‘Morally bankrupt’: Nationals leader David Littleproud slams shutdown of live sheep export industry

Jessica Evensen
The Nightly
Nationals leader David Littleproud has accused the government of being “morally bankrupt” for shutting down Australia’s billion dollar live sheep export industry.
Nationals leader David Littleproud has accused the government of being “morally bankrupt” for shutting down Australia’s billion dollar live sheep export industry. Credit: Supplied/RegionalHUB

Nationals leader David Littleproud has accused the Government of being “morally bankrupt” for shutting down the live sheep export industry after laws to end the trade were introduced to the Federal Parliament.

Mr Littleproud said the ban would hold Australians back during a fiery speech on Thursday morning.

It came as the Greens — whose vote Labor will need to pass the laws — confirmed it would push to bring forward the proposed 2028 shutdown date to May 2026.

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The Nationals leader said people who supported shutting down the industry, which employs around 3000 people in WA, had no “moral value of compass”.

“It’s important that these men and women in Western Australia are heard ... about why their livelihoods are being ripped away from them all because of ideology,” he said.

“What you are going to see by Australia shutting down the live sheep export industry ... is the senseless and horrific death of millions of sheep from around the world from the markets that take up our place.

Federal Nationals leader David Littleproud
Nationals leader David Littleproud has accused the government of being “morally bankrupt” for shutting down Australia’s billion dollar live sheep export industry. Credit: AAP

“There is no moral value or compass (in) anyone who wants to go against this, you are morally bankrupt.

“It’s all about politics and ideology, not about standing up for Australia.

Agriculture minister Murray Watt said the ban would “invest in the future” of Australia’s sheep industry, with the government committing $107 million — 46 per cent of the portfolio’s new spending — to a four-year transition package.

“Funding from the government will assist the supply chain ... with more onshore processing and more value, adding together with action to enhance demand for sheep products domestically and overseas,” he told Senate estimates on Thursday.

Agriculture minister Murray Watt says the live sheep export ban will “invest in the future” of the Australian sheep industry.
Agriculture minister Murray Watt says the live sheep export ban will “invest in the future” of the Australian sheep industry. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

“While live sheep export numbers have plummeted in the last 20 years, contributing just one-tenth of 1 per cent of all national agricultural exports, sheep meat exports are going through the roof.

“Australia is now the largest exporter of sheep meat to the world, with nearly $4.5 billion in chilled and frozen sheep meat exported in 2020 to 23 alone.

Nationals senator Matthew Canavan slammed the $107 million package and said the budget “didn’t seem to focus on helping agriculture grow”.

But Senator Watt hit back and said the package would support a transition to onshore meat processing.

“We’re shutting down an industry that has been in decline for 20 years that was falling under the Coalition government at the same time as sheep meat exports are going through the roof, and we’re assisting the industry to move towards the growth part of the market,” he said.

A "Keep the Sheep" billboard on a truck protests the Government's policy to phase out live sheep exports by May 2028.
A ‘Keep the Sheep’ billboard on a truck protests the Government's policy to phase out live sheep exports by May 2028. Credit: Supplied

The Coalition’s opposition to the ban means Labor will need the support of the Greens and crossbench to get it through the Senate.

Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi confirmed the party wanted to shut the trade faster and would push to bring forward the May 2028 date.

“We will be pushing to make sure that the number of sheep exported actually reduces and isn’t ramped up (in the) lead (up) to the shutdown of the industry,” she said.

A Senate inquiry is set to scrutinise the legislation with the minister supportive of public hearings in WA.

The introduction of legislation to ban the trade on Thursday came as a coalition of WA farmers, shearers and truckies launched a “keep the sheep” campaign.

A truck convoy expected to attract 1300 vehicles will descend on Perth from four directions during peak hour on Friday to protest the end of the industry.

When asked about Friday’s convoy, Senator Watt said it was a “democracy” and that Aussies were “entitled to undertake whatever kind of protest activity they want to do”.

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