Farmers 'united' in fight over live-sheep export ban

Farmers are vowing to continue to fight the Albanese government's live-sheep export ban and accuse Labor of turning its back on Australian agriculture.

Live sheep exports by sea will be banned from May 2028 after legislation passed the Senate on Monday night.

"This is a government that is attacking our sector and our livelihoods," Mark Harvey-Sutton from the Australian Livestock Exporters Council said.

Exporters, farmers and other agricultural suppliers say their businesses will be ruined and regional towns in Western Australia will die because of the ban.

Mark Harvey-Sutton of the Keep the Sheep campaign at Parliament House
The Livestock Exporters Council's Mark Harvey-Sutton has "never seen the sector so united". (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

"I've never seen the sector so united, so mobilised and so furious," Mr Harvey-Sutton said on Tuesday.

Last-minute lobbying by West Australian farmers and exporters was not enough to have the legislation blocked, with the bill passing the Senate with the support of the Greens and some crossbenchers.

Advocates of the live export trade who travelled to Canberra have vowed to target the Albanese government in marginal Labor seats across Australia.

"Make no mistake, the 'farmy army' ... are coming to get them," said Ben Sutherland, whose West Australian trucking business relies on sheep transport.

"They've disrespected agriculture ... if we can't change the policy, we will change the government."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told parliament on Tuesday he had met and listened to farmers and had offered to continue to work with them.

"The truth is that the live sheep industry has been ... in decline compared with ... the sheep meat industry."

The legislation will mean an end to live sheep exports by sea on May 1, 2028, with a $107 million transition package to flow to affected farmers.

A file photo of Murray Watt
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Labor was following through on its election promises. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

"We made a commitment at two elections to phase out the export of live sheep by sea, after years of community concern about the trade," Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said in a statement.

The ban has been welcomed by animal rights groups.

Jed Goodfellow from the Australian Alliance for Animals described the phase-out as a pivotal moment in the history of animal welfare.

"This legislation has been a long time coming for our members and their two million-plus supporters who have been calling for an end to this cruel and unnecessary trade for decades," Dr Goodfellow said.

But the coalition has vowed to overturn the legislation if re-elected.

Labor had "once again treated farmers with contempt" by ignoring pleas to save live sheep exports, Nationals leader David Littleproud said, adding live-cattle shipments could be next.

"This decision is simply Labor bowing down to animal activists, even though Australia has the world's best animal welfare standards," he said.

The MV Bahijah is seen in the Port of Fremantle in Perth
The phase-out is a pivotal moment for animal welfare, the Australian Alliance for Animals says. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

WA Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said on Monday night a vote for the coalition was a vote for the state's vibrant sheep industry.

"There are some very basic questions that need to be answered by the prime minister in relation to turning his back on Western Australia ... why do you hate WA farmers so much?"

But Senator Watt said the live sheep export trade had been shrinking for some time.

"Live sheep exports by sea from Australia have been plummeting over the last 20 years," Senator Watt said.

Labor vowed to end the trade following animal rights concerns after thousands of sheep died of heat stress while on the way to the Middle East.