Live sheep export ban inquiry 'rushed' says Nationals

Liv CasbenAAP
Labor pledged to end live sheep exports after more than 2000 sheep died while travelling on a ship. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconLabor pledged to end live sheep exports after more than 2000 sheep died while travelling on a ship. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

A "rushed" parliamentary inquiry into the phase out of live sheep exports has been labelled a stunt that treats farmers with contempt.

Two public hearings will be held next week as part of the inquiry announced on Tuesday into the federal government's divisive decision to end live sheep exports, which critics fear will put thousands of farmers out of business.

The government introduced laws to the lower house on Thursday that would commit to banning live exports by May 2028, intensifying opposition from farmers, industry stakeholders and the coalition.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt acknowledged "a range of strong views on this policy".

"As such, I consider it important an inquiry into this legislation is undertaken prior to passage in either chamber of the parliament," Senator Watt said on Tuesday.

The committee is due to report back to government by June 21.

But Nationals Leader David Littleproud said the timing treats farmers with contempt.

"Labor's committee cannot possibly investigate the consequences into the phasing out of the live sheep export trade in such a short timeframe," Mr Littleproud said.

He also criticised the agriculture minister announcing the inquiry when a Nationals' motion for an inquiry was rejected last week.

"The committee The Nationals tried to obtain would have been given until 8 October, 2024, to report back, allowing thorough and proper investigation, instead of Labor's rushed inquiry," Mr Littleproud said. 

"Farmers deserve answers, because Minister Watt is now avoiding a Senate inquiry and still unable to explain the science behind closing the industry and destroying the livelihoods of 3000 farmers."

Farmers have described the inquiry as a stunt.

"If the minister thinks this will quieten the growing chorus of voices fighting for farmers and regional communities in WA, he is sorely mistaken," National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said. 

Exporters are worried by the timeline of the inquiry and the phase out of live exports.

"It's not fair on the people that are affected by this," Mark Harvey-Sutton, from the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, told AAP.

"This is another typical move from a government that has tried to rush in a policy that puts farmers out of business, as well as risks WA's small towns going broke," he said.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture will explore the provisions of the bill and how it's applied to the live sheep export trade, especially in Western Australia.

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

The inquiry will hear from industry stakeholders with public hearings in Canberra and Muresk, WA, next week.

"The public hearing in Muresk will provide an opportunity for the committee to meet those most affected," committee chair Meryl Swanson said.

The Albanese government has set aside $107 million for a transition package to help about 3000 Western Australian farmers affected by the ban.

But the package only kicks in once the legislation is introduced and it is yet to be laid out how on-shore processing will be beefed up.

"Making this funding available as soon as possible will support sheep farmers, processors and supply-chain businesses to plan and make decisions appropriate to their circumstances," Senator Watt said.

"Legislating the end date of live sheep exports by sea in a timely manner will provide the certainty sheep farmers and the Australian community have been asking for."

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.

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