Live sheep export phase-out hits roadblock

A push to end live sheep exports has been shelved in federal parliament after coalition MPs opposed to the trade refused to vote to ban it.

Legislation to phase out live sheep exports within five years and end the trade to the Middle East during the northern summer passed the Senate on Monday morning.

But Labor's push to have the bill debated in the House of Representatives was headed off in the afternoon with the government prevailing 72-70.

Liberal MPs Sarah Henderson and Sussan Ley both oppose the trade but their recent elevation to the frontbench forced them to vote with the government.

The newly-promoted pair are hopeful a soon-to-be released review into the Agriculture Department will keep the issue in the spotlight

"Labor's actions today were a disingenuous attempt to disrupt parliament masquerading behind the cause of animal welfare," they said in a statement.

"Our personal conviction on this issue remains and we will continue to advocate for a change in coalition policy and for a phase out of this awful trade."

Liberal backbencher Jason Wood, who has previously spoken in favour of phasing out the trade, also voted against debating the bill.

Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon accused Ms Ley and Ms Henderson of abandoning their convictions. Ms Ley was behind a private member's bill mirrored by the Senate legislation.

"Today Sussan Ley and Sarah Henderson took their 30 pieces of silver and voted against their own proposition to phase out the live sheep export trade," Mr Fitzgibbon told AAP.

"It's obvious their passionate speeches in support of their own bill were full of hollow and insincere words."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said Australia had a responsibility to stay in the trade, attacking Labor for "crab-walking" towards banning cattle exports.

"They are coming to an industry near you," Mr Littleproud told Sky News.

Earlier, crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm, who used to work as a vet and agribusiness consultant, said animal welfare advocates were racist for wanting to end the trade to the Middle East.

"The people who buy our sheep are brown and those who don't want to sell them our sheep look down on them," he told parliament.

"Just imagine if these brown people tried to stop us eating ham at Christmas by refusing to sell us pigs."

The Greens, and independents Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer, were behind the Senate bill.

Australian Associated Press