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Live sheep shutdown date to be revealed as Federal Government unveils new industry ‘transition’ plan

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Sheep and Murray Watt
Sheep and Murray Watt Credit: The West Australian

A timeline to shut down the live sheep export trade will finally be revealed as the Federal Government unveils a new $107 million plan to “transition” the industry.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt will make the long-awaited announcement in Perth on Saturday, ending the uncertainty for WA farmers about how and when the trade will end.

Senator Watt is expected to release the independent panel’s report on the phase out as well as the Federal Government’s response to it.

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WA farmers and the State and Federal oppositions have been demanding Labor come clean about the timeline after Senator Watt was handed the panel’s findings in October last year.

The announcement will put an expiry date on an industry that employs about 3000 people across the supply chain – 80 per cent of which are in WA – and ignite a political firestorm for Labor in the State just days out from the Federal Budget.

Senator Watt will attempt to soften the industry and political blowback with the announcement of a $107 million package to support an “orderly and well-planned” shutdown of the trade.

The package — to be funded in next Tuesday’s Budget — will include $64.6 million to assist producers and workers across the supply chain manage the phase-out of their industry.

The West understands that will include access to advice, grants for capital upgrades and support to expand processing capacity.

Rural financial counsellors and broader mental health support for farmers will be funded as part of the package.

A further $27 million will be put towards boosting demand for sheep products in Australia and internationally, including in the Middle East and north Africa, while $2.6 million will be set aside to improve sheep welfare standards.

A so-called “transition advocate” will be appointed to act as an intermediary between the industry and Federal Government during the transition.

More than $11 million will be budgeted to implement the phase out, including a stocktake on progress in 2026-27.

The timeframe for the stocktake suggests the industry will be phased out gradually over the course of the decade rather than shut down immediately.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt during a visit to Raglan Station in Raglan, Queensland, Friday, August 19, 2022.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt during a visit to Raglan Station in Raglan, Queensland, Friday, August 19, 2022. Credit: GIDEON WELLS/ GIDEON WELLS

Labor went to the past two federal elections promising to phase out live sheep exports after the deaths of about 2400 sheep on a ship from Fremantle to the Middle East in 2017.

A four-person panel of experts was appointed last March to design a roadmap for shutting down the trade.

WA’s peak farming groups are vehemently opposed to the shutdown, with plans being drawn up to target Labor seats at the next election in retaliation.

Ahead of Saturday’s announcement, Senator Watt said the sheep industry had a “bright future” on the back of booming sheep meat exports.

The lamb and mutton meat exports industry was worth $4.5 billion in 2023, while live sheep exports at sea were valued at $77 million, according to Federal Government figures.

“We are giving certainty to sheep producers and the supply chain by putting more than $107 million on the table to enable an orderly and well-planned transition away from a trade that is in long-term decline,” Senator Watt said.

“This support will help support the industry to grow further, creating more local jobs through increased value adding.

“Transition support is focused on helping affected individuals, businesses and communities to plan for, respond and adjust to the phase out.

“Importantly, it will be available to help all parts of the sheep industry supply chain, from farmers to truckies, to shearers and processors.

“We are putting support on the table now so that people can start planning and acting now.”

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