More than 20 farming organizations have come together to write to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and plead for the Australian government to abandon plans to ban live sheep exports.
- The government has promised to phase out live exports of sheep by sea from Australia, but has not set a deadline.
- The Australian herd is at its highest level since 2007 and prices have reached extremely low levels.
- The government blames low prices on oversupply, but farm groups say the looming ban has created uncertainty.
The federal government has promised to end the export of live sheep by sea if elected for another term.
The letter coincides with a collapse in sheep prices in Australia and follows a similar call to Agriculture Minister Murray Watt earlier this year, in which farming groups claimed the ban was a “red line issue » for the agricultural sector.
The group includes the National Farmers Federation (NFF), Grain Producers Australia and Australian Dairy Farmers, who say the ban will jeopardize Australia’s international trade relationships.
“The decision to phase out the export of live sheep by sea will not only cause irreversible harm to our sector but also to Australia’s trade and diplomatic partnerships in the Middle East,” the letter said.
Sheep and sheep prices have fallen drastically at saleyards across the country as farmers reduce their stocks ahead of the expected drier months.
The national herd is now expected to be at its highest level in more than 15 years.
This week, prices for some sheep were at their lowest level since 2007 and angry farmers took to social media to blame the government’s proposed ban for contributing to the price collapse.
The letter to Mr Albanese did not mention the drastic fall in sheep prices but referred to a recent survey on farmer confidence.
“Nationally, the consequences associated with the policy announcement are already being felt, with a devastating collapse in producer confidence in the sheep industry, nationally,” he said.
Falling prices blamed on “oversupply”
Speaking on ABC Radio Perth on Thursday, Senator Watt was told a farmer had contacted ABC and was considering selling sheep for as little as $1 per head or destroying animals to avoid animal welfare issues .
Senator Watt, asked if the government’s intention to ban the trade was in any way responsible, said the problem was “oversupply”.
“I absolutely agree that sheep prices have fallen significantly, but it’s not just on the west coast, but also on the east coast,” he said.
“Livestock prices across the country have also fallen significantly and this has nothing to do with a stance on sheep or live cattle exports.
“The problem we have with the sheep industry across the country is, frankly, there is an oversupply.”
He said good weather conditions and good prices over the past two years had led to a “build-up of the overall herd across the country, on both sides of the country”.
“I think a lot of people are considering trying to get rid of sheep out of fear of a coming drought,” Senator Watt said.
An independent group set up to advise the government on how to phase out live sheep exports was due to report to the government today but was recently granted an extension.
The group must provide its report to the government by October 25.
Fears of a “diplomatic blunder”
The National Farmers’ Federation opposed the ban since it was proposed by the Labor opposition.
“We fear we are descending into another diplomatic blunder in the Middle East and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” said NFF president Fiona Simson.
“They march to the tune of the activists, and we need the Prime Minister to step aside and look at the whole situation before it is too late.”
Western Australian farmer Steve McGuire said the policy was already creating stress in the farming community.
“We are already seeing the implosion of the sheep industry here. Livelihoods are being lost simply because of uncertainty,” he said.
“This is not a planned transition. It is a socio-economic disaster.”
Animal welfare group the Australian Animal Alliance has called for the phase-out to be completed by May 1, 2026.
In his submission to a phase-out panel, he referenced RSPCA research conducted in 2015 which found “63% of Australians supported a phase-out if affected farmers received transition support …and in 2022, this figure was 78%. “
National leader and opposition agriculture spokesman David Littleproud has promised a coalition government would allow trade to continue if elected.