LABOR leader Bill Shorten has described the live exports industry as a “national disgrace” and warned a business as usual approach is unacceptable.
Mr Shorten was asked if live exports should be banned, due to the broadcast on 60 Minutes last night of images taken of distressing sheep mistreatment on boats to the Middle East.
However, the alternative Prime Minister did not give a direct answer to the question, at a media conference in Perth this morning.
“I think anyone who saw the 60 Minutes footage last night would have been appalled,” he said.
“I think most Australians don't think that should be happening and certainly were not aware it's happening now.”
But Mr Shorten said Labor had extended bipartisanship to the government on how they can resolve the problem.
“There can be no doubt that animal welfare has gone backwards under the last five years of the Liberal government,” he said.
“There can be no doubt that business as usual in terms of the images we saw last night, is unacceptable.
“We will work with the government because this sort of issue should be above politics.
“But what we also would like the government to do, is to put on notice some of the shonks and cheats in the industry that business as usual is unacceptable to the Australian people.”
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud has launched an investigation after watching the video footage supplied to him last week by Animals Australia which featured in the 60 Minutes episode and was taken by a whistle-blower from multiple voyages in 2016 and 2017.
Mr Littleproud’s Department could now prevent Emanuel Exports from sending a shipment of about 60,000 sheep to the Middle East that’s set to depart Fremantle tomorrow, unless stricter animal welfare conditions are met to mitigate heat stress related welfare issues.
Emanuel today apologised for its part in the recent controversy due to the shipment last year that saw 2400 sheep die, breaching the 2 per cent mortality threshold in current regulations, and which featured heavily in the 60 Minutes telecast.
That’s despite multiple investigations including by the regulator clearing the exporter of any wrongdoing but leading to enhanced welfare conditions on future shipments such as enhanced ventilation and reduced stocking rates.
Mr Littleproud has said a blanket ban won’t result from this latest incident - but warned today he would not support anyone who does the wrong thing in regards to live exports and animal welfare.
“Those who do the wrong thing should be nailed, not slapped on the wrist,” he said.
Mr Shorten said there needed to be an Inspector-General for Animal Welfare, which is a core plank of Labor’s agricultural policy as part of an Independent Office for Animal Welfare
“We should make sure this does not happen again,” Mr Shorten said.
“We will work with the government because this issue really is a national disgrace.”
WA Labor Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said “as a matter of urgency” the government had to “seriously consider banning sheep going into the Middle East in high summer months.
“We should be looking at a two to three month ban because that is where we are seeing the most travesties,” she told media in Perth today.
“We've also got to ensure that we have independent vets (and) this practice of having user friendly vets going onto these vessels supposedly doing the supervision clearly doesn't work.
“What we need to do is have the federal government department actually allocating the vet to the vessel and there not being any capability for the companies involved to pick and choose who they have.
“I do remind you that individuals that are involved can face up to five years in prison.
“I think that for some would be a fairly unattractive prospect so quite clearly the federal government has continued to allow companies that have offended to just go and do it again.
“I have some optimism that this new (federal) minister seems to be a little bit more aware of the need to act than…his predecessor was, so perhaps we will see something.
“I think the important thing here is the federal government has to recognise either there has been gross failure in implementing the regulations - or the regulation themselves are woefully inadequate.”
Ms MacTiernan said the federal government’s report into the Emanuel’s shipment where 2400 sheep died, that was produced two weeks ago, was “basically a white wash”.
She said the McGowan government also supported the federal opposition’s calls for a Federal Inspector General and Independent Office for Animal Welfare.
“We have been very concerned about federal inaction, which is why we decided to use powers available to us under State laws to investigate this incident,” she said.
“We welcome any action from the new federal Agriculture Minister on this issue but we do note that less than two weeks ago, his own Department said there was no breach of standards on this voyage.
“The federal government needs to seriously consider if and how basic animal welfare requirements can be met when taking sheep on voyages from the Western Australian winter to the height of Middle Eastern summer.
“We will also continue to look at how to encourage more onshore meat processing, to get more value out of our livestock and create more jobs in Western Australian abattoirs.”
WA Shadow Agriculture Minister Ian Blayney said the mistreatment of animals on the Emanuel Exports’ live sheep carrier the Awassi Express was “extremely disturbing” but did not support a ban on trade.
“The footage is proof that not all operators are adhering to the high standards that are regulated and there should be no leeway for those operators,” he said.
“We cannot allow this type of cruelty to happen and we cannot jeopardise what is a multi-million dollar export industry for this State.”
But Mr Blayney said live exports were crucial to the long-term sustainability of the sheep industry in WA and rigid enforcement of standards was crucial for the sustainability of the live export trade.
“We have to get this right,” he said.
“WA farmers produce approximately 4 million lambs every year and it is live exports that underpin the viability of the sector, ensuring jobs for thousands of Western Australians.
“All farmers I know have a strong commitment to the ethical treatment of their stock and would welcome total transparency from the industry regarding the health and welfare of their animals through to their final destinations.
“We have the regulations and standards in place, they must be enforced.”
Australian Greens animal welfare spokesperson and NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon the level of cruelty in the latest live exports incident was “deeply shocking” and supported a ban.
“For years I have been saying that the welfare of Australia’s live exports cannot be managed from a desk in Canberra - the footage shot by Mr Faisal (whistle-blower) shows how extensively the Department of Agriculture has failed,” she said.
“Now the ugly truth has been revealed the cruelty must stop.
“There is no justification for the Minister giving the industry ‘one more chance’ as he said last night on 60 Minutes.
“Mass deaths of sheep on export boats have happened before - the difference is this time we have video evidence.
“If the Minister does not act to transition the sheep meat industry away from live exports to processing the sheep at Australian abattoirs he will be complicit in facilitating further cruelty.
“The Greens plan to relaunch our campaign to end the live export trade and transition the industry to processing livestock in Australia and expanding Australia’s trade in boxed, chilled meat.
“The place to start is ending the live export of sheep.”
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