Close up of sheep looking at camera through bars of a truck

The pathway to ending live sheep export.

20 years after Animals Australia's first investigation into the cruelty of the live sheep trade – the Albanese government has enacted a plan to bring it to an end.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated March 3, 2023

UPDATE: The public consultation period has now ended. The Independent panel will provide its recommendations to the Minister by the end of September 2023. In the meantime, please continue to speak out for sheep by urging the government to phase out the live sheep trade as soon as possible here.

The Australian Government has appointed an Independent panel to oversee the phase-out of the live sheep export trade. This means that the Albanese government fully intends to keep its election commitment — and that live sheep export will end.

Very soon, every Australian will have the opportunity to contribute to a public consultation which will help determine how and when the phase out will occur.

The live export of sheep is going to end, and this would never have happened without the unwavering support of thousands of caring Australians over many years.

A trade built on cruelty.

It has never made sense – logical or ethical – to send animals on risky sea voyages half way around the world just to be killed for their meat when they arrive at their destination. In fact it was back in 1985 that an Australian government committee concluded that on animal welfare grounds alone, live export should end.

But the industry’s greatest strength, and the very thing that leaves animals so vulnerable, has been that its activities occur far out of sight of caring Australians – on the open ocean and in countries thousands of kilometres away.

Animals Australia’s first live export investigation in 2003 lifted the lid on this veil of secrecy and exposed the suffering endemic to this trade. It would take dozens more  investigations, multiple major media exposés and a shipping catastrophe that rocked the nation, before an Australian government would heed the recommendation proffered nearly four decades ago.

The ALP weighed up the political benefits of ending a trade that all politicians knew was built on an acceptance of suffering.  It helped the ALP get elected in May 2022. And received significant support from the expanded cross-bench.

Evidence too disturbing to be ignored.

Under very little scrutiny, Australia’s live export industry operated for years behind a PR shield of ‘influencing better animal welfare standards’ globally. In reality, Australia had entrenched cruel practices by continuing to supply animals regardless of how they were being treated.

Animals Australia’s investigations revealed sheep and cattle routinely subjected to cruel and rough handling and brutal slaughter practices. It was common for sheep to be transported on roof racks or in car boots in sweltering temperatures.

In 2011, in response to public outrage at our evidence of the treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia, the live export industry was finally brought under a tighter regulatory regime. Live export companies would be legally responsible for animals right up until the point of slaughter and they could only use audited and approved supply chains.

But the cruelty continued …

While the new rules set stricter standards for how animals could be treated, they still allowed them to be subjected to the pain and terror of fully conscious slaughter. And it was largely still up to us – a charity – to monitor and police the industry.  Animals Australia has lodged nearly 80 complaints exposing export companies breaching their legal responsibility to animals.

Then a tipping point …

The suffering of animals in importing countries had become well known. But there was still little visibility on what was happening on live export ships. This would all change in 2018 thanks to a brave whistle-blower whose evidence taken across five routine voyages would shock and appall the nation – and signal the beginning of the end of the live sheep export trade.

The promise of change.

Footage from the Awassi Express showing sheep stuck in melted hot faeces, suffering extreme heat stress and literally ‘cooking alive’ at sea sparked a fierce public and political backlash – renewing calls to end live export.

Such horrific suffering was well-known to industry and government regulators as it had been comprehensively documented in end-of-voyage reports over decades. But a picture speaks a thousand words and finally, the reality of long distance transport by sea was understood.

The then Coalition government introduced new laws prohibiting the export of sheep to the Middle East during the Northern summer – a time of heightened risk for heat stress. Labor went a step further and promised to phase out the entire live sheep trade if elected to govern, which they were in May 2022.

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For two decades, Australians in their thousands have rallied, lobbied and made impassioned pleas for an end to the cruelty of live sheep export. Finally, they have been heard.

Speak up for sheep!

The Albanese government appointed a four-person expert panel to oversee stakeholder meetings and public consultation to determine the logistics and timeline for phasing out the live sheep export trade. The consultation process has now ended, and the panel will provide its recommendations to the Minister by the end of September 2023.

Please continue to be a voice for sheep at this critical time – you can urge the government to phase out the live sheep trade as soon as possible here.