Thursday, 18 June 2020
Live Animal Exports
People in any electorate and around the country have been aghast watching the latest episode in the disaster-riddled live sheep export trade circus. It's hard to believe that sheep will again be transported in dangerous summer conditions by an operator that simply cannot get its act together—an operator in breach of arrangements that we were told by this government would be enforced, in circumstances showing over and over again to produce terrible animal suffering.
How on earth did it get to this? A live export ship, having decided to run hard up against the summer moratorium deadline, arrives in WA with a number of crew members infected with coronavirus. Despite the fact that shipping has proved to be a consistent source of infection, the ship had no apparent health plan or preparations. Despite the fact there were men on board who were sick and had fevers, the onboard vet—not a doctor—decided that there was no coronavirus, and the Department of Agriculture gave that advice to WA Health. That advice was utterly wrong. As the ship arrived, Australian personnel went on board with no warning that it was an infected ship. I guess not surprisingly, when you consider everything else that was wrong in this episode, there were no contingencies in place for the sheep already in the feedlot. On that basis it is very hard to understand the department's backflip in approving an exemption for the live export of sheep, especially now that it's nearly three weeks further into the summer moratorium period.
That moratorium exists for a reason. Transporting tens of thousands of sheep in old, substandard ships to the hottest part of the world at the hottest time of the year has proved a recipe for animal welfare disaster, as we saw with the Awassi Express and on countless similar voyages. There's no doubt that allowing this ship to travel will put the welfare of sheep at risk. The fact that an exemption is even being considered is entirely the fault of the live exporters. They chose to run a ship ripe with coronavirus at the last moment with no proper health or contingency planning at a time when shipping has proved one of the greatest risks in terms of COVID-19.
But why would this industry bother to do anything else when they know, every time they break the rules, there's an endless supply, a bottomless bucket, of second chances from this government? It took this government six years to acknowledge their mistake in removing Labor's reform to create an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. With all their talk of imposing proper regulation on an industry that has been a serial offender in terms of committing gross and grave animal welfare failures, there is let-off after let-off after let-off that follows breach after breach after failure. It's past time for the government to show leadership and make the transition out of live sheep export that the rest of Australia has done and that New Zealand has done in favour of an expanded frozen and chilled meat trade, with higher-value exports, more jobs, greater stability for Australian farmers but, most importantly, no cruelty for sheep.