WESTERN Australian Liberal MP Rick Wilson has welcomed a call for a corruption inquiry into events around animal cruelty charges against major live sheep exporter Emanuel Exports.
Live sheep export opponents have called for a corruption inquiry after reports circulated the Western Australian Government is about to drop animal cruelty charges against Emanuel Exports.
The Australian Alliance for Animals called for an immediate inquiry following media revelations that the WA Government intended to drop the cruelty charges just days before a long-awaited trial was due to commence.
Two Emanuel Exports directors were charged with 16 counts of animal cruelty by the WA State Solicitor’s Office in 2019 after an expose of conditions on its vessels to the Middle East, including the disclosure that about 2400 sheep died from heat stress on the Awassi Express.
Last month, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry first assistant secretary – traceability, plant and live animal exports Andrew McDonald told Senate Estimates that on 27 September DAFF approved Emanuel Exports to export sheep into Saudi Arabia. Emanuel Exports had its licence suspended from late June 2018 to early December 2021, regained the licence after a successful Administrative Appeals Tribunal appeal.
Neither Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development nor the state’s Agriculture and Food Minister Jackie Jarvis have confirmed that the cruelty charges will be dropped, but a DPIRD statement said a hearing on 14 November has been scheduled to deal with matters related to the trial.
DPIRD said the prosecution of Emanuel Exports P/L (Emanuels) by DPIRD for offences allegedly committed in 2017 pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA), is currently set for trial in Perth Magistrates Court commencing on the 20 November 2023.
“DPIRD is unable to provide any further comment on matters that are before the courts,” the statement concluded.
Ms Jarvis said the video taken on board the Awassi Express was horrifying and farmers were shocked by the case.
“They would not want their sheep treated like that.
“Importantly, a range of measures have since been implemented to improve animal welfare on live export ships and ensure we don’t see a repeat of those issues,” she said.
“The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development brought the charges based on legal advice at the time, and I expect they will be following legal advice on the path forward, putting the public interest and the interest of taxpayers first.”
Alliance calls for corruption inquiry
However, Alliance for Animals policy director Dr Jed Goodfellow said the revelations were shocking and the public deserved answers.
“These were very serious criminal charges regarding a matter of great public interest.
“To inexplicably drop the charges at the eleventh hour on the basis of ‘the public interest and the interests of taxpayers’ raises more questions than it answers,” he said.
“Is the government saying it is too expensive to uphold the law when it comes to animal cruelty?
“This sends entirely the wrong message to the WA community – it’s essentially saying that if a defendant has deep pockets, they’ll get a free pass on alleged breaches of the law.”
“It simply doesn’t add up and that’s why we’re calling for the matter to be referred to the WA Crime and Corruption Commission for immediate inquiry.
“Australians were shocked to their core by the horrific scenes of sheep gasping for air while being trampled and dying in beds of their own faeces while sailing into the stifling heat of the Middle East,” he said.
“The fact that the exporter responsible for such profound suffering will not be held accountable is an affront to justice.
“Despite the withdrawal of the charges, it is a matter of public record that Emanuel Exports voyages resulted in over 2400 sheep perishing from heat stroke,” Dr Adamson said.
Inquiry could undermine phaseout – Wilson
However, Mr Wilson said “bring on a corruption inquiry”, because he said Animals Australia’s payments to a whistleblower were common knowledge and he had documentary evidence.
A Federal investigation in 2019 found no evidence whistleblowers fabricated footage of sheep dying under heat stress on a vessel bound for the Middle East. The Department of Agriculture investigation found the footage was not contrived and no illegal payments were made; however, Mr Wilson said at the time he would be seeking further action.
Mr Wilson said the findings of a corruption inquiry could potentially undermine the justification for the Federal Government’s intended phaseout of live sheep exports by sea.
“Absolutely I do.”
WAFarmers president John Hassell also supported the dropping of the cruelty charges and a corruption inquiry examining payments to live export whistleblowers.
“I think it’s a long bow to say Emanuel should have been charged in the first place, because I don’t believe it was ever Emanuel’s fault, I think it was driven by the animal activists.
“The general community has high acceptance of the live trade and I think it’s foolish of the government top ignore that.”