IN THE NEWS: On MAY 11, 2018
Labor will support Liberal MP Sussan Ley's bill to outlaw live exports, meaning an outright ban on the trade within five years is, for the first time, a realistic prospect.
Fairfax Media can also reveal that a second government MP is considering co-sponsoring the bill, indicating that momentum for a ban is rapidly building in the government.
Labor's spokesman for agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, announced last week that the opposition no longer believed the industry - which is under fierce scrutiny after footage emerged showing thousands of sheep "boiling alive" on a ship heading to the Middle East - was incapable of repair.
However, he had stopped short of supporting the bill to be presented to Parliament on May 21 by Ms Ley, a former government cabinet minister who represents a regional seat in NSW.
Fairfax Media understands Labor has since been in intensive negotiations with Ms Ley over the contents of her bill. It agreed to support the bill after insisting it gave farmers a minimum five-year transition period to wind down the trade rather than face an immediate ban.
However, the northern summer trade, where the extreme conditions can cause mass fatalities of animals, would be banned from 2019.
MPs pushing for a ban believe they also have enough support in the Senate to pass the bill.
Liberal MP Jason Wood told Fairfax Media that he is considering co-sponsoring Ms Ley's bill for the trade to be gradually abolished despite the Turnbull government resisting a "knee jerk" reaction.
Another Victorian Liberal backbencher, Sarah Henderson, said she will also second Ms Ley's bill. The backbench push comes in spite of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's personal plea for the bill to be dropped.
Mr Wood said no Australian could treat their pets the way live exporters had been treating livestock.
Last weekend, Fairfax Media published gruesome new footage of sheep that had died en route to the Middle East. Vets said the sheep had effectively "boiled to death" in the heat.
"Under Australian law, if a dog was left in a car on a hot summer day, that would be regarded as animal cruelty; yet we have 65,000 sheep at a time being transported in these awful conditions," Mr Wood said.
Mr Wood, the member for La Trobe, said there had been so many documented instances of animal abuse on board live export ships that calls for a ban could no longer be described as a "knee-jerk reaction".
"This is something I have called for, for a long time. I've been given assurances from the industry before that animals wouldn't suffer. I've obviously been conned," he said.
Mr Wood wants the government to back the ban but, if he decides to co-sponsor it, up to three government MPs could join with Labor and the crossbenchers in the lower house to have the bill passed.
But with Labor down four MPs in the lower house following the resignations of four of its MPs and crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie - all caught up in the dual citizenship fiasco - any debate and vote is unlikely to happen until after byelections are held.
If the government refuses to grant the necessary procedure to allow the bill to be debated, those in favour of the ban will require an absolute majority of 76 to suspend standing orders and have it brought on for a vote.
If Labor retains its seats in the byelections, an absolute majority would require three government MPs, along with the crossbench votes of Ms Sharkie, the Greens' Adam Bandt and independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.
The Liberal party will be campaigning hard to regain the once-Liberal seat of Mayo in Adelaide, which it lost at the last election to Ms Sharkie, who stood as a candidate for the now-departed Senator Nick Xenophon.
Labor will expect to retain Freemantle in Western Australia, although faces slimmer margins in Longman in Queensland and Braddon in Tasmania.
Any improvement to Mr Turnbull's lower house majority could jeopardise the chances of the live export bill passing parliament, unless more government MPs are willing to cross the floor.
Next week, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud will receive the review he commissioned after the footage was first aired. He told radio station 5AA on Thursday that transitioning the industry, worth $1.8 billion, to one of local processing and exporting "was definitely a possibility".
But he said the refrigeration required to support chilled meat imports in hot Middle Eastern countries was still "decades away" and, if Australia vacated the space, it would be filled by other countries with potentially lesser animal welfare standards.