My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 17 April 2018

by ray goodlass

Ending live sheep exports would boost regional economies

Over the past two weeks live animal exports have been much in the news after the death of 2400 Australian sheep. Many of us were disappointed to read that, as Greens Animal Welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon called on the Turnbull government to end the live animal export trade, both the Federal Government and Opposition firmly resisted calls for such a ban, despite revelations of thousands of sheep routinely dying in inhumane conditions on ships.
True, there have been some small gains. The latest death ship was not allowed to leave Fremantle until conditions were minimally improved, as maritime officials demanded ventilation improvements before they issued a certificate to carry livestock.
In what was at least an improvement on the tactics employed by his predecessor, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud met with animal activists to discuss welfare aboard live export ships.
“I have now engaged with the Attorney-General’s office to help me undertake a review of the skills and capabilities and culture of the regulator, in providing a better investigative powers,” he said.
He also announced the Government would launch a whistle-blower hotline for those wanting dob in dodgy exporters.
He said the Government would also look to impose tougher penalties on dodgy exporter and their management.
But animal activists want an immediate ban on live shipments after TV broadcast footage showed sheep crowded into a small space, workers throwing dead sheep overboard, and faeces-covered pens where animals stood panting or collapsed on the ground.
The case against the way exports are currently handled isn’t limited to ‘bleeding heart’ inner city types. Western Australia farmer Craig Heggaton, for example, said “If we knew that was the situation that sheep were going in, I don’t think anyone would like to see their sheep or animals undergo that situation” though he didn’t call for an outright ban.
Thankfully others, including many sheep farmers, did see that the only solution was to completely end the live export trade. “Riverina famers call for an end to live exports” wrote the Daily Advertiser on 10 April.
Liberal MP Sussan Ley, the member for the regional seat of Farrer, even went so far as to demand that it is “Time to pick a date by which all live sheep exports must end” (DA 11 April).
So it is now acknowledged that live exports are inherently cruel and many agree that no amount of improvements will alter that. As Senator Rhiannon said, “Time and again the cruelty of the live export trade has been proven, with this latest mass death another shocking example with sheep effectively being cooked alive.”
What receives little attention though is another important aspect of this death trade: that live exports economically do not make sense when compared to other alternatives.
Senator Rhiannon also quite correctly pointed out that “Calls to tighten the rules is no solution. It is time to end this horrific practice and transition the industry to processing livestock in Australia and expanding Australia’s trade in boxed, chilled meat. The place to start is banning the live export of sheep.”
Indeed it is. Successive economic reports confirm processing the meat in Australia would create thousands of jobs and boost regional economies. Ending the live export trade would therefore mean the end of this cruel practice whilst at the same time improving the rural and regional economy. A true win-win situation.