OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten has rejected Emanuel Exports’ explanation of the unforeseen circumstances that struck the Alwassi Express voyage to the Middle East last year, in reaffirming Labor’s backing of an immediate trade ban.
Mr Shorten was asked today about the Emanuel’s live sheep shipment being hit by a catastrophic weather event, where video footage showing heat stress related welfare issues was broadcast on 60 Minutes in early April and has subsequently triggered ongoing public and political outcry.
The WA live exporting company released a letter last week outlining 12 core points (listed below) about the voyage - where 2400 sheep died out of about 64,000 - that have been largely subverted in public debate and media commentary, amid emotive response to the video footage.
That vision was taken by an on-board whistle-blower from the ship’s crew and provided to Channel 9 in an undisclosed secret deal by Animals Australia, which wants the live export trade banned and for other intensive animal agriculture industries to be terminated and replaced by plant based food options.
“Blame for what occurred on that voyage has been levelled at Emanuel Exports by many, including the Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, and the WA Minister for Agriculture, Alannah MacTiernan,” Emanuel Exports Managing Director Graham Daws wrote.
“Many such criticisms are poorly informed and need to be put into context.”
Mr Daws also said for the August 2017 voyage, the Gulf Cooperation Council Union’s embargo of Qatar meant the vessel was forced to discharge at Qatar first.
“Had the vessel made Kuwait its first port as planned and discharged a large portion of the consignment in the dry conditions there, then proceeded to Qatar with remaining sheep now spread across the pens, the tragedy would have been avoided,” he said.
When asked about the Emanuel’s reasoning, Mr Shorten said he wasn’t convinced animal welfare gets the attention it should under the current Coalition government.
“I think any Australian who took the time to see the footage of the sheep in those conditions in the live sheep export vessel would have been appalled and wonder how that could happen,” he said.
“I don't think it is satisfactory anymore to just fob off the Australian public and industry, and say well that was a one off incident and that will never happen again.
“I think that the government was doing the right thing to do a review and we offer them bipartisan support.
“But I'm disappointed that they're still allowing ships to set sail whilst this review is underway.
“They should have suspended any shipments going until this review was concluded, and Australians can be reassured that animal welfare is receiving the attention that it legitimately deserves.
“If we're not sure what's happening and…you're having a review, we think it's foolish to just wave through ongoing shipments until you've got to the bottom of the problem.
“What we said is that any shipments which haven’t already left the farm-gate, there should be a suspension, but this government hasn't done that.
“So as usual, it sort of knows there's a problem, it does a half-hearted execution of the issue and in the meantime, we're no wiser as to what the fundamental causes are.”
Exporters point to ignorance of supply chain operations
Ms Daw’s letter said since the video footage aired, much has been said about the livestock export trade and Emanuel Exports in particular, “with many detractors evidently having little understanding of how our supply chains work”.
“In too many instances, the series of events leading to the tragic August 2017 voyage has been inaccurately reported and, as such, we have felt obliged to defend our company and its operations,” he said.
“Whilst acknowledging the distress the incident has caused, it is a sad indictment that commentators have given no credit to the officers and crew of the vessel, including the Australian veterinarian and stockmen, who all worked under very difficult circumstances and prevented further losses.”
Mr Daws said his company supported ongoing improvement and reform to “help ensure the success of every voyage”.
But he said to assume the Animals Australia footage represented ‘business as usual’ was “completely wrong”.
And to seek to influence regulatory controls accordingly would be completely illogical and irresponsible, he said.
“As such, threats to restrict trade during the northern summer ignore the industry’s proven ability to manage risks and maintain welfare throughout the year,” he said.
“It also ignores the root causes of last year’s tragedy: a trade suspension isn’t the solution, because the northern summer isn’t the problem.”
Mr Daws said the supply chains existed on the basis of delivering animals 12 months a year.
“Like northern cattle exports, ours is a trade which cannot simply be turned on and off,” he said.
“Any such suggestion is an affront to Australian farmers and to our customers, whose food security depends greatly on Australian sheep.
“Those customers want animals to arrive in good health and condition.”
Mr Daws said delivering 100pc of the cargo “is our incentive for continued business in the Middle East which stretches back more than half a century”.
“We are proud of our industry – it is accountable, transparent and ethically sustainable,” he said.
“Welfare is paramount and we reject accusations that economics override our welfare obligations.
“As exporters, it’s our job to deliver animals in the best possible condition with the least number of mortalities.
“The community, livestock producers and our customers demand nothing less.”
Asked if despite the hindsight of what happened to the cattle industry (2011 Indonesian live cattle ban), would he still endorse a temporary ban on sheep exports, Mr Shorten said “yes, we have said that”.
“And furthermore, I don't think anyone can give a satisfactory explanation as to whether or not they're confident that the animal welfare system is working in the manner in which it should,” he said.
“Labor didn't invent the footage but we're not to ignore the footage when we see it.
“And I think Australians expect politicians to actually speak up rather than just ignore the problem and accept the excuses of exporters.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the vessels “should not be sailing and they wouldn’t be sailing if the government had generally accepted my offer of a bipartisan approach”.
“I believe you will only get real deep and meaningful reform if both the major parties are on the same hymn sheet and therefore you won’t have future governments turning the policy around,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be sailing (but) they are sailing because the government has spent the last five years doing nothing and created this situation and (RSPCA’s Bidda Jones) made the point the Department might find that vessel meets the standards but the big question is are the standards high enough, given the Minister’s Department found the Awassi met all those standards.”
Labor Fremantle MP Josh Wilson said a number of people had taken a view about the “inherent cruelty in the long haul live export of sheep” and he was “really glad” Mr Shorten “made that call”.
“It’s another sign of his leadership and his preparedness to be decisive on these issues,” he said.
“The same with Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, very clear and strong on this issue, prepared to be constructive, but being clear-eyed about the systemic failures in the live export trade.
“I’m going to keep arguing as a representative of my community for this trade to come to an end and I think the case for that is compelling.
“You look at just the basic elements of it.
“You’re taking tens of thousands of sheep, you’re putting them in crowded conditions in a big metal box with no ventilation, no air-conditioning, often in circumstances where the animals don’t have access to food and water and essentially stand in a swamp of their own waste.
“They’re then transported to the hottest part of the world at the hottest time of the year.
“That is a recipe for animal cruelty - that is what we’ve seen over and over again - it’s time it came to an end.”
Mr Wilson said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) approving the Awassi Express for another voyage post the 60 Minutes broadcast “really speaks to the endemic regulatory failures in these kinds of things”.
He said it was hard to believe that the Awassi Express “suddenly developed these mechanical shortcomings” and “suspect that they’ve only been looked at by AMSA as people have started to wake up to it”.
“I think the attention the Western Australian Agriculture Minister has brought to this issue has been telling as well,” he said.
“Despite the claims by the exporters and the industry more widely, there is no preparedness to be accountable and transparent.
“What I’m concerned about is that we don’t find that the (federal) Minister and his Department are reverting to type, slipping back into the same old, same old that we’ve seen where they talk about reviews and tinkering around the edges and the fact that there are only minor modifications required rather than really looking at this trade.
“It is anomalous - it is a small part of our livestock industry.
“It is held in very low regard by other farmers and producers across the nation.
“I mean I’ve had thousands of emails this week and telephone calls from right across Australia, including from farmers in other parts of our country who say ‘good on you, this trade is an abomination’ and they would never ever send their animals off under these conditions.”
August 2017 Emanuel Exports voyage in context:
1. Emanuel is not the owner nor charterer of any vessel, and ownership of livestock transfers to the importer at the loading port.
2. For the August 2017 voyage, the Gulf Cooperation Council Union’s embargo of Qatar meant the vessel was forced to discharge at Qatar first. Had the vessel made Kuwait its first port as planned and discharged a large portion of the consignment in the dry conditions there, then proceeded to Qatar with remaining sheep now spread across the pens, the tragedy would have been avoided.
3. Until Day 14 of the voyage the mortality was 300 head, or 0.47pc. When the vessel became caught up in a catastrophic heat event over Days 15 and 16, extreme temperatures in certain parts of the vessel triggered the majority of mortalities.
4. Emanuel provided daily updates to DAWR, prior to 2pc mortalities being reached, and confirming a “reportable mortality event” had taken place when 2pc was exceeded.
5. Breeding age ewes were not loaded as an official part of the total cargo. Nonetheless a total of 11 ewes (of 63,804 sheep loaded) were recorded by the on-board vet as having lambs in transit. It is possible these were wrongly tagged as wethers at lamb marking and subsequently went through the pre-export process undetected. If commercial quantities of ewes are ever loaded, ASEL requires that they be pregnancy tested empty before delivery to quarantine.
6. DAWR formally investigated and released its findings on March 18 concluding: ‘…sheep were prepared and transported in accordance with Export Control (Animals) Order 2004 and Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) V2.3 2011. The cause of the reportable mortality was heat stress’.
7. DAWR found that, despite the tragic result, there were no regulatory (ASEL) breaches, thus confirming that this one tragic voyage did not reflect typical outcomes for live sheep exports.
8. AMSA also performed an independent investigation of the Awassi Express and concluded ‘all livestock services were operating satisfactorily during the voyage’.
9. DAWR approved the subsequent Awassi Express shipment on the basis that an additional heat event management plan be implemented, including reducing stocking by 10pc on ASEL’s standard. The mortality rate for the voyage was 0.52pc, which is well below industry’s annual average.
10. Emanuel, in consultation with DAWR, has implemented additional heat risk management plans for 2018, including further de-stocking measures and confirmed its order of discharge, being Kuwait first.
11. Emanuel is fully compliant and cooperative with the regulator at all times and welcomes any investigation into its export activities in the interests of transparency and accountability.
12. With the exception of the August 2017 voyage, the Awassi Express has an enviable record of success and is a sought-after charter vessel. Of the 322,270 sheep it carried over five other voyages to the Gulf in 2017, a 99.42pc delivery success rate was achieved.
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