Opposition keeps pressure on live sheep export ban

The Albanese government has defended "contentious" legislation that bans the live export of sheep by sea from 2028, amid claims it will destroy the livelihood of thousands of farmers.

The federal government introduced laws to the lower house on Thursday that would commit to banning live exports by May 2028.

The legislation that follows animal welfare concerns would still allow for live sheep to be exported by air and cattle to be exported by sea.

The government has set aside $107 million for about 3000 farmers in Western Australia who would be affected by the bans.

"The Australian sheep industry now has the time, support and certainty it needs to plan effectively for the future," Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said.

Senator Watt said the bill locked in an end date to live sheep exports by sea and got the transition funding package rolling.

He told a senate estimates session that WA sheep farmers did not need to exit the industry.

"All that would change is that their sheep would be processed onshore," Senator Watt said.

But Nationals senator Matt Canavan described the minister's response to a question about how many farmers would leave the industry as "total spin", citing a government report that 14 per cent had indicated they would be forced out.

"It's clear as day that there is going to be people who leave farming because of this decision," he said.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has defended live export bans at a senate estimates hearing. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Watt was also pressed on why almost half of the new money committed to agriculture in the federal budget would be spent shutting down an industry.

"It's important that we provide a substantial amount of taxpayer funding for the transition for live sheep exports and that's what we've done," Senator Watt told the rural and regional affairs committee.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the government was letting down farmers and the live export industry had implemented animal welfare reforms.

"We should be proud of the fact that Australia is leading the world and has led the world in imposing these standards that have been adopted around the world, but this government wants to cut and run and cut 3000 livelihoods out of Western Australia," he said.

The coalition has vowed to overturn the laws if it wins office, with farmers from WA intent on making it a major election issue.

Senator Watt agreed the ban was contentious and that the senate could choose to hold an inquiry into the legislation in Western Australia.

"It's of course a matter for the senate what inquiry it wants to undertake," Senator Watt said.

A protest in Perth against live sheep exports, in 2018
Labor pledged to outlaw live sheep exports by sea amid an outcry over onboard deaths in 2017. (Tony McDonough/AAP PHOTOS)

"I would think it would be a good idea ... for there to be an inquiry and for it to go to WA."

Senator Watt was quizzed on whether it was a good use of taxpayers' money to fly to Perth with four staff to announce the live sheep export ban in early May when he did not meet with farmers on the ground.

He also defended his decision to hold an all-in briefing with animal activists and farmers on the morning he announced the timing of the ban.

"This was an issue that a very wide spectrum of people had an interest in and that everyone deserved to know at the same time from me," Senator Watt told the budget estimates hearing.

Activists have described the introduction of the legislation as an historic day for animal welfare.

"Ending the live sheep exports trade aligns with modern community expectations on how animals should be treated, not just in Australia but on a global scale," Rebecca Linigen from Four Paws Australia said.

Labor pledged to end live sheep exports after more than 2000 sheep died from heat stress in 2017 while travelling on a ship from Australia to the Middle East.