The RSPCA has welcomed the tabling of the Australian federal Minister for Agriculture's response to one of the largest Australian parliamentary e-petitions in history, calling for an end to live sheep export.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, stated: “The Australian Government acknowledges the considerable community concerns about animal welfare in the trade of live sheep exports by sea and understands the desire to see action.
“The government took the commitment to phase out live sheep exports by sea to two elections, and it is my intention to deliver on this commitment in an orderly and considered way, and in consultation with affected stakeholders. The phase out will not take place during this term of the Australian Parliament to give time for individuals and businesses to prepare for a transition away from live sheep exports by sea.”
The response to the petition, which secured nearly 44,000 signatures in August 2023, confirms the Government is committed to an orderly phase out of the live sheep export trade.
Welfare concerns about how Australian animals are treated once shipped overseas have been raised repeatedly, and travel at sea has also been a focus for animal welfare groups. For example, around 2,400 sheep died of heat stress on the Awassi Express (subsequently renamed the Anna Marra) on a voyage from Fremantle to the Middle East in August 2017.
An ABC report in August 2023 aired footage, captured across different sites in Oman by Animals Australia, allegedly showing evidence of Australian sheep with their legs bound together, being dragged by the leg or head, and being slaughtered at unapproved locations. Animals Australia has reported similar allegations in other countries, with, for example, sheep being stuffed in car boots, tied up and left in the street in extreme heat and dragged onto makeshift slaughter slabs to have their throats cut while fully conscious.
The Australian Livestock Exporters Council responded to the ABC report at the time stating: “Australia is the only country in the world, out of over 100 that export livestock, that has regulations seeking to manage the welfare of livestock. While no system is perfect, it has improved animal welfare in all our sheep, goat and cattle markets for over a decade, contributing to a net improvement in animal welfare globally. At the same time the Australian live export industry has provided food security to millions of people in countries that cannot produce enough protein for their populations.”
RSPCA Australia Chief Science Officer Dr Suzie Fowler said: “We welcome confirmation today that the Government remains committed to phasing out live sheep export – because the reality is that the trade simply cannot be fixed. The petition – one of the largest parliamentary e-petitions in Australia’s history – shows that the Australian community does not and will not accept this trade continuing any longer.
“Add to that the fact that the majority of Australians, including 71% in Western Australia and 69% in rural and regional WA, support the phase out, and there can be no doubt that Australia supports the Government's intention to implement a phase out of live sheep export by sea.”
Fowler said that the Government must act swiftly to introduce legislation in this Parliamentary term to ensure the end of the trade is embedded in law before the next federal election.
“Now that the independent panel has provided their report to Government, there should be no impediment to introducing and passing legislation as soon as possible in this term. Legislating the end date in this term of Parliament is the only way to improve welfare for Australian sheep, meet the community’s expectations, and provide certainty for Australian farmers.”