FEDERAL Labor leader Bill Shorten’s call to suspend Middle East live sheep shipments has been rejected by Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and Western Australian farmers.
The same day on which Mr Littleproud offered Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon some “good news” by including consideration of an inspector general for live sheep exports in his departmental review, Mr Shorten chose to pre-empt another government review on standards for Middle East sheep exports during the northern summer.
In a statement earlier today, Mr Shorten called for a suspension until the review into the northern summer trade is finalised next month.
Mr Shorten said Labor would wait for the review’s findings, but suggested northern summer shipments of sheep “not already beyond the farm gate” should be suspended until the reviewer, vet Michael McCarthy made his report.
“We are absolutely open to working with the government on bipartisan reforms, but it’s not acceptable to allow deaths and shocking mistreatment to occur just because we are waiting for a report to be handed down,” Mr Shorten said.
A ‘knee-jerk’ ban would punish farmers – Littleproud
Mr Littleproud said he was disappointed Mr Shorten “seems to have broken away from a bipartisan approach to make a political statement, with the review results just three weeks away”.
“I’m determined to make decisions on science not emotion.
“I will not make a knee jerk reaction with the science three weeks away,” he said.
“A knee jerk ban would punish farmers who have done nothing wrong.
“Mr Fitzgibbon has been honourable and good to deal with,” Mr Littleproud said.
Live export ban would cost WA farmers $80-$150m a year
WAFarmers today released a series of recommendations for the future of the live export industry, calling for regulators and potential independent observers to be held to account.
WAFarmers president Tony York said Western Australia represented 85 percent of the national live sheep export trade, and that cessation of the trade would be devastating to the Western Australian agricultural economy.
“While we recognise that implementation of these recommendations will involve an increase in costs along the supply chain, this is preferred outcome for industry given the alternative.
“A ban on live sheep exports would be deeply detrimental in terms of lost revenue to Western Australian producers, with between $80 and $150 million being lost per annum,” he said.
“We urge the decision-makers to recognise the importance of this trade to the local and national economy, and to put these recommendations in place so that the future of the industry can be safeguarded.”
On-board cameras should be researched
Mr York said the eight recommendations presented by WAFarmers address need for appropriate preparation of livestock prior to loading, possible implementation of on-board camera systems, the need for all vessels regardless of age to meet current live export animal welfare practices, flexibility in pen configuration in keeping with live export animal welfare regulations, and consideration of small vessels for use in high risk areas.
WAFarmers has also called for the appointment of independent observers with best practice management capabilities to be employed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources on each vessel, with those appointed to be allowed to advise the captain and direct stockmen on welfare issues as they occur.
Licence suspensions for exporters not meeting standards
Mr York said trade conditions specific to northern hemisphere summer conditions during July and August should also be considered, with licence suspensions to be delivered to exporters that do not meet these conditions.
“Only ships with the best possible animal welfare delivery mechanisms, coupled with the best track records, should be used to transport into high risk areas during summer months,” he said.
“Limits should be set on the number of ports where sheep are offloaded,” Mr York said.
“Ports should be rated under a risk matrix related to historical climatic conditions during the high risk season, with the order of port delivery to then be dictated by this risk matrix.
“If these conditions cannot be met, air conditioning systems including but not limited to de-humidifiers must be fitted to live export vessels.
“If live export vessels do not meet animal welfare standards, exporters should have their export licences suspended during this high-risk period.”
Mr York said the organisation would welcome industry consultation on the recommendations and was happy to be guided by the most recent research findings and scientific evidence. He and WAFarmers Livestock Section president David Slade said the recommendations were based on significant member, industry and political feedback, and that implementation of the conditions would work towards re-igniting confidence in the trade.
“The impression that Australia has set the world standard for animal welfare for live exports has been well and truly decimated following the release of vision obtained on the Awassi Express,” Mr York said.
“At present, the live export regulator is not upholding its duty to ensure the highest standard of animal welfare practices, resulting in abhorrent conditions such as that experienced on the ship.
“While there is a responsibility demanded of exporters to ensure livestock being transported are treated humanely, the primary onus is on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as the regulator to ensure this situation never occurs again.”
Read the full WAFarmers live export recommendations here.