AUSTRALIA’S live export regulator is expected to approve the last live sheep shipment to the Middle East before a three-month prohibition despite a ‘last-minute’ submission by animal rights group Animals Australia to halt it.
The MV Ocean Drover is scheduled to start loading about 56,000 sheep and 130 cattle on Saturday, bound for Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, after which live shipments to the Middle East are prohibited from June to August.
However, despite mooted changes to departmental procedures to avoid late approvals for shipments, Rural Export and Trading WA, the Australian export arm of importer, Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading, was asked on Wednesday to comment on a 700-plus page Animals Australia submission to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
RETWA general manager Mike Gordon said the company responded on Thursday evening to the department’s request for comment on the submission of 400 pages plus 370 pages of addendums.
“They (the department) have acknowledged receipt (of the RETWA response) and we are now waiting on a decision.”
He understood the process now was that export permit approval would be given earlier to avoid the risk of shipments being stopped after sheep were loaded, but this had not protected RETWA from the implications of the AA submission.
“Animals Australia wrote to the department giving their reasons that they didn’t think an export permit should be issued and the department sent it to us for comment.
“They haven’t accepted Animals Australia’s position, they gave it to us and gave us till lunchtime today (Friday) to comment.”
He said Animals Australia has proposed that the department secretary could not be satisfied that the shipment would meet health and welfare requirements. Mr Gordon expected a decision today and loading of the ship is scheduled to start tomorrow morning. Even if the shipment did not go ahead, RETWA would have associated labour costs, he said.
“Wharf labour, if you don’t use it, you still pay for it.”
Mr Gordon would have preferred to have had more notice of the Animals Australia submission.
“Absolutely, it wastes a fair bit of time and energy.
“I don’t know why the department could not respond direct to Animals Australia on the basis of their submission, but I think they have their processes – they have to put it to you to see if you’ve got anything to say about it and we’ve done that.
“We fully expect to get our notice of intention approval and export permits today.”
Mr Gordon said the Ocean Drover was substituting for the Al Shuwaikh and was faster.
“It does about 19 knots and will be in the Middle East in under 12 days.
“It has all single-tiered decks and it is being loaded to allometrics with a greatly reduced stocking density.”
He said the vessel also had “very good PATs” or ‘pen air turnover,’ important for heat stress risk assessment.
“We have no reason to believe it won’t be a successful voyage.”
Shipment cannot meet legal requirements – Animals Australia
Animals Australia chief executive officer Glenys Oogjes said Animals Australia believed that the Ocean Drover shipment due to its date of departure and the associated high risks of heat stress, cannot meet legal requirements.
“Beyond that, it is nonsensical for an industry seeking to convince producers and the public it is reformed to be putting sheep on the water at a time when the science, the evidence and the industry itself acknowledges increased suffering and death from heat stress is inevitable.
“Sheep producers are being misled about the impact of regulatory changes regarding stocking density.
“The science is conclusive that it does not matter if it is 1000 sheep or 10,000, when temperatures and humidity reach the very predictable levels during the Northern summer, they will suffer and die,” she said.
A department spokesperson the department’s regulatory decision-making is proceeding consistent with the legislation and with other voyages of this kind, but it does not discuss specifics of individual regulatory decisions.
However, Sheep Central believes the department’s referral of AA’s submission to RETWA and request for a quick response was consistent with department processes for dealing with submissions on shipments and fulfilling legal obligations within proposed shipment schedules.
The department spokesperson said in response to industry concerns about the threat of a court injunction stopping live export ships from leaving ports, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud announced a regulatory change last year which brought forward the opportunity to lodge an injunction against a live export shipment to that point in the process when the regulator approves an exporter’s intent to send a shipment.
“This supports animal welfare, reducing the risk of animals being loaded on a ship only for an injunction to be submitted — where they either need to be unloaded or need to stay on the ship for longer than expected.
“The department does not provide details about specific exporters or vessels,” the spokesperson said.
Animals Australia submission a relaying tactic
WA Livestock Exporters’ Association chairman John Cunnington believed the department’s referral of the Animals Australia submission to RETWA showed that the risk of the regulator putting last-minute stops on shipments is still “definitely there.”
“From a WALEA perspective, it is still definitely there, we’ve got a large shipment loading on Saturday prior to the moratorium, but Animals Australia have put a submission into the department saying that the department should not be giving them the permit to export because there is too much risk.
“Now the department has given, last night (Wednesday night) RETWA, 700 pages worth of documentation from Animals Australia saying please respond by midday Friday (today),” he said.
“It’s not a show cause, but they are asking please tell us why we should give you a permit to export by midday tomorrow otherwise you can’t start loading Saturday.”
Mr Cunnington said the Animals Australia submission is a tactic to once again delay a shipment and incur cost on the exporter.
“I think Animals Australia’s goal would be to pushing it to 1 June so then they legally can’t export, because that’s the date on which the government has imposed the industry-led moratorium and from 1 June nothing can leave Australia.
“You’ve got to start asking the question, is it reactionary regulation and who is regulating us, us or Animals Australia?”
Secretary must refuse approval – Animals Australia
Animals Australia legal counsel Shatha Hamade said the brief to the department maintained that the secretary must refuse to approve any intention to export, and/or must not grant an export permit for the RETWA shipment.
“This is based on the fact that is it not possible for the secretary to be satisfied that the animal welfare conditions and travel arrangements for this voyage are adequate under law.
The brief provided extensive scientific and expert material, and evidence from previous relevant shipments – including reports from the department’s own independent observers on shipments in May/June 2018.
“The material is compelling and supports the submission that the proposed Ocean Drover sheep shipment cannot be approved.
“This voyage – by leaving in very late May – will be on the water and crossing through the Arabian Gulf during the high-risk heat stress period,” Ms Hamade said.
“Such circumstances are precisely what the prohibition period was intended to prevent.
“The science and evidence is absolutely categorical that sheep on such voyages at such times will suffer from heat stress because they will be met with wet bulb temperatures (measuring heat and humidity) of greater than 28 degrees,” she said.
“Further, the evidence is clear that temperatures of greater than WBT 28° C will be encountered during a voyage to Middle Eastern ports, in June.
“The industry’s own research reports clearly conclude that temperatures across the Arabian Gulf in June are consistently hot and humid.
“Available reports from Independent Observers that have accompanied shipments since 2018 have confirmed heat stress suffering (and associated harm) of sheep across May and June, even despite the reduced stocking densities.”
“Animals Australia believes that if the law is applied correctly – this export permit should not be granted.
“An application of the law requires a consideration of the available science and evidence in order for the secretary to reach a required level of satisfaction,” she said.
“The law requires that the Secretary is satisfied that those sheep will not suffer from heat stress.
“On the clear and accepted science and the evidence – this shipment should not go ahead because the sheep are at a high risk of suffering from heat stress and associated welfare issues.”
Ms Hamade said Animals Australia submitted its brief as soon as it became apparent that a shipment of sheep was being prepared for export to the Middle East.
“The department provides no transparency or notice regarding impending shipments and intended export applications.
“Animals Australia has persistently requested this information in advance from the Department so that there is ample time to provide the department with relevant submissions.”
She said shipments only become apparent once vessels are moored in Fremantle Port and sheep are being trucked to feedlots.
“This leaves Animals Australia with a small window in which to provide the necessary submissions.”
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