Live exporters responsible for animal cruelty will face up to 10 years’ jail and multi-million dollar fines in a new federal government crackdown on the embattled industry.
It is understood company directors aware of malpractice who fail to act will be subject to the tough new measures, which will bring fines in line with other industries.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he expected to finalise the measures within the coming week.
“If you do the wrong thing, you’re going to swing,” he told Sky News on Friday.
“I’m going to reach further than what we ever have before. I’m going to go towards the directors of these companies and hold them to account.”
Mr Littleproud said Labor had panicked in announcing a “rash, reckless” policy to end live exports without the evidence of a veterinarian-led review, due to deliver its findings in two weeks.
“They predicate their decisions on emotions, not science,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten indicated he would support the new penalties, but said the government’s approach was “delaying dodginess”.
“This is an industry in decline. It’s an industry where its business model in some cases depends on cruelty,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.
“Why won’t the government say what millions of Australians think? It’s just not sustainable long term.”
Mr Shorten last month committed to waiting for the review’s findings, before his agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon announced the party’s shift on Thursday.
Government frontbencher Mathias Cormann said live sheep exports was the latest issue Mr Shorten had changed his mind on.
“Either he was too weak to hold to the position that he knows to be right or he’s just a typically fickle, typically wibble-wobble jelly on a plate,” Senator Cormann said.
The cattle industry has also attacked Labor’s plan.
Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard suspended live cattle exports in 2011, and Cattle Council president Howard Smith said the sheep industry shouldn’t suffer the same fate.
“Cattle Council will continue to advocate for improvements to welfare outcomes for livestock exported from Australia, a knee-jerk reaction is not the answer” he said.
Live sheep exports have been under immense pressure after shocking footage emerged of animals dying on a voyage to the Middle East in 2016.