A lot has changed in the last month and the future for Australian sheep is looking a lot brighter.
As many of you will know, the new Federal Government took to the May election a policy to phase out the cruel, unsustainable and unpopular live sheep export trade. And the new Minister has, in the last few weeks, repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to end the trade.
This is a positive step and we welcome it at the RSPCA – just as it has been welcomed by the Australian community.
But there’s one crucial step that needs to happen now. We need the Government to set a date to shut down this trade once and for all in this term of Parliament.
Here’s five reasons why setting a date is so important.
To make sure it actually happens
If the phase out date for live sheep export is not legislated before the next federal election, a future government could choose not to go ahead with the plans. Not only would be this be a terrible outcome for sheep welfare, but it would be heartbreaking for the thousands of Australians who care about animal welfare and want to see the trade end.
That doesn’t mean that the trade has to end within the next three years – indeed, we called for a five-year phase out in the lead up to the election – but it means that the legislation to make that happen must be put in place in this term of Parliament (that is, within the next three years).
To give farmers certainty
Economically, there’s simply no good argument for continuing to allow live sheep export. Research shows that a sheep processed in Australia will contribute a lot more to the Australian economy than live exporting the animal. A phase out of live sheep export will result in better welfare for sheep and more jobs for Australians.
We acknowledge the importance of providing support to farmers to transition to alternative markets and we strongly believe this is possible in a reasonable timeframe. What doesn’t help Australia’s farmers is prolonged uncertainty on this issue or keeping them locked into an unsustainable industry. The live sheep export has been in terminal decline for some time and Australians know it simply has no future – so we call on the Government to help provide certainty and clarity for Australian farmers by setting an end date, to help facilitate the transition to a more valuable meat-only trade.
To protect our international reputation
Australia’s international reputation has suffered severely as a result of live sheep export. It’s damaging the perception that people overseas have of Australia as a progressive country that cares about animal welfare and acts ethically and sustainably.
It’s no wonder other countries have put a stop to live export – like the UK, who announced a ban in 2020, and New Zealand, who banned live export for slaughter as long ago as 2007.
To reflect community concern
Two out of three Australians want to see an end to live export according to recent polling. That includes 2 out of 3 people in rural or country areas and almost 3 in 4 Western Australians, where most Australian sheep are exported from.
So, wherever you go – from east to west, city to country – the majority of Australians are opposed to the trade. That’s why when the Government announced before the election that they would move to end live sheep export, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. But we also know the community wants to see that commitment put into place – and the best way to do this is to set an end date in this term of Parliament.
Because the trade is unfixable
The live sheep export industry will be quick to point out how it has ‘improved’ the trade. They will point to regulatory changes or changes made on board ships, or highlight some selective data about things like mortality rates.
But the truth is that this trade is simply unfixable and inherently cruel. The animal welfare issues with live sheep export are inherent to long voyages like this and the only way to remove these risks is to end the trade. The basic welfare needs of sheep cannot be met or protected by the trade because sheep on live export ships do not have easy access to food and water, adequate space to lie down and rest all at the same time, a place to toilet away from the pen they stand and sleep in, or fresh ventilated air. The risks simply cannot be addressed with new technology or better management.
So whichever way you look at it, we’re at a turning point for Australian sheep. We have a real opportunity to improve the welfare of hundreds of thousands of sheep every year – but the crucial next step is, this term of Parliament, to set an end date.
Richard Mussell, CEO, RSPCA Australia