Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (12:46): I rise to speak in support of the original bill, the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024. This bill will see the export of live sheep by sea end on 1 May 2028, delivering on our election commitment from not just one but two elections now to phase out this trade in a considered and orderly way. Australians expect Australia to have the world's best animal welfare practices, and Novocastrians do too. I have received thousands of emails from constituents advocating for an end to live sheep export. Like me, they have seen the confronting and distressing footage on board ships like the Awassi Express in 2018 and the MV Bahijah earlier this year.

Two weeks into its journey to Jordan, the MV Bahijah, laden with live sheep, was turned back due to the increased risk of Houthi rebel attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea. With sheep still onboard, the ship remained moored off the coast of Perth while the exporters sought permission to re-export the sheep to Jordan. The sheep suffered for five weeks in filthy, hot conditions, leading to acute stress, high respiratory illness rates and death before eventually being taken off the ship. Tragically, this level of suffering is not isolated to this incident. Sheep frequently spend weeks and months at sea onboard ships in scorching temperatures.

Both the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association have observed that conditions on board live export ships are frequently unacceptable. Ships have been found lacking in adequate ventilation with sheep unable to sit, sometimes drowning in their own filthy excrement, their carcasses flung overboard. When they reach their destination, we have little or no control over how those sheep are treated. We've seen the footage of sheep with their legs bound together, dragged alive across concrete before being put in the back of cars and taken away for slaughter in conditions that are unknown and against Australian regulations.

Both the industry and the opposition know that this trade is cruel and indeed unnecessary. It was the industry that announced a three-month pause in trade during the Northern Hemisphere summer, following the release of the shocking images onboard the Awassi Express. It was the now opposition that implemented a summer moratorium on exports—a recommendation of their own McCarthy review, which found unacceptable heat stress for sheep occurred during those Northern Hemisphere summer months.

There was also the Moss review, commissioned by the member for Maranoa—who is, unfortunately, no longer in the chamber but was the then agricultural minister. That review found there had been a catastrophic failure to regulate the live animal export industry. The review also found that the culture of fear within the department of agriculture meant staff were not reporting their concerns about animal welfare within the industry.

But it is the statement of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Farrer, that is the most telling. In 2018 she introduced a private member's bill to end the live sheep trade and expose the hypocrisy of the coalition's position. She told the parliament:

I know all the arguments that are used to support the live sheep trade because I ran them myself for 15 years.

…   …   …

I have researched the science, the facts, the economics and the opinions. I have not allowed emotions to overcome reason.

The case for continuing long-haul live sheep exports fails on both economic and animal welfare grounds.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not alone in her criticisms; she was joined by a number of her conservative colleagues, including the now shadow minister for community safety, migrant services and multicultural affairs, Senator Sarah Henderson. They had a lot to say in support of shutting down the live sheep trade in 2018, so I look forward to their support of Labor's bill today.

The Albanese Labor government supports strong animal welfare standards, and we know Australians do too. They have told us they want an end to this cruel trade. Almost 44,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition to legislate an end to live sheep exports, and each one of us is hearing the same from communities—that they expect this to happen too.

This bill is a mandate from Australians—including Western Australia, home to most of the live sheep export industry. It was here that the RSPCA found that 71 per cent of people support an end to live sheep exports, with 72 per cent in metro areas and 69 per cent in regional areas. Australians have told this government what they want, and we have listened. This bill reflects our nation's values of compassion and ethical treatment of animals as well as ethical trade.

This bill also reflects our care for the community. We know that for some in the industry this will be a big change, and that's why we're taking the time to ensure a transition is done in an orderly way and with care. We can't end live sheep exports immediately because we know some people's livelihoods depend on it. We've just heard from the member for Paterson and about the inquiry that's just taken place. That's why we're charting a way forward with a $107 million transition package over five years to assist sheep producers and the supply chain, particularly in Western Australia, to capitalise on existing and emerging opportunities—such as the expansion of the packaged chilled and frozen sheep meat export industry—and Australian abattoirs and packing facilities to support this trade. We know chilled and frozen sheep meat exports are already worth 58 times the live sheep trade, and expansion in this industry means more jobs for Australians and more profit for Australia.

Labor's transition package will be available to help all parts of the sheep industry supply chain, from farmers to truckies to shearers and processors. This is a comprehensive package that will strengthen supply chains, expand market opportunities and improve animal welfare outcomes. I also note the recommendations of the report that was published last week and tabled in the House just now. This government will be considering those recommendations very carefully.

Today the Albanese Labor government has made the right call to put an end to this cruel and unnecessary trade. We are taking decisive action that is long overdue, and we are doing so in a sensible and reasonable way to ensure impacted communities are well positioned, resilient and ready when the trade ends in 2028. I'm proud to be part of a government taking this important step, and we know Australians are behind us.