Australia’s agriculture minister has launched a review into his department after a video was released showing death and suffering of sheep being shipped to the Middle East.
Footage released by Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes programme on Sunday, filmed by trainee navigator Faisal Ullah and released through the advocacy group Animal Australia, showed suffering sheep on five voyages to the Middle East, including one trip on which 2,400 sheep died from extreme heat stress. The conditions were not reflected
The footage of the Awassi Express showed dehydrated, distressed, dead and dying sheep on the ship’s main deck before they were thrown overboard during its journey from Perth to the Middle East in August 2017.
David Littleproud, federal agriculture minister, said many of teh issues shown in the video were not reflected in the routine post-voyage Reportable Mortality Investigations conducted by the Department of Agriculture.
“Quite candidly, that vision does not marry up with the report I have received,” he said.
“I’m going to make sure we put a framework and an environment where we can give comfort to the community. That’s my job – I can’t change the past, I’ve been here three months and I intend to make sure that the community can get confidence in it.”
He said he has requested the attorney general’s office help to undertake a review of the “skills and capabilities and culture of the regulator” to ensure that investigations were more thorough in the future.
He added that a whistleblower’s hotline would also be established by the end of the week, with the help of Animals Australia and the RSPCA.
Littleproud also suggested that penalties imposed on exporters were too lenient and said he had met with the Labor party's agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, to more than double the current penalties and target the heads of live export companies, rather than the companies themselves.
“I personally believe the penalties and prosecutions, in terms of both financial and in terms of jail time, to company directors, should be explored,” he said.
However, Rebekah Eyers, RSPC spokesperson, called for a permanent ban on exporting live sheep to the Middle East, saying that Littleproud’s solutions were inadequate.
“Based on current evidence, the federal government must now exercise its legal and moral duty to permanently stop issuing permits for the export of live sheep to the Middle East,” she said.
Industry group Western Australia Farmers Federation told SM that while it did not condone the activities and systems that led to the death of a large number of sheep on the voyages, it stood behind the export industry.
“We raise our animals, we watch them being born in the paddock, we look after them, we feed them and we hate to see our sheep treated badly – every farmer thinks the same,” it said.
“But the ability to export live animals from Western Australia is of critical importance in the Western Australian farming economy and whilst areas of society will say the live export business is not critical to the health of the rural economy, in Western Australia this is not the case.
“The West Australian marketplace is unique in its use and dependency on the live trade and it makes up somewhere around 75% of the live export trade from Australia, including approximately 1.4m head of sheep annually. This market has a vital effect of the overall industry for WA.”
At the time of publication, the ship Awassi Express is currently docked at Perth’s Fremantle port and is set to send 65,000 sheep and 250 cattle on Tuesday. But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which has the power to refuse export shipping permits, said it would not be allowed to leave unless it complies with strict regulations.
The consignment must be reduced by more than 15%, it said, and it will also need extra ventilation and to carry an independent observer on board, paid for by the government, who will send back photos and videos on a daily basis.