Live Export

Live sheep export payment claim investigation

Terry Sim, January 22, 2019

Live sheep under heat stress during a Middle East shipment in 2017.

VIDEO footage of heat-stressed sheep on live export vessels is being formally investigated by the Australia’s Department of Agriculture following claims whistleblowers were paid to produce it.

A statement from Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud’s office said the federal Department of Agriculture has started to formally investigate under what conditions footage of the Awassi’s May to October 2017 voyages was obtained.

The department will investigate whether payments were made to fabricate inhumane changed conditions on the voyages.

Animals Australia has said despite the live export industry’s best efforts, the veracity of the vision from the Awassi Express is not in doubt.

“The routine terrible suffering from heat stress depicted in the footage speaks for itself and has been confirmed and accepted by the industry, the government regulator and two extensive government reviews.

“The vision also visually documents what is recorded in daily reports and End of Voyage reports across five separate shipments from 2017,” a statement from Animals Australia director of corporate affairs Tim Vasudeva said yesterday.

Animals Australia did not state whether it or any allied body or individual paid for video footage showing cruelty during live export.

However, Mr Littleproud said depending on what the department finds, other agencies may need to be involved.

“Whilst the department examined all 800-plus pieces of footage at the time, it can’t hurt to investigate.

“If animals were deliberately mistreated for even one piece of footage, those responsible must be brought to justice,” he said.

A department spokesperson said the integrity of the footage is being investigated.

“Regulatory decisions are made on the basis of all relevant evidence available to the department, including information obtained from multiple sources and a range of witnesses.

“This included 800-plus pieces of footage over five voyages from May to October 2017.”

Australians deserve clear information – Littleproud

Minister Littleproud, currently en route home after attending the EU Agriculture Ministers’ conference in Berlin, said Australians deserved clear information about the footage and any payments made. Media organisations will be asked for information to assist.

“It’s important Australians remember reforms to the live export industry were not as a result of nor based on the Awassi footage – they are based on science.

“The industry had 10 consignments in which more than 2 percent of the sheep died in the past ten years,” he said.

“I’ll continue to stay the course on these reforms – my office is methodically working through the reform process with stakeholders.

“Doing the sensible thing sometimes means being criticised by both sides,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Depending on the outcome of these investigations, we may need to consider the best way to make sure taking action which could reasonably be expected to cause cruelty to animals being exported is punishable.

“We need to make sure all animal cruelty is stamped out regardless of the motivation behind it.”

WA farmers and exports call for investigation

The department’s investigation followed disappointment from WAFarmers that the Awassi Express footage might have been fabricated and animal activists groups may have mislead the general public and their own members for their own financial gain.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association also last week called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to conduct an immediate inquiry into the actions of Animals Australia, and suspend the implementation of the latest Heat Stress Risk Assessment regulations, following an investigation by The Daily Telegraph revealing that representatives of the animal activist organisation sent emails to live export workers enticing them to provide footage of animal cruelty on ships with promises of lucrative payments.

“For close to a year, the Western Australian live sheep export industry has been placed under public scrutiny and subjected to numerous reviews and new regulations based on what has been revealed to be questionably obtained footage provided by Animals Australia,” PGA president Tony Seabrook said.

“Given the level of influence this questionably obtained footage of animal suffering has had on the policy and regulatory decisions made by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, and his Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), the Prime Minister needs to immediately undertake an inquiry into the actions of Animals Australia, in order to provide certainty to the industry and the general public.

“This includes suspending the implementation of the HSRA regulations currently before Parliament,” Mr Seabrook said.

“Given the importance of animal welfare outcomes in the live export trade to the general public, it is essential that they are given a true picture of the high level of animal welfare care provided by exporters during ocean voyages, rather than emotive footage obtained by paid ship live export workers more interested in their own financial gain, rather than the ensuring health and safety of the animals they were paid to care for.”

In a LinkedIn post, chief commercial officer for the Harmony Agriculture and Food Company Anthony Fellows said the issue of whether the footage was staged or exaggerated must be investigated.

“Given the Australian public was understandably appalled, and government reacted with regulation based on emotions generated by the more extreme images, a full investigation is required to determine the veracity of the images.”

Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chairman Simon Crean said in a letter to members that evidence indicating payments were made and that Animals Australia had extensive correspondence with a whistle-blower prompt serious questions about the context in which the Awassi Express footage, released last year by Animals Australia, was recorded.

“The conditions seen in that footage was unacceptable, whatever the context, but clarity is needed about potential payments made to the whistle-blower and arrangements he made with Animals Australia.

“These very serious allegations, if substantiated, bring into question the ethics Animals Australia’s campaign strategies and its credibility as an animal welfare advocacy group,” he said.

Mr Crean called on Animals Australia to be transparent about what has occurred.

Mr Vasudeva said the video footage is also representative of what shipboard mortality data across the industry shows in terms of the impact of the northern summer conditions, and what the various reviews have determined, in terms of the unacceptable suffering that occurs once certain wet bulb temperatures are reached.

“Animals Australia stands behind the evidence and has today written to the Department of Agriculture to voice its strong concern into the way whistle-blowers who expose the abhorrent treatment of animals and breaches of regulations are being victimised by those providing content to the media.

“Recent Parliamentary committee recommendations into improving whistle-blower protection in Australia sought to address exactly this victimisation and recommended that more needs to be done to compensate and protect whistle-blowers.

“Animals Australia calls for any evidence to be provided in full to the department as the relevant regulator,” he said.

“As the defacto watchdog of the live trade for over a decade – a role the recent Moss Review confirmed – our procedures continue to be completely open to the regulator or any other authority for scrutiny.”


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