The lack of objective government-instigated research into what Australians really think of live exports has been highlighted as the sheep trade phase-out process plows on.
The RSPCA this week released the results of a survey it commissioned which shows most West Australians want the live sheep industry shut down.
It's the latest project animal rights groups have paid for that suggests community sentiment is against the trade, but work commissioned by the industry's research and development body LiveCorp tells a different story.
While proponents of phasing out live sheep exports often refer to 'community sentiment' being against the trade, there is no publicly-available analysis undertaken by the Australian Government that has ever sought to quantify the societal willingness to pay to cease live sheep exports from Australia, the Australian Livestock Exporters Council said in its submission to the phase-out panel.
"The Australian Government likes to claim that they won an election and therefore have a mandate to implement an election commitment to phase out live sheep exports," ALEC's chair David Galvin wrote.
"However, the Australian Labor Party also lost an election in 2019 with a similar commitment in place."
ALEC says reforms that have taken effect since 2019 have led to significant improvements in animal welfare and mortality performance, particularly on livestock vessels and the industry community sentiment surveying shows that.
This research, arguably one of the more empirically rigorous assessments, has been conducted by Voconiq, the data science company built on a platform of research developed by the CSIRO.
It has randomly surveyed up to 4800 people over the past four years and found live exports are seen as an important part of the agriculture sector and there is strong public confidence in the mechanisms used to apply and enforce standards on the industry.
Voconiq found that while Australians remain concerned about animal welfare in the live export industry, they consider welfare a complex issue and their views reflect growing awareness of the work of the industry to improve welfare outcomes and treatment in overseas destinations.
It also indicated there was a growing positive recognition of the importance of the live export trade for the citizens of destination markets with respect to a range of health, cultural and other benefits.
WA sheep producers currently staring down the barrel of having surplus stock that are quickly losing their value for the processing market are 'a preview' of what the future holds if the live sheep trade is closed, ALEC also warned in it's submission.
An alternative market is sorely needed in WA currently as a dry start to the season, a backlog in abattoir capacity, the northern hemisphere summer moratorium and a lack of demand from eastern states all combines to take a big toll on the fortunes of producers, it said.
The policy to phase out live sheep exports is also undermining confidence in the WA sheep market and exacerbating these conditions, according to ALEC.
"While the live sheep export industry will never back away from the northern hemisphere summer moratorium as a necessary animal welfare measure, the ability to divert sheep via live export under these conditions would be very much welcomed," Mr Galvin wrote.
"ALEC believes these circumstances underscore why the policy is wrong, demonstrating how it will adversely affect WA farmers and their families."