AUSTRALIA’S Department of Agriculture is under pressure to re-open an investigation into the payment of a Pakistani live export ship worker to film sheep suffering on a live export vessel.
The ship worker has told Australian media he was paid several thousands of dollars by animal activists to gather evidence of animal cruelty.
In a video interview broadcast on Sky News last week, Pakistani seafarer Mahmood Raza Masher said he was paid to film suffering sheep aboard the Awassi Express to pressure the government to shut down the trade.
He told the program the vision he shot was given to Animals Australia and used in the 2018 60 Minutes report that led to tough regulatory crackdowns on sheep exports to the Middle East and the removal of Emanuel Exports’ export license.
Animals Australia has repeatedly denied it paid for the footage (see its detailed response below).
In July the Department of Agriculture said its investigation into News Limited reports in January 2019 that activists paid cash to ship workers aboard the Awassi Express in return for footage of cruelty found no evidence to suggest breaches of Commonwealth laws had been committed in relation to alleged payments.
Last Thursday the Daily Telegraph built on its earlier articles by reporting the accounts of Mr Mazher, who claims he was working with whistle-blower Fazal Ullah, who featured in the 60 Minutes story, to earn money via activist organisations.
Mr Mazher told the newspaper he now feels he has a “moral obligation” to speak out and is offering to return the cash.
He also told the Daily Telegraph the Department of Agriculture investigation into the “cash for cruelty” scandal did not interview him, despite his attempts to contact the government.
In the reports he alleged Mr Ullah, who he said was his friend and housemate, approached him in July 2016 and told him Australian animal activist groups would pay $20,000 for footage of animals suffering.
The Daily Telegraph said it had received a tranche of emails showing how animal activists, including Lyn White, “cultivated whistle-blowers on board live export vessels, offering them cash for vision of cruelty to animals”.
Mr Mazher told News Limited live cattle exports were “treated better than crew members on board”, are properly fed and watered and if animals are ever sick, they are treated by a vet.
In response to the reports, an Animals Australia spokesperson told Beef Central all of the matters have already been considered by the Department of Agriculture as part of its investigation.
“Unlike others, Animals Australia cooperated fully with this investigation. Our conduct has been professional, ethical and appropriate at all times.
“It is clearly in the interests of defenders of the live export trade to seek to undermine those who’ve played a key role in the reporting of previously undisclosed animal cruelty and suffering.
“Animals Australia’s priority, has been and remains, ensuring the protection and well-being of industry whistle-blowers who are supporting government investigations.
“Animals Australia stands by its significant record of investigating and reporting cruelty in the live export trade. Without the regulatory changes that resulted, Australian cattle would still be subjected to tendon-slashing and sledge-hammering in foreign abattoirs and sheep at risk of cooking alive on live export vessels.
“Animals Australia will continue to play an active role supporting the regulator of the live trade – a role acknowledged by the Moss review as providing improved oversight and compliance across the live animal export trade. Vision provided last month to the Department of Agriculture of Australian cattle being subjected to horrific roping slaughter in Indonesia speaks to the importance of that role.”
Time for a re-look says WAFF, Wilson and ALEC
WAFarmers president Rhys Turton said he believed it was time for a re-look at the whistleblower issue and Chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources, Liberal MP, Rick Wilson, has also said there needed to be a fresh inquiry.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said ALEC has maintained all along that if payments were made for footage then this created a market for animal cruelty and this is why the council is greatly concerned by the serious allegations.”
“If the allegations are true then this is clearly unethical behaviour and places animals at a greater welfare risk.”
“ALEC initially refrained from making a public statement on the allegations, as we believed the allegations should first be substantiated,” he said.
“ALEC has written to Animals Australia many times and met with them in June to establish whether payments had been made. They have denied making payments.”
“We have again sought an explanation from Animals Australia.”
The Departments Media statement released in July, concluding their investigation did not find any evidence to suggest breaches of Commonwealth laws were committed and no footage was contrived, did not offer any details on their findings and declined to release the full report for public review. In order to understand the details of the investigation and how those conclusions were reached the report must be released, ALEC said.
In response to questions about the newly raised allegations, the Federal Department of Agriculture said it released a full statement on July 26 addressing these issues.
“The department sought information from a wide range of sources in relation to these allegations, some of whom cooperated and others who chose not to,” a Departmental spokesperson said.
“The department has concluded its investigation into this matter and has not found any evidence to suggest that breaches of Commonwealth laws have been committed in relation to alleged payments.”