Live Sheep Exports



Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (19:06): Australian farmers are renowned for their production of world-class food and meat. The Australian people know this, and so does the world, who have long enjoyed our farm and agricultural exports. There's no question that farming and agricultural industries are vitally important to our economy, and the Albanese Labor government is absolutely focused on supporting Australian farmers to continue exporting the quality produce that Australia and the world expects from us. That is our responsibility and that is what Australians want. But that doesn't mean we have to put up with animal cruelty. The live sheep export trade is cruel, and, with world-class abattoirs and meat-packaging facilities right here in Australia, it is unnecessary.

The Albanese Labor government supports strong animal welfare standards. We believe that all animals should be treated humanely, and we have long been concerned about the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals aboard live export ships. And, when they arrive at their overseas destinations, we have little or no control over the conditions in which they live or indeed die. That's why we're committed to phasing out live sheep exports. This is of no surprise to anybody in this parliament. It's a commitment that we took to the Australian people; we were very upfront about that at the last election.

At the turn of the century, the live sheep export industry was absolutely booming in Australia. There were 6.5 million sheep being sent overseas for slaughter. But, for years now, Australians have seen and heard horrific stories of sheep stranded for weeks and months at sea on board ships, often lacking adequate ventilation, in scorching temperatures, unable to sit, sometimes drowning at sea and even drowning in their own excrement. And we've seen shocking footage of the most unbelievable and inhumane cruelty occurring when they arrive at their overseas destinations.

Over the past 20 years, the numbers of live sheep exports have been in freefall, declining by more than 90 per cent now. In the same time frame, the trade in Australian slaughtered and packaged chilled and frozen sheepmeat has increased by 369 per cent. Lamb alone has increased by 532 per cent. In 2022-23, chilled and frozen sheepmeat exports were a $4.5 billion industry. Live sheep exports in the same period were valued at $85 million. The statistics don't lie. The live sheep export industry is coming to an end.

Farmers across Australia have increasingly recognised this, shifting towards chilled and frozen meat exports, and many are pivoting their businesses towards this high-value trade alternative. Animals are slaughtered and packaged in Australia under strict regulations that ensure adherence to Australian animal welfare standards. Jobs that that expanding chilled and frozen meat export industry creates remain on Australian soil—employing Australians and profiting Australia. And farmers know that this growing industry means greater certainty for their future too.

The Albanese Labor government knows this phase-out will affect the export industry, as well as others across the supply chain, including farmers and communities that rely on the trade. That's why Labor is committed to supporting those affected through the transition. This is why we have appointed an independent four-person panel to consult with stakeholders and develop an orderly transition plan. That will be executed across several years, and we are considering the recommendations of their extensive review to inform those next steps. We are exploring options to upscale domestic meat-processing capacity and, through this, to employ more Australians to produce value-added products for our export markets and, ultimately, not to increase the price for everyday Australians, who are already facing cost-of-living pressures.

By phasing out live sheep exports, the Albanese Labor government is showing leadership in this area that is long overdue. I know this will be welcome news to Novocastrians, as it is to many Australians around the country, who not only want an end to animal cruelty but want to see more jobs remain in Australia for Australians. It's a sensible, reasonable and humane way forward, and we as a government are proud to be taking these important steps towards ending this cruel and unnecessary trade.