The federal government is tackling a challenging issue following allegations that Animals Australia offered payments to ship workers for footage of distressed sheep on live export shipments from Western Australia.
The agriculture sector has reacted angrily to the allegations, demanding an inquiry into the matter.
WA Senator Dean Smith called for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to investigate the matter.
However, which agency would conduct the inquiry, and what it would investigate, is an open question.
The Agriculture Department has jurisdiction over animal welfare, and last year conducted investigations into industry practice.
The Australian Federal Police investigate bribery claims, but only when a Commonwealth official is implicated.
News Ltd reported that Animals Australia discussed offering ship workers $1000 for footage of poor animal welfare on live export shipments.
Animals Australia has not responded to the claims, but issued a statement backing its criticism of animal welfare standards on live export shipments.
“The indisputable evidence of animal abuse obtained by a whistleblower was corroborated by other workers from the Awassi Express who were similarly concerned about the suffering of animals on the vessel,” Animals Australia said.
“The overwhelming evidence of suffering across five voyages, confirmed in End of Voyage Vet Reports, was accepted by industry associations and Government regulators,” Animals Australia said in a statement issued today.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government's whistleblower hotline was the appropriate place to report animal welfare concerns.
“Under no circumstances should payment be made for video or any information as it provides potential incentive to do the wrong thing,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Animals Australia need to clarify the issue around payments and address matters raised immediately.”
Last year Animals Australia denied an accusation made by Barnaby Joyce, who claimed under parliamentary privilege that a ship worker was paid $200,000 for footage of sheep suffering onboard the Awassi Express live export ship earlier last year, which was televised by 60 Minutes in April.
Mr Joyce did not specify who paid the whistleblower.
“In my speech I never actually nominated who made payments, nor am I going to disclose my sources, but I have checked and triple checked what has been reported to me by a well informed source,” Mr Joyce said.
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At the time, Animals Australia said that neither it, nor 60 Minutes, provided payment for footage.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said payment for footage risked bad animal welfare outcomes.
“It’s extremely concerning that Animals Australia has allegedly paid shipboard employees to obtain covert footage,” Ms Simson said.
“It’s even more concerning that Animals Australia has failed to respond unequivocally to the compelling evidence that such payments are an ordinary part of its business model.
“When a cash reward is offered, it can act as an incentive to potentially misrepresent or manufacture circumstances where animals are indeed suffering.
"This risk is demonstrated in correspondence from the crew member in which he evidently made an offer to Animals Australia to switch off the ventilation in order to obtain footage of sheep panting.”