The recent announcement by Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, that a Labor government would oversee the phasing out of the live sheep export trade would be welcome news for all those appalled by the on-going animal cruelty that has bedevilled this business.
Not everyone will be happy with this decision, as this trade is a $250 million industry with companies, employees and suppliers whose livelihoods will be affected.
That is why it’s a decision to be enacted over a number of years to allow the necessary adjustments.
The industry will be assisted in that adjustment with the export of valued added product taking the place of live exports.
My colleague, Joel Fitzgibbon described it this way; “What we are talking about … is doing it in a smart and orderly and strategic way, creating value here, creating jobs here. I believe this can be done to benefit the farmers as well, because if we can pursue those high value markets they will benefit.”
As has been noted by industry observers the live trade is in terminal decline with a 60% drop in exports over the past decade. So it is a decision that is not only necessary but common sense.
For years now thousands of sheep have travelled in torment or have died on the way in conditions that have often been simply appalling. As far back as 1985, a Senate Inquiry described live export as ‘inimical to animal welfare’. Years passed and nothing much changed.
When it was revealed in April this year that 2,500 sheep in the care of ‘Emanuel Exports’ and bound for the Middle East died in the height of the northern summer in August last year it was the last straw for many.
Senior Liberal MP and grazier, Sussan Ley, immediately called for an end to the trade and on Monday plans to invite MPs across parties to discuss her proposed private member’s bill to end the trade. Even Federal Agriculture Minister said; “I saw footage provided to me by Animals Australia, which is very disturbing,” Littleproud said. “I am shocked and gutted”.
But fact that it took almost nine months for these events to be revealed made it clear that the Federal government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to animal welfare. This has also been underlined by revelations that old ships used in this trade do not have to comply with many regulations essential to animal welfare such as stocking levels, ventilation and temperature control. John Howard suspended the trade in 2006 and said they would fix it – but they clearly didn’t. The Coalition government and the industry’s companies have singularly failed to heed the warnings over many years and has put profit ahead of animal welfare.
This decision is a victory not only for the livestock but for better governance and ethics in our business dealings and we could sure do with some better returns on that score at the moment.