On transition, if it has to happen and they (Labor) are in government and they make that decision, let’s talk about the consequences and how it would be best to manage that,” he said.

Mr York and fellow producer Rob Egerton-Warburton said it would cost the WA sheep industry about $65 million a year if the live sheep trade was halted.

Mr York said Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia’s offer of $1 million for a structural adjustment package was “tokenism”.

“It’s a gesture and that’s it … we can’t be bought off with that sort of gesture.”

The farmers did not believe any government would be likely to offer an adequate structural adjustment package that could compensate for the livestock price and business losses arising from the trade’s cessation.

“If they are fully committing to this they have to start thinking about how the trade can be helped in terms of transitioning, and that will involve considerable investment, either direct in farmers’ businesses, in processing or in looking for new markets.

“But I can tell you that whatever transition (plan) or package might be put forward, there will be considerable financial cost and management stress at the farm gate for a period of time,” he said.

“You can’t just turn the tap off and expect that volume of stock is going to be absorbed overnight without considerable cost and stress; it needs to be managed.

“Animals Australia’s analysis is relying on national figures and in no way represent the consequences of the loss of the trade in Western Australia.”

Mr York said the industry is already concerned about the dramatic decline in the WA sheep flock in the last 10 years.

“Many commentators will argue that this (live sheep trade closure) will just accelerate a further decline in the overall sheep flock in Western Australia and a net loss to the state and throughout the agricultural sector.”

Mr York said the likely impact of a trade closure on already-stressed regional communities is “under-recognised” with the involvement of about 4000 people in the trade.

Although WA sheep markets were in a seasonally volatile period, Mr York agreed with Mr Warburton assessment that a lack of confidence in exporters buying sheep had already seen prices for some stock drop by $25 a head.

“It is a bit clouded at the moment, but there is pretty strong evidence that there has already been a reaction in the wether market that is targeted for the live trade.”

A Mercado analysis indicated the potential price impact of a ban on live sheep exports to WA producers based off the slaughter to export price model suggests that an additional 1.6 million head being processed in WA could see prices decline between 18-35 percent, based on a best and worst-case scenario. Mecardo estimated that the price impact on WA producers for lamb would be $23-$43 a head and for mutton sheep of $18 to $35.

Live export sheep prices already dropping $25

Mr Egerton-Warburton said there was a lack of buying confidence for live export category sheep in WA at the moment.

“Live exporters have stopped buying sheep at the moment, you see it in the market, it’s already dropped $25.”

Mr Egerton-Warburton said there was great opportunity for local processing in WA and the processing sector had the capacity. He said he is a firm believer in the trade continuing, but was realistic and didn’t think it would last forever.

“But the industry would need time to transition out of this, a long time.

“Our entire business structure is around live export and without it, it’s very hard to imagine.”

He said live sheep export was a state issue, not a federal issue.

“This is very much Western Australia’s case to win or lose and everyone else is just making cheap political stunts because it doesn’t affect their electorates.”

The loss of the trade would be “devastating” to the WA sheep flock, he said.

Sheep Producers Australia will wait for McCarthy Review findings

SPA chair Chris Mirams said the body is deeply disturbed at the Federal Opposition’s call to ban the trade.

“The livestock industry is still feeling the economic and social impacts of the devastating decision made in 2011 to halt live exports.

“The pain and distrust is still fresh in the minds of farming communities and our international trading partners,” he said.

“SPA is calling for a calm and meaningful response from decision-makers.

“The trade is a major component of many producers’ businesses, regional communities and workers who rely on the industry for their livelihood,” he said.

“We have an industry filled with professional and innovative producers building their farms and contributing to vibrant rural and regional communities.

“Decision-makers must think in terms of how banning the trade will impact them, Mr Mirams said.

“All decisions regarding how the trade will be conducted in future must be underpinned by robust research on long-term economic and social impacts.”

SPA said it will await the recommendations of the McCarthy Review into exports of live sheep before making any decisions on the way forward.

“The McCarthy Review has been instigated to provide evidence-based advice for industry on where improvements could be made.

“SPA has committed to waiting until the review takes place and then discussing any recommendations made with its members and other stakeholders to determine the best path forward,” Mr Mirams said.


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  1. Jan Kendall, May 8, 2018

    I agree. Jennifer Macdougall is spot on with her comments.

  2. Jenni Cottee, May 6, 2018

    Well said Jennifer Macdougall!! 👏

  3. Jennifer Macdougall, May 5, 2018

    The welfare issues are there on the newer ships as can see by the overall statistics of deaths particularly in the northern summer shipping months. Emanuels is not the only company losing sheep, though it certainly does not have a good track record; two major heat stress issues in two years. Why did it not drastically, and I mean drastically, adjust the stocking densities after some 3000 died in July 2016? Instead it went on business as usual. But the bottom line is that when a ship is loaded it is known that several hundreds of sheep in a large shipment will die within the 2-3 weeks of the voyage. So knowing that, no animal should be loaded onto ships to start with. This is not emotion, this is simply a given fact and cannot be justified. What farmer would put his animals, sheep or cattle on a train or truck if he knew for certain many would die before the vehicle reached its destination? I put to any who did do that with that knowledge, they would be in breach of the law. So why should a live exporter be just given a green light?
    Farmers have been asleep at the wheel. If they had been tracking this trade as I have done, as a farmer for some 30 years, they would have seen that there could well be a day when the public said enough is enough and started adjusting to an end to the trade long ago or never have gotten into it in the first place.
    The cattle ban was not a knee-jerk reaction either. Farmers were simply ignorant of what was being done in to their animals in Indonesia, but the industry knew. So if farmers just keep on doing what they do and never look at the things beyond the farm gate, then they can hardly complain when the public does look beyond the farm gate and says we will not accept this. That day is here now, so start now to get out of this trade if you are in it.
    The productive life of a sheep is not long, sheep are brought to market a lot sooner than cattle, so it does not need years and years to make the necessary changes. It is not like the dairy industry that my folks were in when the government kept changing what it wanted in terms of milk composition. First butterfat content, then solids non-fat, then protein. We had to adjust and quickly while knowing that you had to actually change the breed of cattle you were using and that took more time than it would to change a sheep flock. But we were given no time, just told to do it at short notice. So be ready, take action, change is in the wind. The writing is on the wall. Don’t be caught napping.

  4. Neil Barrie, May 4, 2018

    If the contract success for live export of sheep was sometimes not predicated on the customers or overseas cartage middlemen demanding the use of old, dodgy, cheap vessels, in which they had a financial interest to cart for as little dollars as is possible, then the survival rates experienced by the credible Australian exporters using modern well-resourced vessels would be the industry norm. Alas, quality and integrity has been lowered to Middle Eastern standards.

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