PEAK animal rights body Animals Australia is pursuing legal options to halt the live export of about 60,000 sheep from Western Australia held in a pre-shipment feedlot near Perth.
An AA statement today said reports that the regulator, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, might allow an exporter at the centre of an animal cruelty investigation to ship 60,000 sheep to the Middle East were deeply concerning.
And despite a WA government claim that the Federal Government is “playing with fire” if it allowed suspended exporter Emanuel Exports to use a subsidiary company’s licence to ship the sheep, Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud today said he has “no power in these matters”.
The Al Shuwaikh has moved from its anchor off Perth to dock at Fremantle, in preparation for the loading of sheep and Fairfax Media reported today that Emanuel Exports will likely apply to use the licence of its sister company, EMS Rural Exports, to export the sheep after its licence was suspended two weeks ago.
A spokesman for Emanuel Exports said the exporter is continuing to work with the regulator to transport the sheep to the end-customer in Kuwait. The exporter’s plan has always been to transport the sheep “sooner rather than later” and the company will issue a statement once requisite regulatory approvals are in place, the spokesman said.
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council confirmed that negotiations with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are continuing with regard to the export of sheep currently being held at a pre-export quarantine property near Perth, where the animals are under veterinary supervision with ad lib access to food, water and shelter.
The sheep, mostly young Merino wethers, are booked to be exported on the Al Shuwaikh to Kuwait and parties involved in this consignment are committed to transporting the sheep as soon as possible. A further update will be provided in a timely manner in the coming days, ALEC said.
Western Australia’s acting Agriculture and Food Minister Roger Cook said the alternative licence proposal would see 60,000 sheep exported by Emanuel Exports’ sister company, on board the ship Emanuel Exports originally intended them to sail on, into one of the hottest and most humid months of the northern summer.
“This industry cannot afford another high mortality incident, which is why we have repeatedly called on the Federal Government to consider a pause of the export trade during the hottest months of the northern summer.
“The Federal Government is playing with fire if it grants this export permit,” Mr Cook said, referring to the mortality risk of shipping sheep to the Middle East during the current hot northern summer months.
“West Australian processors have offered to purchase the sheep and we urge Emanuel Exports to serious consider that offer,” Mr Cook said.
Sheep Central has been told the WA government is not considering legal action to halt the planned shipment.
Mr Littleproud said all decisions on live export licencing, issuing of export permits and related matters are made by the independent regulator alone.
“I have no power to interfere in the operations of the independent regulator.
“I have official advice from the regulator confirming I have no power in these matters,” he said.
“In April, after seeing shocking 2017 footage of sheep on the live export ship the Awassi Express, I immediately called the Moss Review into the regulator’s capability, culture and investigative powers.
“The Moss review is due in late August and I look forward to receiving it,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I’ve already signed an order enabling photographs and information from the independent observer on all live export ships to be made public from every journey.”
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said it has been notified of an exporter’s intention to export live sheep to the Middle East.
All applications for exports are considered in accordance with the relevant legislation and the department will assess any application it receives on its merits, the DAWR statement said.
Consistent with our legislative responsibilities, the department is undertaking the necessary regulatory work ahead of any potential export.
Any export would have to be consistent with the additional conditions imposed on export licences following the McCarthy Review, including reduced stocking density, an independent audit of Pen Air Turnover and a reduced notifiable mortality level, DAWR said.
There would also be an independent observer on board who monitors the performance of the accredited veterinarian and exporter in managing the welfare of the animals and provides daily reports.
Animals Australia’s chief investigator Lyn White said Emanuel Exports has been publicly shamed.
“They have brought their industry into disrepute, yet rather than reflect on this, they are intent on inflicting further suffering,” she said.
“The department has the power to suspend the licences of all related companies.
“The public would quite rightfully expect nothing less in the circumstances,” Ms White said.
“The Turnbull government promised to clean up this industry.
“There will be public outrage if Emanuel Exports, albeit under a different name, is allowed to proceed with this shipment,” she said.
“It is our view that the granting of an export permit to allow this shipment to leave would be unlawful and we will be exploring all available legal options.”
Animals Australia said Nicholas Daws, is a director of Emanuel Exports and EMS, which was involved in two of the five Awassi Express shipments which are now the subject of Federal and State government investigations.
If it is allowed to set sail, these animals would be shipped into the height of the dangerous Middle East summer period. Extreme suffering and death from heat stroke will be inevitable, the animal rights body said.
Animals Australia said Emanuel Exports is the subject of a criminal investigation and an animal cruelty investigation for breaches of the WA Animal Welfare Act. The company has been served with ‘show cause’ notices by the Federal Department of Agriculture for recent and historical breaches of live export regulations.
DAWR said a range of regulatory options were available to the department, including show cause notices where appropriate. The department has suspended the live export licence of one company, pending a full review of the company’s response to a show cause notice. Actions following the review could include the licence no longer being suspended, a further suspension or revocation, DAWR said.
Labor’s shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said the exporter responsible for the Awassi Express shipment last year in which about 2400 sheep died appears to have legally sidestepped the government’s export licence suspension.
“Millions of Australians are understandably feeling betrayed today having learned 60,000 sheep are about to be shipped into the height of the searing Middle East summer.
“Having had sand kicked in its face, the Turnbull Government should now join Labor in giving effect to a total and immediate ban on the northern summer live sheep trade,” he said.
“The Turnbull Government should also allow for a debate and a vote in Parliament on Labor’s amendment to the government’s increased penalties Bill which will phase out the balance of the live sheep trade within five years.
“The Parliament is not currently sitting but Labor stands ready to provide bi-partisan support to any Executive action to halt the imminent voyage,” he said.
“The Opposition will welcome any opportunity to work with the government on an orderly transition for sheep meat producers.”