DESPITE the efforts of the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to fix the live sheep trade it could all come to nothing with the opposition adamant that the time has come to “phase out” the trade.
Since April Mr Littleproud has sought the McCarthy Report into the trade during the northern hemisphere summer - which came back with 23 recommendations that were all accepted by the minister, although some modeling needed to be done on some of them.
Then he commissioned the Moss Review into the behaviour of the department of agriculture after the images seen on 60 Minutes of sheep suffering extreme heat stress didn’t match up with the vets report of the voyage.
He has decided to implement all the 31 recommendations of the review, which will overhaul the department’s handling of the live export trade, with a greater focus on animal welfare and add another layer of oversight with an Inspector General appointed to ensure compliance and enforcement of the standards.
A review into the Australian Standards for the Export of LIvestock is also due at the end of the year.
During this time Emanuel Exports and its associated company EMS Rural had their licences cancelled, other exporters were threatened with injunctions by Animals Australia if they stepped in to export the 60,000 sheep that were left stranded in a Peel feedlot during those northern summer months.
The stocking density for all sheep voyages was reduced by 28 per cent until November when it went to 17.5pc - despite no science to back up that requirement.
Exporters were required to have an independent observer onboard the vessel at a cost of $1300 a day and the reportable mortality level was lowered to 1pc.
Two vessels have left Fremantle with sheep on board since June, highlighting the significant nature of the changes to the exporters - with Harmony Agriculture and Food stepping back from its focus on live exports to only undertake opportunistic voyages when its customers in the Middle East and China require them.
International Livestock Exports, a major cattle exporter which shares an association to Emanuel Exports via a shareholder Graham Daws, also received a show cause notice to which it has responded and awaits the regulator’s response.
Despite all the going’s on to tighten up the trade and its impact on the trade, Labor is firm that it doesn’t see a future for live sheep exports from Australia.
On a radio interview at 2GB, Sydney, Labor Agriculture spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon said the “science on live sheep is very, very clear, you cannot sustain that trade in a profitable way while also meeting reasonable community expectations on animal welfare”.
“It’s incompatible with reasonable expectations on the animal welfare front and we have said a Labor Government would immediately put a stop to that northern summer trade… and phase out the balance of the trade probably over a five year period,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“It is impossible to ship those sheep on those long voyages in the middle eastern summer while meeting community expectations and all of our expectations on animal welfare so it wouldn’t matter (the changes that the government made).
“It doesn’t matter how good the regulatory framework is and how good the supervision is, you just cannot continue with that northern summer sheep trade while also ensuring that the sheep are treated humanely.
“They are just not compatible, doesn’t matter how well you regulate it.”
He said when he introduced the Private Members Bill to restore the Independent Inspector General, which he established in 2013, he did so with “no expectation that it would change the dynamic in the live sheep trade”.
“I did so with the expectation that it would cover the cattle trade and while the sheep trade is in place it would help the situation,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“The live sheep trade is all about Western Australia, mainly, and South Australia.
“David Littleproud and this Government has effectively shut down the live sheep trade, about 19 or 20 weeks ago now and it has not reached out to sheepmeat producers or other affected in any way.
“Not even a conversation let alone compensation or talk about an orderly transition plan.
“That’s very disappointing.
“What we have said is that we will phase it out over a five year period and we will work with all the stakeholders in the supply chain to help them transition to something better and something more profitable.
“One of our key goals here is we do more value adding in Australia to create more jobs here in Australia.”
Independent Senator Tim Storer said the central message of the Moss Review was that the DAWR was not fit to regulate the live sheep trade and that the trade must be phased out.
“When the Senate resumes on November 12, I plan to take action to establish a statutory corporation, the Australian Commission for Animal Welfare (ACAW), as recommended by the Productivity Commission (PC) nearly two years ago and yet to be acted on by the government,” Mr Storer said.
“As I have said before the live sheep trade is cruel and inhumane.
“It must be phased out.
“The steps I am proposing will ensure that until that happens the business will be properly regulated and independently scrutinised.
“The PC recommended that as one of its first tasks the proposed ACAW should review ‘the efficiency and effectiveness of the livestock export system’.
“Had that review taken place the worst excesses of the live sheep trade exposed earlier this year may have been curtailed and the cruelty to animals reduced.”