Will Australia say bon voyage to live exports?

Opponents of the live sheep export trade rally at Fremantle. Photo: Daryna Zadvirna

Around 200 lobbyists gathered in Fremantle on Thursday to protest the live export trade and celebrate Labor declaring its support for a full ban. 

The rally, organised by Animals Australia and Stop Live Exports organisation, was set up at the Victoria Quay opposite the Bader III ship, loaded with thousands of cattle and sheep. 

The Stop Live Exports campaign manager Katrina Love spoke at the event and said she couldn’t believe she was standing next to another ship sending thousands of animals for “a voyage of suffering”. 

“Sadly we’ve got just two options, we either slaughter them here or we send them overseas, and slaughtering them here is a lesser of two evils,” Ms Love said.

Federal Labor member for Fremantle Josh Wilson was also a speaker at the rally and criticised the Turnbull government for continually ignoring the large-scale animal cruelty.

Labour MP Josh Wilson joined Katrina Love in speaking at the rally. Photo:: Daryna Zadvirna

“The saddest thing I heard was from a farmer who said that this particular trade of long-haul export of sheep depends on the fact that sheep have the capacity to endure a high level of suffering and other animals couldn’t bear it,” Mr Wilson said.

“It is a false dichotomy to say there is a divide between the farmers and people on this issue—people right around Australia don’t want to be a part of this or see this go on any longer and I am calling it to come to an end,” he said.

When asked about the negative repercussions faced by farmers as a consequence of a full ban on livestock trade, Ms Love said ending cruelty trumps profit.

“There will be a financial pain for WA sheep producers without a doubt.

“But …, at the peak of the live sheep export industry we were sending out over six million sheep per year, which has dropped to 1.75 million in 2016 and 2017.

“That’s a huge reduction we’ve already seen, and the reduction from 1.75 million to zero is a lot less—so they’ll suffer but they’ll get over it.”

Julie Thornhill and Silvia Iozeva were among the protestors who said live exports is not just an issue for Australia—it’s a global issue. Photo: Daryna Zadvirna

Labor far from sheepish about its announcement

Before the rally, the Labor Party pledged it would ban live export shipments if elected in the upcoming elections. 

Despite previously calling for merely a suspension of the trade, Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said he doesn’t believe the trade has a future in Australia.

“From day one in government, we will develop and implement a strategic red meat industry plan which will focus on more processing and more jobs in Australia and begin that transition away from live exports,” Mr Fitzgibbon told SkyNews.

Labor claimed it would push for an increase in the export of chilled and boxed meats to Asia, which would potentially be a way farmers could benefit from the transition.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has slammed Labor’s announcement to ban the live export trade, despite telling the ABC earlier last month “it’s bullshit” that livestock continue to die on export ships. 

“Labor has rushed to a knee-jerk ban, punishing farmers who have done no wrong,” Mr Littleproud said.  

Many protesters at Thursday’s rally in Fremantle said Labor had already won their vote.

“To me, this issue is a deal breaker and I will support any government that will [bring about] the end of live exports,” Karen Boothery said.

“I’ll be voting for Labor but it needs to not just be a pre-election commitment—they need to follow through with their promise.”

Animal welfare groups: “putting our money where our mouth is”

The live export industry hit further pressure yesterday, after Animals Australia and the RSPCA animal welfare charities pledged a combined one million dollars to kickstart the nation’s move away from long-haul, live export voyages.

The protestors’ signs showed images from the shocking footage on board a live-export ship that emerged last month. Photo:: Daryna Zadvirna

RSPCA Australia Chairman Gary Humphries has urged the federal and Western Australian governments to act.

“It’s time now to shift the conversation from if to how,” said Mr Humphries.

“The response of our supporters to this issue, and to this latest crisis, has been unprecedented and this has made the RSPCA even more resolute in doing absolutely everything we can to stop this cruelty.”

“Now that the Australian public, the Government and farmers all know about the conditions for Australian sheep on long-haul live export voyages – even under Australia’s standards – it can’t be ignored,” he said.

The RSPCA commissioned an independent poll earlier last month revealing around three in four Australians want to end live exports.

“ … Australians want to see a level of improvement in conditions for sheep that can only be accomplished by halving stocking density – that’s the clear position that’s backed by the scientific evidence,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones.

Some pets also joined their owners at the rally. Photo:: Daryna Zadvirna

Last month the Government declared the trade will go under a series of reviews after the surfacing of shocking footage of sheep dying on a ship heading to the Middle East in 2016.

Animals Australia, who released the footage to the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes, said they will back the RSPCA and also contribute half a million dollars to kick-start Australia’s move away from “the cruel trade”.

Animals Australia spokesperson Lyn White said she is pleased to see Labor recognising there is a pathway forward that will benefit farmers and the economy as well as animals.

“A succession of economic reports have all concluded that a well-managed phase-out will ensure minimal impact on farmers. We are prepared to financially support a solution that will benefit both animals and producers,” she said.

Here you can watch some of the rally: