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Transporters reeling after shock live sheep export ban

Like his many other colleagues in the WA sheep transporting sector, Ben Sutherland isn’t going to sit back and accept the shock decision by the Albanese government to ban live exports without a fight.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced on May 11 that live sheep exports will be phased out by May 2028, and with it 40 per cent of Sutherland’s bottom line at Ravensthorpe-based 5K Livestock and Bulk.

“To me it’s unfair to have such a large part of your business model just taken away from you without proper consultation,” said Sutherland, vice president (livestock) of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA (LRTAWA).

“They’ve just wiped transport altogether, see you later; wiped like a dirty rag and thrown in the bin. They haven’t given a thought about what they’re doing, or done, and they’ve just tried to sneak it through.”

Sutherland said he now faces an uncertain future, despite the federal government’s assurance that it will put $107 million “on the table” to help operators such as himself make an “orderly and well-planned transition” away from the trade.

“That’s not even going to make a ripple in the pond for the basic expenses we have, and you can’t just say I’m going to park the crates in the corner and go into something else.

“They’re a pretty expensive asset to have rotting away – and will they even be worth anything. The depreciation on them will be huge.”

Sutherland also doesn’t buy into the federal government’s argument that a supposed decline in demand for live product since 2002-03, while demand for processed sheep meat has increased, represents an opportunity for the WA processed meat industry.

“It hasn’t dropped in my eyes. We’re still moving the animals, and there’s no way in the world that the abolishment of live exports is guaranteed to keep our local jobs as viable either.

“A lot of blokes are just going to get out of animals.”

Sutherland wouldn’t be drawn on what his next move would be, but said he has a feeling that “something big will happen” from the opponents to the legislation.

He had also just come from a Perth meeting, along with other association members, with opposition leader Peter Dutton when Big Rigs called this week.

Dutton has already vowed to roll back the controversial ban, if his party is elected at the next federal election, which is due to be held on, or before, September 27, 2025.

“The industry is standing and fighting, or wanting to, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know how we’re going to do this. But I also know we have to do something; this is very dangerous legislation.

“Where does it end? It’s not only just animals in transport. It sets a dangerous precedent for minority groups to get an industry outlawed.”

LRTAWA president Darran Bairstow said he was bitterly disappointed in Watt’s announcement.

Bairstow said that up until then the LRTAWA hoped the industry could be saved if the government took notice of the industry’s commitment to continuous improvement throughout the supply chain and recognised that Australian exporters were in the best position to influence animal welfare outcomes in receiving destinations.

“At the very least transporters were expecting a tangible transition package for businesses impacted by the decision, but other than vague statements about support for the supply chain, nothing is clear about the way ahead,” Bairstow said.

“The impact on our members will be devastating and jobs will be lost.

“Already we are seeing livestock crates on the market as confidence has taken a massive hit.”

Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny applauded the LRTAWA for “leading the charge” on highlighting the devastating impact the legislation would have in WA, which accounts for the vast majority of the live sheep transporting industry.

“A grubby backroom deal by Labor to save a marginal federal seat in a by election has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of 3000 people in WA,” Dumesny said.

“The trucking industry needs to be very concerned at what other backroom deals will be done with the Greens and fringe parties that could devastate other parts of our industry.”

  • Have you been impacted by the looming sheep ban? Email us at editor@bigrigs.com.au.

5 Comments

  1. This phase out policy could be turned around very quickly.
    Its not rocket science, we could have this federal government eating out of our hand very soon.

  2. Mr Sutherland, it disappoints me tremendously, that you have no consideration for the welfare of the sheep during transport and once they get to their destination. It’s horrendous and to only consider your bottom line is unconscionable, selfish and thoughtless.
    Have you considered that less demand for live export means more domestic trips for you.
    As a live animal transporter, I know you have high regard for and training in animal welfare, so this decision should be celebrated by you all.

    1. Don’t show a lack of understanding, as one of the real issues is a lack of consultation by the federal government and a failure to govern fairly but rather to succumb to urban electorates demands that have no financial or lifelong investment in the industry.
      Unfortunately this live sheep ban could be a rerun of the stopping of the live cattle export and subsequent costly legal challenge, also a heart felt refusal by rural people to be controlled / governed by a distant and particually ignorant group. It is understandable that constituents from electorates particularly in established urban electorates would feel that a live export ban is the most humane way forward .
      Unfortunately the right to impose controls and restrictions is the new ” right ” of socially and real life insulated populations , one of the most glaringly apparent observations is that minority groups which do include primary industries are not given due consideration . The fact is rural people and associated industries collectivly are incredible smart and resourceful and are very important within society and have a right to respect.
      Please consider the right to due consultation as a cornerstone of respect .
      Unfortunately the fact that real courage and understanding is given by the strong of heart and mind something that is missed by the present Ministers being Prime or else .

  3. “the shock decision”
    “just tried to sneak it through”

    It’s been Labor party policy at the last two elections.
    They’ve given four years notice.

    If you’re shocked by this decision, you’ve either ignored the world around you or you’re an idiot 🙄

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