COALITION MP support for suspension of Middle East live sheep exports during northern summer months and a phase-out of long-haul shipments is growing, NSW Liberal MP Sussan Ley said yesterday.
Ms Ley, who has already introduced to Federal Parliament her own Private Members’ Bill to phase out long-haul sheep shipments over five years, has confirmed she would have likely supported Labor’s copycat amendments to a government bill, intended for debate yesterday.
The Coalition Government thwarted the vote on the future of Middle East live sheep export trade by pulling the introduction of its Export Legislation Amendment (Livestock) Bill 2018, intended to introduce tougher fines and jail terms for errant live animal exporters.
The parliamentary jostling came as the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources confirmed, that as part of its response to recent Animals Australia’s footage of live sheep shipments, it is conducting a criminal investigation to determine if there have been breaches of the Meat and Livestock Industry Act, the Export Control Act or the Criminal Code Act as it applies to the AMLI Act and the Export Control Act.
“This includes investigating allegations of overstocking of the vessel, failing to have sufficient food and water available, injury and illness not being treated and accredited veterinarians and stockmen leaving the vessel prior to completion of unloading.
“A range of witnesses are being questioned and information is being examined by the department.”
The department said it is looking at a range of activities that involve a number of entities, but would not confirm if it had issued a ‘show cause’ notice to Emanual Exports, who supplied sheep to the Awassi Express shipments featured in the Animals Australia footage released on 60 Minutes in April.
“It is not appropriate for the department to provide additional information on the status of these actions, or to comment on individuals or companies,” the department said.
PM doesn’t have the numbers – Fitzgibbon
With several Liberal MPs absent from parliament, Labor’s shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had pulled the Bill because he didn’t believe he could win a vote on the phase-out of the live sheep trade.
“The reason he doesn’t have the numbers is that those who are going to cross the floor in the parliament reflect the overwhelming majority feel about the live sheep export trade.
“The Australian community wants the live sheep trade phased out,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“That is why so many of Malcolm Turnbull’s backbench were prepared to cross the floor this morning.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor’s amendment to the Bill would have brought the vote on quicker and given it a better chance of passing the House of Representatives with a simple majority, “reflecting the true will of the parliament – to phase out cruelty in the live sheep export trade.”
“The actions taken today clearly show that Malcolm Turnbull is running scared that he does not have the confidence of his party to stop Labor’s amendment.
“After all the feigned anger over the Awassi Express incident, the Prime Minister is now putting his own political survival ahead of animal welfare standards.”
Ley’s support for Labor amendment “highly likely”
Ms Ley confirmed to Sheep Central she would “highly likely” have supported Labor’s amendment and “seriously considered crossing the floor” if it reached a vote.
“It was fairly clear when I saw the (Labor) amendment that it was an identical copy of my Bill that that was something I would seriously consider supporting …. It was my Bill.”
At this stage, Ms Ley has left it to the Coalition Government to list her Bill for debate and a vote. It would require an absolute majority of MPs to pass.
Ms Ley did not think Labor’s amendment would have had the numbers to be successful.
“I’m genuinely not counting numbers, I’m not lobbying colleagues.
“Lots of colleagues have expressed an interest, but that doesn’t mean they would support a Labor amendment either.”
MPs live export support hinges on ‘one more incident’
However, Ms Ley said “sympathy for the cause” of phasing out long-haul live sheep shipments is increasing among her federal Liberal MP colleagues.
“I wouldn’t put it in as strong terms as ‘support for the Bill’, but I have had indicators that people are very supportive of the intent of what I am trying to achieve.
“My intention still is to get my own Bill debated and to bring Liberal colleagues with me,” she said.
“Support for phasing out the trade and suspension of northern summer (shipments) is definitely growing inside the parliament, without doubt.
“Many of my colleagues put it like this, they say ‘If there is one more incident, that’s it — my attentive support for what’s happening just evaporates if there is one more incident’,” she said.
“Now I don’t want there to be one more incident, but that’s how they put it.”
But Ms Ley said she didn’t know if recent footage of cattle on the Bader III vessel was regarded as that “one more incident,” but believed the Israeli community would “have their say” on it. She said Australia did not do many long-haul cattle shipments.
“They (Israel) have has a very strong ‘get rid of live exports’ lobby there, so I actually expect that it will actually go.”
Ms Ley said she expected the government’s Export Legislation Amendment (Livestock) Bill 2018 to be listed for the next sitting of the House of Representatives in two week’s time.
“It really isn’t unusual for a Bill to be debated and then moved aside and then brought back.”
Sheep Central questions on the Bill’s future were referred by Mr Turnbull’s office to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud, who had not responded when this article was published.
Mr Fitzgibbon has also listed an Inspector General Private Members Bill for introduction to Federal Parliament on June 18.