Bill Shorten has called for live sheep exports to be suspended amid mounting pressure from within the Coalition for the Turnbull government to act.
The Opposition Leader made the call on Thursday after Liberal MP Sussan Ley said she would introduce a private member’s bill into Parliament to ban the controversial practice.
“The review the government has set up must make strong recommendations and must do it quickly,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
“We believe the review is unlikely to conclude the northern summer trade is sustainable, but we will honour our commitment to await its findings.
“Until that happens, northern summer shipments of sheep not already beyond the farm gate should be suspended.”
The furore over the practice was sparked by shocking footage aired by 60 Minutes showing thousands of sheep dying as they were shipped to the Middle East.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud accused Mr Shorten of a “knee jerk reaction”.
“A review has already started into the sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer which is likely to take three weeks,” he said.
“I’m determined to make decisions on science, not emotion. I will not make a knee jerk reaction with the science three weeks away.
“A knee jerk ban would punish farmers who have done nothing wrong.
“I’m disappointed Mr Shorten seems to have broken away from a bipartisan approach to make a political statement, with the review results just three weeks away.”
Ms Ley, a regional New South Wales MP, told Sky News on Thursday she was “deadly serious” about bringing the practice to an end.
“Having been a farmer for 17 years, having represented rural Australia and sheep producers, I’ve got to say if I’m calling time on this industry, I think the time is well and truly passed,” the Member for Farrer said.
After Ms Ley said she would push forward with a private member’s bill, Labor MP Josh Wilson joined Ms Ley’s Liberal colleague Jason Wood in backing a ban.
Mr Wilson went further than Mr Shorten in calling for a complete ban.
In response to the growing calls for action, the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) agreed on Wednesday to a number of changes it says will improve animal welfare.
These include reducing the number of animals on ships and backing an independent inspector to oversee the industry, a measure initially proposed by Labor that exporters had long opposed.
“Today the livestock export industry delivers on its commitment to change,” said ALEC chairman Simon Crean.
“Exporters are listening to the community and acting decisively to achieve change in the industry.
“The welfare of the animals and the future of our industry depends on it.”
Mr Littleproud responded furiously to the treatment of the sheep in the footage, describing it as “bullshit”, and has launched a review into his own department over its role in regulating the industry.
“What we saw on film this past fortnight must never happen again,” Minister Littleproud said in a statement on Thursday.
“Those who do the wrong thing must be caught and nailed.
“The Australian public and the government must have trust in the integrity and regulation of the live export trade.”
Acting Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack said on Thursday he did not believe the trade should be banned.
He argued the trade would be filled by other nations who do not place “