THE FEDERAL Government will ban all live sheep exports by sea from 1 May 2028 in a move already condemned by the National Farmers Federation, the WA Government, the National Party and more but welcomed by animal rights groups.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Murray Watt, announced the decision in Perth on Saturday [11 May] together with the government response to the report of an independent panel, appointed to consult with stakeholders to provide advice on how and when the government should phase out live sheep exports by sea.

From March to October 2023, the panel met with over 2,000 people and received over 4,100 submissions and survey responses. Consultation did not consider the merits or otherwise of the government’s policy to phase out live sheep exports by sea. Its report was handed to the government on 23 October 2023.

“The live sheep export industry has shown time and again that they are unable to meet the community’s expectations,” Senator Watt said. Legislation will be introduced in this term of the Australian Parliament to end the trade in law. Trade can continue until the end date without any additional restrictions such as caps or quotas. The prohibition will not apply to other livestock export industries, such as live cattle exports, nor will it apply to live sheep exports by air.

In conjunction with the decision Senator Watt announced the government has committed $107 million over five years for sheep producers and the supply chain to plan for and adjust to the phase out. The funding includes $64.6 million for sheep producers and the supply chain; $27 million to increase demand for sheep products; $2.6 million to continue improving sheep welfare standards; $1.7 million for a “transition advocate” and $11.1 million to implement the phase-out.

“Early action is being encouraged by the provision of funding now. We want to ensure those affected by the phase out are well-positioned, resilient and ready when the trade ends in 2028,” the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said.

“The government considers that a firm date for the end of the trade, enacted through legislation, provides certainty and time for adjustments to be made. An end date means that impacted individuals, businesses and communities can now plan for a future without live sheep exports by sea.”

WA Farmers livestock president Geoff Pearson told the ABC said the compensation package would not be enough.

“It won’t even reach farmers, it won’t even reach producers and the people that are in the industry, it’ll be tied up with consultants,” he said.

Mr Pearson disagreed with Senator Watt’s suggestion the move would create more onshore jobs, because the market was already saturated with boxed and chilled meat.

“The industry is not prepared to be able to absorb a lot of this onshore processing, and the market is not prepared to take any of it up either,” he told the ABC.

“Every [agricultural] industry is in support of this trade to continue because they’re scared of what’s coming next, so as it is now the fight will continue.”

Australia exported more than 593,000 sheep last year, with almost half of them sent to Kuwait, which was the country’s largest importer of the animal. But the independent panel found exports had been declining for some years.