Live sheep: Labor to force vote on export ban despite last-minute pleas from WA farmers

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
Sheep on a live export ship.
Sheep on a live export ship. Credit: Josh Fernandes / The Livestock C/Josh Fernandes / The Livestock C

Labor will force a vote on Monday night on laws to ban the live sheep trade, defying a last-minute attempt from WA farmers and the Opposition to delay its passage.

The Government will “guillotine” — or gag — debate on the contentious legislation before putting it to a final vote around 6pm AEST.

Labor will need to secure the support of a third crossbencher if newly suspended WA senator Fatima Payman abstains from the vote, as she has flagged.

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The passage of the laws will unleash a major campaign against Labor in WA, with a “farmy army” being mobilised to target MPs in battleground seats.

“The war has only just begun,” WA Farmers president and Keep the Sheep campaigner John Hassell said.

The Nightly understands Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will at meet with representatives from the Keep the Sheep campaign, who travelled to Canberra ahead of the Senate vote.

Labor’s rush to gag debate on the Bill, which was condemned by the Coalition, came just moments after Keep the Sheep campaigners appeared in Parliament House pleading with the Government to at least hold a Senate inquiry into the ban.

A Lower House inquiry into the legislation was labelled a “sham” after it ran for just three weeks and held only one public hearing in WA.

“I just plead with the Government — they need to stop this right now,” campaigner Ben Sutherland said.

“They need to come and see the damage they’re doing by not giving us the proper respect.”

The delegation met with Agriculture Minister Murray Watt on Monday to again make the case for a Senate inquiry.

In a video posted to social media after the meeting, Mr Hassell said Senator Watt “simply will not listen”.

“We desperately need a Senate inquiry into this live trade legislation because the effects are going to be devastating to rural Western Australia,” he said.

The Keep the Sheep delegation, which included vets, local councillors, exporters and farmers, dismissed the Government’s $107 million transition package for the industry as completely inadequate.

Michael White, president of the Broomehill-Tambellup Shire, said independent research commissioned by Great Southern councils found shutting the industry would cost the region between $430 million and $730 million over the next 20 years.

“That’s going to have a significant impact on all of our small communities — far more than what’s been offered,” he said.

Nationals’ senate leader Bridget McKenzie and party leader David Littleproud appeared alongside the Keep the Sheep campaigners as the Opposition prepared another push for a Senate inquiry.

Senator McKenzie conceded Labor’s legislation was likely to pass with the support of the Greens and crossbench.

But she said WA farmers and regional communities deserved the “decency and respect” of a longer upper house inquiry.

Farmers have gathered at Muresk for a hearing of the parliamentary inquiry into the phase out of the Live Sheep Export by Sea. Pictured - Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie at the Muresk Institute near Northam
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The Countryman

A push for a Senate inquiry into Labor’s Bill failed last week.

The proposed new inquiry would examine the live sheep export trade more generally.

“The minister might like to say that we’ve ticked all the boxes on consultation, but let’s have some genuine consultation with the people that are really impacted,” Senator McKenzie said.

“We’re not in a rush. And it’s the very least you can do as you take away their life.”

The laws to phase out the industry – which supports about 3000 jobs - were introduced to the Senate on Monday morning with Senator Watt keen to see them pass as soon as possible.

Senator Payman’s suspension from Labor caucus prompted speculation the Government might need to secure a third crossbench vote - most likely independent Lidia Thorpe - to get the Bill through.

Senator Payman has not returned The Nightly’s calls but a senior Government source was certain she would vote in favour of the ban.

However, Senator Payman has now confirmed that she will abstain from all Senate votes for the rest of the week except on conscience matters, such as Palestinian statehood.

It is unclear if the live sheep ban would fall into that category.

Senator McKenzie challenged Senator Payman to stand up for the people of Western Australian just as she had stood up for the people of Gaza when she crossed the floor to support Palestinian recognition.

Keep the Sheep has already raised about $407,000 for its campaign to target Labor-held seats in WA at the next federal election.

Mr Hassell said the campaign - which is also armed with a 62,000-signature petition - would initially target Tangney, Hasluck and the proposed new seat of Bullwinkel earmarked for the Perth Hills.

“As we raise more funds we will be targeting every marginal Labor seat across this country to try and get what we need,” he said.

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