The Greens and animal welfare groups have called on Labor to commit to a timeline for phasing out live sheep exports, after the opposition said it still intended to ban the trade.
Labor told the Alliance for Animals that it will recommit to its policy of phasing out the live sheep export trade, which it announced in 2018 in response to whistleblower videos of a deadly voyage in which 2,400 sheep died.
But it has not put a timeline on the proposal, saying only that it will consult with sheep farmers in Western Australia, who are the only group currently selling into the trade, as well as the WA government.
“Consistent with scientific advice, Labor will work with industry and the state government to phase out the live sheep export trade,” Labor said in a response to survey questions issued by the Alliance for Animals. “We acknowledge the industry is in decline and we will work with the WA government to support the sector through that contraction, as well as the ongoing growth in chilled lamb exports.”
Labor also said it would not scale back the summer ban on live exports, which the Coalition relaxed this year after introducing it in 2019.
The Greens spokesperson on animal welfare, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, said the reaffirmed commitment was welcome “after years of silence” from Labor on the issue.
“What we need from Labor now is a clear timeline for a ban and a transition plan,” she said. “This can’t just be an empty promise when an election is on.”
Faruqi said the Greens would use their position on the crossbench and in the Senate to work with Labor to end the trade.
Labor did not respond to questions from Guardian Australia asking for confirmation of the commitment to ban the trade and what timeline they would work toward.
The live sheep export trade has declined dramatically, with just 575,000 sheep exported from Australia last year, down from 2 million in 2017. All exports are run through two foreign-owned companies, Livestock Shipping Services and Rural Export & Trading (WA).
Alliance for Animals co-director Dr Jed Goodfellow said the further decline in trade in the last 12 months, with sheep farmers from the WA wheatbelt region able to secure better prices selling to the eastern states of Australia than overseas, showed that the industry could be shut down with minimal impact to farmers.
“Many of them have already started their transition to get out of it,” Goodfellow said. “Labor recommitting to this policy is just signing the death knell.”
Goodfellow said the Alliance had asked Labor to commit to a three-year phase out, but received no response.
The Coalition, in its response to the Alliance’s survey, said it was “committed to upholding the highest standards of animal welfare where it has authority” and was committed to “influencing” trading partners to achieve good welfare options. It also stressed that animal welfare laws were under the control of state and territory governments.
The Coalition does not support a proposal for an independent national animal welfare commission.
Labor has committed $ 4.5m over four years to fund an inspector-general of animal welfare. The Greens also support the proposal for an independent national animal welfare commission.