There will be no knee-jerk reaction over the deaths of thousands of sheep in a live export consignment last year, the Agricultural Minister has said, despite industry concern the trade could be damaged or shut down.
- Footage that shows sheep dying on live export ships was passed on to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud
- Yesterday he issued a forceful statement calling for an explanation
- Some in the industry are concerned it could spark a shutdown or damage the trade
The comments come after the release of footage showing sheep dying of heat stress on live export ships.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud yesterday said he was “shocked and gutted” by the footage and warned that those doing the wrong thing were “going to get nailed”.
That response prompted concern from some in the industry that the incident could damage the trade.
“It will take some astute judgement by the federal minister and state minister and other people involved,” Peter Boyle, a Western Australian sheep farmer said.
“We saw what happened when it was banned once before, and it just ruined the north and it will also have a severe effect here in WA on the sheep industry as well.”
Mr Boyle sells his livestock to exporters and said he was very concerned by footage of dead sheep on a live exports boat in August last year.
“I’ve known about this for some time,” Mr Boyle said.
“I’m led to believe there is footage out there that would appal every sheep producer in Australia.”
Mr Boyle has not seen the footage or the Agriculture Department report that confirmed 2,400 sheep died from heat stress on route from Fremantle to the Middle East.
But he is worried the incident will spark more regulation of the industry.
“We have red tape already. When ESCAS [Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System] came in, [it] has probably put $15 to $20 a head extra onto the cost of the exporter handling sheep and that comes off our return,” Mr Boyle said.
Support for farmers who do the right thing
In a statement, Mr Littleproud said he supported farmers and exporters who did the right thing.
But he also said: “I will not be afraid to call out and take strong action against those who have not fulfilled their responsibilities.”
“We need to create an environment where groups, whistle-blowers and individuals are comfortable and confident coming forward so we can nail those who do the wrong thing.”
Shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon welcomed Mr Littleproud’s response to the incident, particularly in comparison to his predecessor.
“I am confident that he will take a much different approach than Barnaby Joyce,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
However, Mr Fitzgibbon said he wanted to work with the Federal Government to tighten regulations.
“[I] think probably we need to strengthen it. It appears the sanctions and penalties currently imposed aren’t sufficient disincentives for people to break the rules,” he said.
Footage ‘does not reflect industry standards’
WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said despite the distressing nature of these incidents, they did not reflect the standards of the wider live export industry.
Mr Seabrook said the release of the footage was motivated by activists intent on shutting the industry down.
“There are a group of people totally committed to shutting the industry down, they don’t give a damn about the impact it might have throughout the whole length and depth of northern Australia,” Mr Seabrook said.
“There’s nobody in rural Australia that deals with sheep and cattle that wants to see this sort of thing happen but what does need to be recognised is that we stand like a beacon in the darkness when it comes down to animal welfare standards, especially live export.
“What we’re doing here is absolutely world’s best practice [and] just because we have one bad incident it’s not a good reason to shut an industry down, especially an industry which plays such a vital part in the economy of rural Australia.”
In 2011, the then Labor government announced a ban on cattle exports to Indonesia after footage was aired on Four Corners of mistreatment of Australian live export cattle.
Mr Seabrook said he hoped this time around the current Government would not have such a “knee-jerk” reaction.
“We need a careful and measured approach here and we need to find a solution to the problem that works for everybody,” he said.
“The implications to all Australians in the livestock industry are absolutely huge; we just need to make damn certain the system is improved to the point where exporters do not put stock in a situation where this can happen again.”
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council’s chief executive Simon Westaway said the industry does adhere to strict standards, but there were some issues that need to be addressed.
He said they have been put those to a review into transport logistics for live exports.
“[We’ve] called for a number of important sensible changes, such as increasing weight limits of sheep and goats on ships and planes and also looking at standards that can be sensibly address to improve animal welfare outcomes and improve the performance of the trade,” Mr Westaway said.
“We are on the record saying that we would be happy to see some national guidelines in place around animal welfare so we get more consistency across the country.”
Mr Westaway said he would not pre-empt the Government’s next response to the incident.