25 July, 2024
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Banning sheep exports will kill Australian towns, inquiry told

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Fired-up farmers have warned a parliamentary inquiry that some Western Australian towns will not survive if the live sheep export trade is banned by 2028 as planned.

The inquiry, which sat in regional WA on Friday, heard from farmers, shearers, transporters and community members impacted by the Albanese government’s ban.

Farm utes lined up for kilometres as farmers and industry workers showed up in force to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed legislation.

During an at-times heated debate, stakeholders expressed concern the ban would ring the death knell for regional towns.

Sheep carted to the docks for live export.
 An inquiry into banning live sheep exports has been told some small towns would die after a ban. Image by Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS 

“People will leave, schools will close, police stations will disappear. This is devastating to regional southwest Western Australia,” WA Farmers’ John Hassell told the inquiry.

It was told that confidence had been “zapped from the industry” because of the decision to stop live sheep exports.

Federal agriculture committee members travelled to the Muresk Institute near Northam, about 90 minutes east of Perth, for the hearing.

Outside the inquiry, vehicles lined the roads as hundreds of farmers descended on the area.

Questions from committee chair Meryl Swanson about how farming organisations were helping members to transition out of live sheep exports were met with anger.

“They are not dumb country hicks that live in a vacuum,” WA Farmers’ Steve McGuire fired back.

“They tell us what to do, we don’t tell them.

“What the federal government is asking us to do is put all our eggs in the abattoir basket.”

Darren Spencer, from the WA Shearing Industry Association, described a $107 million transition package for the export industry as “insulting”.

The shearing boss warned the policy would kill parts of rural Australia while his call for the ban to be reversed was met with applause from the audience.

“It doesn’t take a lot to kill a small town and, make no mistake, that’s exactly what this policy and bill will do,” Mr Spencer told the hearing. 

Others warned the proposed legislation was having a huge mental toll on those who rely on sheep exports to make a living.

Friday’s inquiry also heard from animal activists who describe live sheep exports as cruel.

Rebecca Tapp, from Stop Live Exports, said “the overwhelming majority” of Australians were opposed to the trade.

And she urged parliamentarians to ignore the “fear and smear” campaign being run by the industry.

“Our animals have suffered enough, please listen to the community who don’t have a vested interest in the trade and support the bill,” Ms Tapp said.

“The reason the bill has been introduced is because live export is inherently cruel. Over 70 per cent of sheep voyages accompanied by independent observers still have incidents of non-compliance.”

The inquiry was told there was a long history of animal welfare breaches among exporters.

“Even if the sheep survive their torturous journey, then the cruelty doesn’t end there,” former president of Stop Live Exports, Sandie Rawnsley, said.

“They often arrive in countries that do not apply the same animal welfare laws that Australia does.”

The live sheep export ban was prompted by animal welfare concerns.
 The live sheep export ban was prompted by animal welfare concerns. Image by Trevor Collens/AAP PHOTOS 

The ban, which was prompted by animal welfare concerns, is due to come into force in May 2028.

It would still allow for live sheep to be exported by air and cattle to be exported by sea.

Earlier this week, the inquiry heard that mortality rates on live sheep export ships had dropped significantly since 2017, when more than 2000 sheep died from heat stress while on a ship from Australia to the Middle East.

Exporters told the inquiry voyage mortality rates for sheep were about 80 per cent lower than a decade ago.

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