MINISTER for Agriculture David Littleproud has included examination of an inspector general role for the live sheep export industry in a review of his Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Littleproud rang and told him he would amend the departmental review’s terms of reference to include consideration of an inspector general role.
“Obviously I welcome that, but I’m a bit disappointed that he is not prepared to simply start the process,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Now there is no argument against an inspector general, despite the NFF’s musings, it doesn’t involve any regulatory burden on producers.
“The inspector general only looks over the regulator, not the producers.”
Mr Littleproud announced the the capability and culture review of his department after 60 Minutes released disturbing footage of dead and dying sheep on live export vessels by 60 Minutes earlier this month.
The latest development came as the Coalition Government comes under increasing pressure on Middle East live sheep exports, with exporters supporting inspector general oversight of their industry and Liberal MP Sussan Ley proposing a private members bill to phase out the trade.
After the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council on Wednesday supported establishment of an Inspector General for the Welfare of Exported Animals, Mr Fitzgibbon said the Turnbull Government now needed to do “the right thing”.
“There is nothing to prevent the government announcing the appointment of an Inspector General today.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor welcomed the support of the live export sector’s key stakeholders for the establishment of the Inspector General of Animal Welfare. However, ALEC has not recommended an inspector general for animal welfare generally, only for live export.
“They (ALEC) are commenting on only the part of the policy that affects them and I couldn’t expect any more of them,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
ALEC believes the Inspector General for the Welfare of Exported Animals position could be an extension to the current role of the Inspector General for Biosecurity.
“The role of Inspector General would help oversee independence and cultural change in our industry and work constructively with exporters to improve animal welfare outcomes,” ALEC chairman Simon Crean said.
Private Members Bill coming to set trade end-date
However, the National Farmers Federation and Sheep Producers Australia today failed to fully support the move and the Liberal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley has instead advised the Minister for Agriculture of her intention to introduce a Private Members Bill, with the aim of setting a date to phase out all live sheep export to the Middle East.
“I absolutely recognise any cessation of this trade will need to be done in consultation with producers and the wider industry,” Ms Ley said.
“The live sheep export trade has been put on notice many times before.
“We now need to ‘call time’ on this cruelty, for good.”
Ms Ley said her Bill, with cross party support, intends to amend up to three different Acts and associated regulations, “so as to logically and effectively phase out live sheep exports to this part of the world.”
“I want to stress, again, this move does not seek to halt or alter the short-haul export of live cattle to our traditional Southeast Asian markets.”
Another Liberal MP, the Member for La Trobe, Jason Wood, the chair of Parliament’s RSPCA friendship committee, has also come out in support of the trade ending.
Current NFF policy opposes inspector general role
Despite NFF president Fiona Simson admitting that federation members reiterated their distress at the circumstances and images aired by 60 Minutes and supported ALEC’s efforts for greater animal welfare oversight in the livestock export sector, NFF’s current policy does not support an Independent Office for Animal Welfare.
“We are in discussions with the Minister for Agriculture to understand precisely the role and intended impact an Inspector General for the Welfare of Exported Animals would have on improving the welfare of animals within the live export trade.
“At the moment we do not have this level of detail,” she said.
“We recognise the proposal supported by the ALEC board of directors is confined to the live export sector.
“However, the membership maintains a number of questions in relation to: how any such measure would impact on the broader supply chain; deliver better enforcement by the regulator; and improve the operations of the industry players who have failed, of which we are discussing as a matter of priority with the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon David Littleproud, MP.”
Ms Simson said farmers want to see mechanisms put in place to guarantee that the circumstances aired on 60 Minutes do not occur again and to ensure the future of this important industry.
“The NFF is continuing to work towards a proactive industry-lead approach on improving animal welfare across the supply chain.”
SPA president Allan Piggott said current SPA policy does not support an Office for Animal Welfare and the body was seeking more information on the move to extend the actions of the Inspector General for Biosecurity to oversee the welfare of exported animals.
However, the SPA welcomed ALEC support for an independent observer be placed on each Middle East voyage during the 2018 Northern Hemisphere summer, reduced stocking density and additional welfare safeguards and indicators and the establishment of the Livestock Global Assurance Program to deliver improved Export Supply Chain Assurance System outcomes.
“We need to know that exporters are not operating at minimum standards.
“Sheep producers want to have confidence in those exporting their sheep and we see these measures announced today as a good start in strengthening transparency, accountability and cultural change,” he said.
Mr Crean said the new measures will be presented as part of the industry’s response to the McCarthy Review announced by the Agriculture Minister last week.
“Industry must lead the way in improved animal welfare outcomes and in building a culture and vision that supports this, in alignment with community expectations,” he said.
“The next stage in the reform process is to work closely with the Minister for Agriculture, including on the establishment of LGAP and his Department’s ongoing regulation of the livestock export industry.
“Today, the livestock export industry delivers on its commitment to change,” Mr Crean said.
“Exporters are listening to the community and acting decisively to achieve change in the industry. The welfare of the animals and the future of our industry depends on it.”
NFF committed to the live export trade
Ms Simson said the NFF and its members remain committed to the future of the $1.8 billion live export trade, to a standard that meets the animal welfare expectations of farmers and all reasonable Australians.
“The NFF has to date, opposed measures such as an Independent Office for Animal Welfare, that in our view would simply add another layer of bureaucracy from a person sitting in an office in Canberra.
“We must have improvements in the system and it must be driven by industry,” she said.
“It is vital that a proposal of the nature supported by ALEC, be developed in partnership with the broader agriculture industry, be driven by a culture of continuous improvement and that its role be informed by science-based evidence.”
Independent animal welfare office not the answer – RSPCA
The RSPCA welcomed the establishment of an independent office to oversee animal welfare, but said it is not a solution to the live export crisis and must be accompanied by a halving of stocking densities, an end to May-to-October exports, and a concrete plan to phase out long-haul live sheep exports altogether.
But RSPCA Australia chief science and strategy officer Dr Bidda Jones said Australian taxpayer dollars should not be spent trying to achieve ‘cultural reform’ in the live export industry, “which has profited for decades off animal suffering and repeatedly dodged every possible opportunity to improve or change.”
“That money should be spent protecting farmers as they adjust their businesses and exit this trade once and for all.
“The science and evidence say stocking density must be at least halved to achieve any meaningful improvement to animal welfare; yet this is the same industry that said a mere 10 percent improvement in stocking density would wipe out up to 100pc of their profits.”
“While claiming to strengthen accountability and transparency, we’ve seen no release of the footage we now know was taken on-board the Maysora before it left last week.
“The live export industry isn’t serious about transparency – if they were they would welcome an RSPCA observer onto the next eight shipments,” she said.
“The RSPCA has made the offer, the live export industry hasn’t accepted it.”
Dr Jones said the proposed Livestock Global Assurance Program is “self-regulation via the back door – this is not an industry that can be trusted to do the right thing.”
“And finally, while heralding immediate change, live exporters are also going to sit on their supposed commitments for another three weeks – until they see what the government review says.
“This is just more secrecy and weasel words from what is currently Australia’s most hated industry.”
The recent calls for additional live export oversight and regulation come after Mr Littleproud launched the review of his department, a review of the standards for Middle East live sheep exports during the northern summer and a hotline for live export whistleblowers (1800 319 595). Middle East live export shipments are also subject to new conditions, including additional reporting requirements and stocking density reductions. The Federal Government is also reviewing the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.
Mr Fitzgibbon said after extending “the bi-partisan hand” to Mr Littleproud over live exports, the minister had been “quite good” to work with.
“My frustration is in the delay – he’s got three reviews he’s running now – it’s all too slow for my liking.”
The government’s summer live export review is due to finish next month and the ASEL review next year.
“I would like to do it much more quickly and I think getting a sentiment supported by both parties is the best path to long-term reform.”