Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud

This morning, Liberal southern NSW backbencher Sussan Ley, backed by Victorian MP Sarah Henderson, introduced the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 to end the long-haul live sheep export trade in five years and ban shipment during July, August and September during the transition.

Both MPs gave excellent speeches. Ley pointed out that demand for live export sheep is propped up by subsidies being progressively withdrawn across the Middle East, and that there is no future for the industry. She made the critical point that if current rules were properly enforced — which even the government itself accepts has not been the case — then the industry would not be viable. And she had this poke at Agriculture Minister and Nats MP David Littleproud.

From a childhood in the deserts of the United Arab Emirates to an early life as a mustering pilot and then a worker in the shearing sheds of western Queensland, with 17 years as a sheep farmer myself and a representative of sheep and wool producers for my entire time in parliament, I have spent more than half my life close to Australia’s rural and pastoral industries. I know all the arguments that are used to support the live sheep trade because I ran them myself for 15 years. Recently, I found cause to look at the industry with fresh eyes. I have been shocked, angered, bewildered and disappointed. I have researched the science, the facts, the economics and the opinions. I have not allowed emotions to overcome reason.

But according to Littleproud, Ley is just being emotional. “I respect her and I get it that Sussan has but I’m going to predicate my decisions on evidence, not emotion,” he said on Friday. This isn’t (or isn’t just) Littleproud running a misogynist line that female MPs are “emotional”; this is the government’s own talking point. On Friday, at a doorstop with Littleproud, the Prime Minister lauded his minister for keeping the sheep export trade going, “not with emotion, not with political agenda, but thoughtfully and with the best veterinary and scientific advice”.

The best veterinary advice in Australia come from the Australian Veterinary Association. According to the AVA, “irrespective of stocking density, thermoregulatory physiology indicates that sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the expected extreme climatic conditions during this time. Accordingly, voyages carrying live sheep to the Middle East during May to October cannot be recommended.”

That means the Prime Minister has either been misled by his minister, or is lying. Turnbull might have been better off actually talking to someone who has extensive industry experience, like Ley, rather than a junior Nationals member with zero pastoral experience.

Ley also demolished a lie pushed by live animal export advocates, that if Australia bans its exports, other countries with worse animal abuse records will replace us, increasing the net level of suffering. The most recent peddler of this has been former Fairfax journalist Colin Bettles. The argument doesn’t stand up logically, since it relies on allowing the behaviour of others to determine the morality of one’s own actions, but even accepting that, its consequence is that being only marginally better than the most repugnantly abusive animal exporter is morally justified, meaning Australia could dramatically lower its animal welfare standards and still be acting morally, as long as we weren’t the worst abuser.

But Ley cut through it. “Every Middle Eastern country accepts Australian halal slaughter. The subsidies are phasing out,” she said. “Bahrain ended theirs in 2015 and went from 325,000 live sheep from Australia to zero. The transition was not to live sheep from another country but to the same number of carcasses, shipped by air from Australia.”

As succinct a demolition of nonsense as you’ll see this week.