Saturday, September 30, 2023

Is this the end of an era? Live sheep exports expected to conclude in Australia (Part 2)

Picture this: You live in rolling paddocks of greenery with room to graze and freely roam. You live in family groups and have easy access to food, water and fresh air. You are looked after. There comes a day where, without warning, this is all taken away. You and your family are herded into a truck and are transported away from the last glimpse of comfort and freedom you'll ever have. 

More than a week later, you and your family are separated while being packed into a ship with thousands of others who are also riddled with stress from separation. There is no sunlight, no room to move and you are living on top of your own waste. One slip or injury could prevent you from reaching food and water, or risk you being unintentionally crushed to death by those around you. 

You exist in a permanent state of anxiety and terror. You have no idea what will happen next. 
You arrive on dry land, relieved to take in fresh air once again. The freedom is short lived before your legs are tied together and you're dragged along on your back before being thrown into the boot of a car. It's dark. The air is thin. You can barely move. You're being sent to a death that is slow, filled with pain and completely undignified. 


Now picture this: you live in remote Western Australia and you own thousands of sheep that have no worth. They need to be watered, fed, shorn and have their health tended to. You have shearers begging you for work that you can't afford to give them. They have families they need to provide for. You also have a family that needs to be fed, children that need an education and bills that need to be paid. You are living below the poverty line in the middle of desolate country. With nothing else near by to supplement your income, you now face the reality of having to pack your life up into boxes and move away from everything you know. You need to find work so you can look after your family and afford the bare minimum, but all you've ever known is being a sheep farmer. So, now what?


I can't argue that both sides of the coin in this circumstance don't have extremely justified reasons for protection. The welfare of animals should never be discredited and devalued simply because they aren't human. However, what I can argue, is there are people trying to make legislative decisions on an agricultural industry that they have little-to-no knowledge about. These decisions are being made in a politically motivated fashion, and the fallout for the rural population and local economy is going to be extremely harmful. 

In an article by the Australian Financial Review, it is believed that the value of Western Australian sheep is already beginning to decline, with an estimated loss of $21 million from 300,000 sheep to the Wagin economy alone. This loss also has an impact on the Australian government, which misses out on $5 million in tax revenue

Phillip Bright, a farmer and the Wagin Shire president, has also made the estimate that across the 15 million sheep across the entirety of Western Australian will come in at a $900 million loss. To put this into perspective, that value is almost the same as the GDP of Vanuatu

Western Australian rural families, small town communities and shearers need the live sheep export industry. This is their lifeline. This is their livelihood. It's what they live for. As Sarah Smarsh eloquently portrayed in her essay on 'What Growing Up on a Farm Taught Me About Humility', farming families are commonly perceived as being at the bottom of the food chain - despite the fact they significantly contribute to local economies, they receive little to no consideration when decisions that will directly impact them arise. You can read an exert of Sarah's essay on a previous blog post here.

What came as a surprise to me (as a result of my own unreasonable and naive assumption), is that in no way shape or form are sheep farmers endorsing the treatment that has been broadcast across the nation. There is no denial on their behalf that the attitude towards animal welfare has been completely neglected and that there are practical ways this can be addressed. 

These farmers weren't aware of the conditions their livestock were facing once they had left the safety of their stations. A fourth-generation farmer, Emily Stretch, was also shocked when seeing the undercover footage:

It horrified every single farmer I know, including myself. I can feel myself tearing up thinking about it ... I would never send my sheep to go on a ship overseas if I believed it was still happening. 

The reality is, you can introduce, implement and reform laws that have the intention and practicality of protecting livestock. But, there is no possible legislative avenue that will ensure the financial stability and wellbeing of the rural individuals and families that make up Western Australia's live sheep export industry. 

Regardless of any framework the Australian government can put in place to phase out the live sheep export industry, there is no possibility of a successful transition

The Australian government needs to know that their actions are going to have devastating consequences. They are making a conscious decision to disrupt and destroy the lives of rural communities that already exist as a low priority. A conscious decision to remove hundreds of millions of dollars from an already struggling economy. A conscious decision to prioritise politics over the people - and this is where the true suffering will occur. 

This post is the second part to a two-part series. You can access part one here


J. Todd Bernhardt said...

Thank you for covering this important issue. The animal cruelty involved in the live export business is something I was not familiar with before reading your two posts. It's unfortunate and saddening. It's also saddening to hear of the impact that the legislation aimed to fix that issue will likely have on farmers and shearers in Western Australia. Perhaps the local and national governments could invest in economic diversification efforts in those regions to provide something of a safety net for those whose jobs will be affected by the downturn in the sheep farming industry.

Natalie M. said...
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Natalie M. said...

Thanks for the informative post. It has been great having you in class this semester because I have learned so much about Australia! Like Todd, I was also unfamiliar with the animal cruelty involved in the live export business. I know in the U.S. less people are eating and relying on meat each year and are switching to more plant-based diets. I did not consider how the transition away from animal agriculture will impact farming communities like those in rural Australia. This also reminds me of how in the U.S. we are transitioning away from coal and natural gas in favor of clean energy. This too will have devastating and impactful effects on rural folks who jobs depend on the industries that our governments are slowly phasing out.