Live animal exporters failed to successfully act on the findings of a 2013 industry review of the social licence to operate, which came years before the current controversy which threatens to end the trade.
A leaked confidential report, commissioned by peak industry body the Australian Council of Live Exporters (ALEC) and prepared by social licence consultant Futureye, said industry had time to secure its future but warned that without substantial action on animal welfare concerns its opponents could “severely curtail and even end the trade”.
The revelation comes a day after ALEC launched a last minute bid to pre-empt the possibility of crossbench MPs and Labor teaming up to pass new laws to ban the trade, with a self-imposed a three-month moratorium on sheep shipments to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
In 2013, Futureye told ALEC that if it did change practice to address animal welfare concerns it was “highly likely that there would be broad community acceptance”.
“Even in the case that the industry does not always achieve zero harm in the supply chain, if the attempts at trying to do so are credible, then there will be the least possible level of anger and inturn political and regulatory risk,” the report said.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud responded with a stinging rebuke to ALEC’s self-imposed moratorium.
“It would have been better if industry had shown leadership across a broad range of animal welfare matters some years ago,” Mr Littleproud said.
Futureye’s advice has not been publicly available until now. However, in October former public servant Phillip Moss AM reported to government on the culture, capability and investigative powers of the live export industry’s independent regulator referenced its findings.
Futureye told ALEC that “previously accepted practices are no longer acceptable” identified hotspots in the live export supply chain around stock sourcing, land transport, vessel handling and transit, overseas port off loading and handling, overseas handling and slaughter practices.
Futureye said transparency is critical to the industry’s social licence and recommended all stages of the supply chain should have tolerance ranges, goals,and public reporting.
“To overcome the credibility challenge, the industry needs to work with welfare and activist groups to develop initiatives that address some of the concerns,” Futureye said.
ALEC agreed to Futureye’s strategy in 2014.
Mr Moss said it was concerning that the Australian Standards for Live Exports had not been reviewed by industry and government since 2011, and a review was due in 2013.
“It is now time for the department and the industry to work to develop animal welfare indicators,” the Moss Review said.
The review also said former Agriculture Minister erred in 2013 when he removed the independent Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports.
Under a red tape reduction push in 2013 the government also cut 21 staff in the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS), which was tasked with developing intergovernmental animal welfare practices.
Sheep exports came under fire in April after 60 Minutes aired footage of sheep suffering on a voyage run by Emmanuel Exports to the Middle East.
Since then animal activists have redoubled their campaigns, independent MPs are maneuvering to ban the trade and Labor has committed to ban the sheep exports when it forms government.
WAFarmers president Tony York said industry was too slow to adapt and exporters should have done more sooner to secure their social licence.
“I don't think the industry took on board the seriousness of maintaining its social licence.
“It’s pretty obvious they were slow to take up the red flag issues and we have paid the price by letting incidence to be strongly negatively perceived by the community,” Mr York said.
Recent reforms had put the industry back on track, Mr York said.
“It’s better late than never, and it’s clear to me that the industry - the exporters in the supply chain - have recognised that, and they are paddling hard to rebuild that confidence,” Mr York said.
“As farmers we support that, and hopefully it’s not too late.”
ALEC’s new chief executive Brett Pointing was appointed in November and has begun in the role addressing social licence concerns.
“ALEC has not ignored the warnings about protecting the future of the industry, but without any doubt more needs to be done,” Mr Pointing said.
“As the newly appointed CEO, I’m determined to see ALEC foster a positive industry culture which rebuilds trust in the trade, engages with the industry’s opponents in a meaningful way and embeds accountability and transparency into our supply chains.”
ALEC and the the Agriculture Department, which is the federal regulator, have committed to implement the Moss Review’s 31 recommendations.
In May, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced changes to animal export laws to increase jail time for breaches to up to 10 years in jail
Companies who look to profit from illegal practices face a $4.2 million fine, three times the benefit gained by the company or 10 per cent of the company’s turnover–whichever is greater, and a director of a guilty company could face 10 years in prison or a fine of $2.1 million.
Last week the first report form the re-instated independent observer’s from a live export vessel became available
The consignment consisted of 9227 sheep and 3695 cattle. During the 22-day voyage 17 sheep (0.18 per cent) and one head of cattle (0.03pc) perished.