House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Grievance Debate

Live Sheep Exports

7:14 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I'm not sure you'll enjoy my contribution tonight, but I know who will, and they are the members of the North Eastern Wheatbelt Regional Organisation of Councils. They represent a large area of O'Connor that supplies shipping wethers to the live sheep export trade. Caroline Robinson, Quentin Davies and Tony Sachse, the president of the Shire of Mt Marshall, have been walking the halls of Parliament House today, speaking to all sides of parliament about the dire predicament of the live sheep export industry, and I welcome Tony here tonight in the Federation Chamber at the end of what I'm sure has been a productive day.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Western Australian Labor government's animal cruelty charges against WA's premier live sheep exporter, Emanuel Exports, it's time we review the events leading up to this humiliating backdown by the WA government. While the official government line is that it was not in the public interest to pursue the charges, the truth points to something more sinister. The prosecution's key witness, Fazal Ullah, had disappeared, causing the case to collapse. This should have signalled the end of the protracted, extremely expensive and vexatious litigation claim initiated by the former WA minister for agriculture, Alannah MacTiernan, following the tragic events of August 2017, when 2,400 sheep perished aboard the Awassi Express in the Persian Gulf.

Instead, it has reignited the 'cash for cruelty' claims that followed the airing of the April 2018 60 Minutes exclusive 'Sheep, ships and videotapes', based on an interview with a Pakistani deckhand, Fazal Ullah, who filmed the horrific footage and became infamously known as the whistleblower. Animals Australia publicly maintain they never paid cash for footage of animal suffering, but it has been widely publicised that Mr Ullah received over A$100,000 in payments directly from Animals Australia under the guise of wages, expenses and scholarships for him to study in Victoria—even a scholarship for his sister to study at the university of Islamabad.

I have seen a letter Lyn White wrote to Fazal Ullah's mother and family, and it is entirely consistent with grooming behaviour. She describes herself as an ex-policewoman now leading an international Australia-based animal charity, Animals Australia. In this letter she describes Fazal Ullah as an 'extraordinarily rare human being … to observe the suffering of these animals and realise to the depths of his soul that this was wrong'. She also said that she 'promised Fazal that I will be by his side every step of the way, providing guidance and support … and change for the better will come through our efforts'—fine sentiments indeed.

However, I have in my possession bank statements that show that multiple Australian individuals transferred a total of over $38,000 from Australia bank accounts to Mr Ullah's Middle Eastern bank accounts in Pakistan, Dubai and Sydney, an act that could only have been facilitated by Animals Australia. I have also seen an affidavit by the second whistleblower, Mahmood Raza Mazher, who describes exactly how the 60 Minutes footage is likely to have been created. Mr Mazher provides details of communication between himself and Fazal Ullah towards securing a mobile phone and filming footage on board. Ullah was by then no longer working on board as a result of prior acts of animal cruelty, including beating a cow with a wooden pole. Under an alias of Mubashir, the name of a former Awassi Express deckhand, Mr Mazher also communicated directly with Animals Australia's Director Lyn White. The emails they exchanged are damning and show Animals Australia grooming two cash-strapped deckhands and financially incentivising their filming of animal suffering.

Given the highly dubious morality and legality of Animals Australia's actions and the privileged relationship they enjoy with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Slade Brockman, who's with me here in the chamber tonight, and I wrote to Minister Murray Watt. I will quote verbatim from this letter, which was sent to Murray Watt on 27 November 2023:

Dear Minister Watt,

We write to urge you to sever all official ties between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Animals Australia, in addition to immediately removing Animals Australia from the Live Export Animal Welfare Advisory Group.

Animals Australia has a business model based around the use of visual footage, sometimes paid for with large sums of money, to attack legitimate agricultural industries and undermine public trust in agriculture.

Animals Australia uses photographs and videos of animals in distress to raise donations.

This money is then used to acquire new footage of animals suffering.

This cycle is for the sole purpose of de-legitimising agriculture, particularly livestock, production.

This business model is starkly contradictory to the ethos and mission of the Department of Agriculture.

There is now significant evidence in the public domain that:

1. Animals Australia paid over $100,000 to Fazal Ullah before, during and after his time on the Awassi Express. This money provides a considerable financial incentive to produce footage of animals suffering, especially when the wage for a deckhand is less than USD500 a month on these vessels.

2. Emails show Animals Australia spent significant time and money grooming Fazal Ullah for his role and the type of footage of animals suffering that was required.

3. At one point, Fazal Ullah suggested that ventilation to the sheep could be closed in order to increase animal suffering.

4. Allegedly, sheep housed on the areas of the Awassi Express controlled by Fazal Ullah suffered the highest mortality rates, and the footage he took showed clear evidence of carer neglect.

5. A former shipmate of Fazal Ullah, in a sworn affidavit, supported the allegations of cash for cruelty, emphasising the following points:

"many of the issues shown in the footage were Fazal's responsibility "

a. "empty water troughs",

b. "sheep crowded in one corner of a pen"

c. "pens filthy",

d. "carcasses had been allowed to rot"

e. "the sheep panting was extremely shocking to me…ventilation systems can be reduced to zero from the sundeck switch box room without anyone noticing"

f. "I cannot prove that Fazal shut off the ventilation systems on the ship, but it is my suspicion that is what he did"

6. Animals Australia facilitated the third-party transfer of over AUD37,000 from multiple Australian donors bank accounts to overseas bank accounts belonging to Fazal Ullah.

Anonymous cash deposits were made into an account held by Fazal Ullah at the Sydney branch of the Bank of Boroda.

7. Additionally, Animals Australia received compliance requests from a Western Union intermediary, the Bank of NY Mellon… as part of their anti-money laundering/counter-terrorism financing requirements…following transfers from the Animal Justice Fund to Fazal Ullah.

Animals Australia refused to comply with these requirements and instead found an alternative way to continue to transfer funds to Mr Ullah.

The Awassi Express incident was the cause of much anguish in the sheep industry and across Australia.

In fact, Minister, you have cited it as a key reason for the proposed ban on live export of sheep.

It is on the public record that Animals Australia uses footage of cruelty to raise money, which then funds perpetuation of further cruelty.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the member for O'Connor to direct your comments to the minister through the chair.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

It continues:

If you continue to allow Animals Australia a privileged position in discussions with your Department, then you share their moral culpability.

This pattern of ethically questionable, if not illegal, activity was recently repeated with an Animals Australia activists taking covert footage of sheep in public places in Oman, an illegal activity under local law.

The fact they have a special place at the table with DAFF legitimises their activities, and their attacks upon agriculture.

On the DAFF website it says:

Australia leads the world in animal welfare…

W e have a unique regulatory system , unlike any other country that exports livestock.

We require exporters of livestock for human consumption ( known as feeder and slaughter livestock ) to have arrangements in place with supply chain partners.

This ensures humane treatment and handling of livestock is provided from the time they arrive in the importing countr y up to and including the point of slaughter.

Australia is the world leader in animal welfare in transportation and handling through live export.

Animals Australia's campaigns are scurrilous, morally indefensible and based around a fund-raising model cannot be justified in civil society.

By disassociating from Animals Australia, the Department can reaffirm its stance as a global leader in animal welfare and uphold the integrity of Australia's agricultural sector.

This is signed by Rick Wilson MP and Senator Slade Brockman. In closing, I ask leave to table the letter to Minister Watt.

Leave granted.

Thank you. In closing, I say to Minister Watt: we have reached a fork in the road. As more and more information comes to light, this government has the choice of either aligning itself with these animal activists or severing all ties and standing with Australian farmers and exporters.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for O'Connor, when you are referring to Minister Watt, are you referring to the minister?

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Then address him by his correct title, please.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, if you choose to stand with the activists, you malign every action that comes to light as our investigations continue, and you will lose the confidence of every farmer in Australia.