AUSTRALIA’S independent live sheep export regulator – the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – is to be investigated and an anonymous whistleblower phone number will be set up, it was announced this afternoon.
As condemnation of disturbing Australian live sheep footage continued today, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud announced the review into his own department’s investigative capability, powers and culture.
Mr Littleproud also announced the establishment of a phone number to allow whistleblowers to anonymously call and provide information, and an intention to work with the Labor Party to increase penalties for those doing the wrong thing, through a Bill currently before Federal Parliament.
The announcements came as the departure of an export vessel from Western Australia for the Middle East was delayed by a ventilation testing ruling and the Western Australian Government put its federal counterpart on notice over the recent live export video footage released on 60 Minutes on Sunday.
Mr Littleproud said he is concerned a live sheep export mortality report he received recently from his department did not accurately reflect the conditions seen in the vision on the ship.
“Personally, I’d like to see company directors be held more personally accountable if they do the wrong thing, facing big fines and possible jail time.
“They shouldn’t be able to hide behind companies and shelf companies,” he said.
“I want to let the light shine in.
“No-one who is doing the right thing should be scared of transparency,” the minister said.
“I thank the whistleblower for coming forward – we need more of it.
“A hotline for whistleblowers to call anonymously is a logical step to increase transparency and encourage that behaviour.”
Live export regulator needed the right tools, training and culture
Mr Littleproud said he needed to make sure the regulator had the right tools, training and culture to make sure exporters do the right thing.
“This requires prosecutions and heavy penalties where breaches occur.”
Mr Littleproud said the conditions required of the exporter for the Awassi Express, due to load 57,000 sheep in Fremantle this week, are a matter for the independent regulator.
“Although personally I’m pleased with the idea an independent observer paid for by the regulator will be on board sending back daily reports and photographs.”
An Australian Marine Safety Authority spokesperson said an inspection of the Awassi Express on Sunday has raised some concerns about air flow over some pens.
The Awassi Express was the vessel involved in the deaths of about 2400 sheep in a Middle East voyage in August last year, which was featured in a 60 Minutes expose last night that showed sheep over-heating dying and dead due to overcrowding, heat and inadequate ventilation.
AMSA has requested a third party air flow verification report to prove compliance with air flow standards before an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock can be issued.
“It’s too early to say how long this will take,” an AMSA spokesperson said today.
A ship must have an ACCL administered by AMSA before it can load and transport livestock and an exporter must also have a license from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources before it can export livestock.
“Both the ACCL and a livestock export license are required before a ship can load livestock and leave Australian waters,” the AMSA spokesperson said.
AMSA said before the Awassi Express was issued with its original ACCL in 2014, the operator provided test results from a third party that indicated the ship complied with air flow (0.5m/s across the pens) and air exchange (a minimum of 30 air changes per hour) requirements under Marine Order 43.
“The additional information received by AMSA last week suggested there may be shortcomings with the effectiveness of air distribution across the entire empty pen area, noting the ship and each pen complies with the overall air exchange criteria.
“AMSA conducted spot checks of the air distribution and these suggested there may be low readings in some areas of some pens,” the spokesperson said.
“As a result AMSA has requested that additional air flow measurements be undertaken to verify there is effective air flow throughout the livestock space.
“Such testing can only verify air flows and distribution across empty pens.”
RSPCA shocked at Emanuel Exports licence approval
The RSPCA last night said it was shocked to learn that the Australian Government has granted a permit to the live export company, Emanuel Exports.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and Emanuel Exports yesterday said new Awassi Express licence conditions included reduced stocking densities, improved ventilation and regular monitoring of sheep welfare and conditions. The vessel was originally set to load 65,000 sheep, but this has been reduced to 57,000 under the new conditions.
RSPCA Australia chief executive officer Heather Neil last night wrote to Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud to voice the organisation’s grave concern over the alarming determination to allow the shipment to proceed despite overwhelming evidence of the failure of Australia’s live export standards.
“From decades of experience with the live export industry and sitting at the table during the development and review of Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, we are convinced that it would be absolutely impossible for the ‘additional specific conditions’ outlined by the department to be sufficient to meet the animal health and welfare outcomes required under the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004” stated the letter.”
“It also defies belief that anyone in the Department could form the view that Emanuel Exports could adequately meet the conditions outlined in the letter of 5 April 2018 from the Department, and protect the welfare of sheep to a level expected by the Australian community,” Ms Neil said in the letter.
WA Government concerned at federal inaction
Western Australia’s McGowan Government today said it was continuing its investigation into potential animal cruelty charges related to the Awassi Express’ August 2017 high mortality voyage and the Federal Government must improve and enforce live export animal welfare standards to restore public confidence in live exports.
The WA Government is also calling on the Federal Government to update animal welfare standards on board live export vessels, and to seriously consider how basic welfare needs on voyages from Fremantle to Middle Eastern countries during their summer can be met.
The McGowan Government also supports the Federal Opposition’s calls for a Federal Inspector General and Independent Office for Animal Welfare.
Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the conditions shown in last night’s 60 Minutes footage are completely unacceptable and Western Australians will be rightfully appalled.
“Decent welfare standards on live export voyages are absolutely critical to continued public confidence in the livestock industries and live export.
“We have been very concerned about Federal inaction, which is why we decided to use powers available to us under State laws to investigate this incident,’ she said.
“We welcome any action from the new Federal Agriculture Minister on this issue but we do note that less than two weeks ago, his own department said there was no breach of standards on this voyage.
“The Federal Government needs to seriously consider if and how basic animal welfare requirements can be met when taking sheep on voyages from the Western Australian winter to the height of Middle Eastern summer.”
Independent calls for live trade to end
The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, today called for an end to the live animal export trade, saying the latest footage of conditions on board live export ships bound to the Middle East is nothing short of appalling.
“But we’ve known for years that the worst offenders are these sheep ships travelling to the Middle East, on which animal fatalities are often way beyond government standards and records are routinely falsified.
“Surely this is all the proof that this vile trade must be shut down and shut down immediately,” he said.
“The latest evidence demonstrates clearly that these exporters are breaching federal and state laws, as well as international standards.
“To allow this trade to continue is simply unconscionable and, if he allows it to continue, the Minister for Agriculture will, just like his predecessors, be complicit in animal cruelty.”
NFF also distressed at 60 Minutes footage
The National Farmers’ Federation said the 60 Minutes story footage is disturbing and utterly unacceptable.
NFF president Fiona Simson said for farmers, the welfare of our animals is our number one priority.
“It is blatantly clear that what we saw this evening does not meet the expectations of Australian farmers, nor the broader community.
“We recognise the importance of the live export trade and the significant investment the industry will continue to make to improve animal welfare,” she said.
“We must ensure that measures are put in place that prevent these events occurring again.”
“We support commitments made by Minister Littleproud, and we will be working with him and our membership to ensure that the strongest possible action is taken.
“Poor animal welfare practices have no place in our industry or our supply chains,” Ms Simson said.