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Labor pledges to end controversial $160 million live export trade

·Environment Editor
·3-min read
Sheep ready for live export.
Labor says it will phase out the live export of sheep if it wins government. (Source: AAP)

Live exports of sheep will be banned if Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party wins the federal election.

Ending the $160 million trade has been Labor policy since 2019, with the party describing the practice as in decline over the past two decades.

Reaffirming the stance was welcomed by animal rights groups but exporters said they were "disappointed".

In a statement, a Labor spokesperson said the industry would be phased out “in consultation with the industry and the West Australian government”.

"This includes consideration of the impacts for the entire value chain of the industry,” they said.

"Labor supports value adding more here in Australia to create more job opportunities."

Animal advocates concerned about sheep welfare during export

More than 600,000 sheep were exported from Australia during 2020/21, with the majority going to Kuwait.

Animal rights groups maintain concerns about the welfare of sheep, both during the shipping process, and once they arrive at their destination, usually the Middle East.

Sheep being loaded onto a ship for live export.
Exporters say the industry supports 3,000 jobs. (Source: AAP)

Under the Coalition, exports during the northern summer were banned, due to concerns about heat stress.

Despite the introduction of increased regulation, the RSPCA opposes the trade, which it says has "serious welfare problems".

Jobs to be affected if live export industry closed

Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC) CEO Mark Hunter-Sutton told Yahoo Finance the industry was not in decline.

He said reduced volumes had been spurred by a number of factors including drought, domestic supply commitments and price fluctuations.

“To characterise it as a dying trade is misleading, and doesn't give due regard to the importance of the industry to producers and our trading partners,” Hunter-Sutton said.

A truck loaded with sheep.
The RSPCA maintains welfare concerns about live exports. (Source: AAP)

When combined with live cattle exports, an industry Labor said it was committed to maintaining, Hunter-Sutton believed 10,000 jobs were linked to the trade.

Of that total, he pointed to an estimate by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud that 3,000 jobs could be affected if the live sheep trade was shut down.

Industry insists farmers should have been notified about sheep-export policy

Hunter-Sutton confirmed he had a “positive meeting” with Shadow Agriculture Minister Julie Collins on Thursday.

“What I think the most concerning thing about how this policy has been announced is the fact that it was the activist groups who were actually the first to know,” Hunter-Sutton said.

“We expressed our disappointment to Ms Collins about that, because it's inappropriate.

"If you're talking about farmers' livelihoods and other people in the supply chain, surely they deserve the respect to know first.”

He said Labor's undertaking to work closely with the industry would be taken “very seriously” by ALEC.

“We’ll be presenting the tremendous performance of the industry and pointing to the fact that this policy is unnecessary,” he said.

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