Australia, Industry Issues, Transport Features

What’s next for the Keep the Sheep movement?

Australia’s Keep the Sheep movement is at a critical juncture, so what’s next for the fight to keep the nation’s live sheep export industry in operation?

When the current federal Labor government came to power at the last election a ban on live sheep export was promised to voters. Now, with the legislation passed for the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024 in the House of Representatives, the Keep the Sheep movement is in the fight of its life.

That promise to ban live sheep export by sea in Australia was a key pillar of the government’s previous election campaign. Now, with another federal election rapidly approaching, that promise is one step closer to being fulfilled.

The ban on the live export of sheep could – and will likely – have catastrophic effects on the associated transport industry, with Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) executive director Rachel Smith labelling the current floated compensation to the entire live export supply chain as a “slap in the face”.

That compensation is listed by the government at $107 million over five years to aid the entire live sheep export industry in transitioning out of the practice.

The Australia Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) recently stated the West Australian government has estimated the transition of the industry would cost $123 million a year for ten years, while the West Australian Meat Industry Authority told the House of Representatives inquiry over $400 million in investments would be needed for the state’s processing facilities to successfully transition.

Smith says that $107 million figure that is being floated by the federal government is not only not enough, but will almost certainly be going to the wrong places.

“Of that $107 million I believe $64 million goes to government departments to oversee and manage the phase-out, Smith told ATN. “Really only about $50 million is going to the industry.

“That’s across the entire supply chain, from producers, to transporters, to feed lots, right through to impacting onshore processing and exporters.

“Live sheep exports fill a certain gap in the sheep supply chain in Australia.”

“For transporters in WA alone live export is up to 30 per cent of their business. That’s a significant cut to their revenue every year.

The passing of the legislation has come after what had previously been labelled as an “offensively short” period in which the government received submissions regarding the bill.

Over 13,000 submissions were made in the week-long period prior to discussion of the bill began in the House of Representatives, while the Keep the Sheep petition was signed by over 62,000 people – and that figure continues to rise.

The sheer amount of support behind the movement prompted West Australian independent MP and member for Curtin Kate Chaney to change her mind and oppose the ban, where she cited the voice of the community and the impacts on livelihoods, families, mental health and communities would be too strong to make banning the industry worthwhile.

Chaney instead is now calling for an improvement to animal welfare standards.

Smith believes the immense amount of opposition to the bill could – and likely should – have been taken more seriously by more people ahead of its discussion in the lower house.

“When this became a live public issue in 2017, 2018 there was a petition for animal activists that achieved about 20,000 signatures,” Smith says.

“The Keep the Sheep petition now has around 62,000 signatures and it’s continuing to grow.

“Technically the submission period was only four days because one of the days was a public holiday and the first hearing was the day after submissions closed

“I can’t hazard a guess at how many of the submissions were actually read before the first hearing in Canberra.

“I think the reason it has been so short is that this is a commitment to the Labor government came into power with. Now we’re coming up to another federal election in the next 12 months, so I think this is a primarily politically driven policy to demonstrate they are delivering on their election promise.”

Now the bill has been passed in the lower house, what’s next for the Keep the Sheep movement that has been so vocal about the live export and only continues to grow momentum?

“We’re pushing for a full Senate enquiry now,” Smith says.

“The government holds a major influence in the House of Representatives, whereas there’s a more balanced representation across the upper house.

“We want a full Senate enquiry to ensure the impacts of this potential phase-out are fully assessed.

“We’re pushing for it to be overturned in full, but if it is phased out there needs to be adequate compensation and it needs to be more than the slap in the face that is being offered at the moment.”

Should the new legislation be passed live sheep export out of Australia would cease by May 1, 2028.

For more information on the Keep the Sheep movement, click here.

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