Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has doubled down on a commitment to phasing out live sheep exports despite animal welfare improvements. During a Senate estimates hearing this week, Murray Watt was accused by Liberal Senator Slade Brockman of ignoring changes by sheep exporters over the past three decades, and not making decisions based on science. The senator from Western Australia, the state that carries out the bulk of live sheep exports, accused Senator Watt of underestimating the “dramatic improvements” made by the industry. “If you’re looking at things like mortality rates, I recognise that there have been some improvements on that,” Senator Watt said. But the Federal Agriculture repeated his government’s commitment to phasing out live sheep exports and said the data showed it was an industry in decline. “Unfortunately for that industry, I think they lost their social licence because of a range of incidents,” he said. He said live sheep exports had dropped from 1.9 million in 2017-2018 to about 500,000 in 2022. “Community opinion more broadly is that that industry should be phased out, it shouldn’t be done overnight,” Senator Watt told the hearing. “We’ve said that we’ll do it in consultation with industry, we’ll do it in an orderly way.” But Senator Watt denied that the policy was based on public opinion polls. Labor went to the election promising to ban the trade, which has been criticised by animal welfare groups but generates thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in export revenue. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said previously the phase out would not happen during this term of parliament, which is expected to run until 2025. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry head Andrew Metcalfe said he recently travelled to the Middle East to ensure Kuwaiti government officials were aware of the Albanese government’s commitment to phase out live sheep exports. Kuwait is one of the key markets for Australia’s live sheep export trade, and also takes the bulk of its grain products from Australia . Mr Metcalfe said he was told by the head of Kuwait’s largest importer of Australian sheep that they had already started looking for other markets. “The head of the company indicated to me that because they were committed to importing live sheep, that they were already looking for sheep from other places,” he said. “I think Romania was mentioned and I think places in Africa were mentioned” During the hearing Senator Watt said he was surprised at how frequently he was asked about animal welfare during his recent trip to Europe and the UK. “I expected it to be raised but probably not quite as prominently as it was,” he told the Senate estimates hearing. Senator Watt said Australia was among a group of agricultural producers who had made animal welfare a priority. “I think Australian producers do have a good record on animal welfare but we’re going to have to keep improving because the world and the market is demanding it,” Senator Watt said.