House debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2020


Live Animal Exports

7:55 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The live animal export industry and its supply chain support many communities across my electorate of O'Connor. These communities supply over 65 per cent of sheep exported from WA to the Middle East. In the past two years industry has worked hard to improve their public image and increase transparency so that they can continue to supply quality Australian produce to our Middle Eastern markets. Recent changes to maximise animal welfare include: reducing the mortality rate threshold to one per cent, noting that recent mortalities have been as low as 0.1 per cent; using allometric stocking density, providing up to 40 per cent more space for sheep; independent verification of air turnover within pens; and independent observers on board all livestock export vessels, at the exporter's expense.

The three-month disruption to the trade in 2018 was followed in 2019 with a moratorium over the northern summer, which was extended by three weeks to 22 September. Two years on there has not been a single heat-stress event, and industry continues to work towards upgrading their vessels and maximising animal welfare on board. This has not been without considerable cost. The recently released Mercado report estimates that $86.3 million was lost by the industry in 2018, equating to $37.6 million for farmers at the farm gate, and in 2019 the industry lost $65.8 million, with the farmgate cost being $29.6 million.

These economic impacts flow through to industries like the livestock transport operators, who averaged losses of 35 to 50 per cent, with some single operators losing as much as 85 per cent; shearing services, with a full year's workload condensed into eight months; fodder manufacturers, who rely on the live export trade for more than 90 per cent of their revenue; and stock agents and sheep buyers, who are paid on commission. Vets, stock handlers, stevedores, shipping services and other port operators are also affected.

I'm pleased to the report to the House that the shipping practices that have been put in place are having a very positive impact. In 2019, mortality rates were 54 per cent below the historic season average from 2013 to 2017. Unfortunately, despite the willingness of industry to comply with regulation, there is a growing feeling of disconnect between the industry and government. This is demonstrated in the latest shipment of 65,000 sheep, which left from Fremantle to the Middle East by Rural Export & Trading WA. The Al Shuwaikh was scheduled for decommissioning in line with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority phase-out of two-tier vessels by 2023. After the Awassi Express incident, this was brought forward to January 2020, leaving RETWA struggling to fill orders while retrofitting one vessel and acquiring a new vessel to meet compliance.

RETWA applied to AMSA in late 2019 in an effort to secure an exemption for the Al Shuwaikh in the interim. RETWA also submitted the requisite animal welfare plan to the Department of Agriculture in mid-December, which was approved on 11 February 2020. An exemption to AMSA Marine Order 43 was ultimately granted on 7 February 2020 but excluded the only single-tier deck on the ship. The exporter and vessel owner had treated their exemption application as 'whole of ship' only to final their best ventilated, single-tier deck had been excluded from carrying any livestock at all.

Emergency communication was exchanged between myself and the Deputy Prime Minister's office on 18 February. Despite a directive from the Deputy Prime Minister that AMSA urgently communicate with the exporter about this imminent shipment, they failed to contact RETWA. One week later, AMSA did make contact, but with the wrong shipping service. Meanwhile, the ship sailed two days later at 8 pm on 20 February with no cattle or sheep on the best ventilated deck on the boat. Six hundred and thirty-six cattle and over a thousand sheep were returned to the feedlot at a loss to the exporter of over $1 million.

On 21 February I wrote to Minister Littleproud, citing the above as an example of the problems industry is having with the timely approval of paperwork critical to meeting their commitments to overseas markets. I conveyed that exporters perceive a serious disconnect between the Canberra based regulator and the on-ground realities of the live animal export trade. I requested that Minister Littleproud consider relocating senior regulatory staff to key live export ports as a logical step in the governments decentralisation agenda.

My concerns extend to the whole live export supply chain, which starts in the farming communities of my electorate of O'Connor. I believe a better understanding of the on-ground challenges faced by exporters and those right down the supply chain will help the development and maintenance of a viable live animal export industry that is transparent and consistently demonstrates positive animal welfare outcomes.

House adjourned at 20:00