The live export industry is considering a major retreat on animal welfare policy, by canvassing an idea put forward by Labor for an independent inspector to oversee the treatment of livestock.
- Labor first proposed the idea of an inspector-general in 2013
- Australian Live Exporters Council chairman Simon Crean says the industry will discuss the proposal
- Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon said it was a “surprise but welcome move”
It comes after shocking revelations that almost 2,500 Australian sheep died from dehydration on board a ship bound for the Middle East last August, and animals being mistreated in a Qatari abattoir.
Labor first proposed the idea of an inspector-general for animal welfare in 2013, but former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce dumped it when the Coalition came to power.
The industry has been vehemently against the policy and farm groups say it would create unnecessary red tape and regulatory burden.
But in a sign of how vulnerable the live export sector feels right now, the Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC) chairman Simon Crean has sent a letter to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, telling him the industry would discuss the proposal.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it was a “surprise but welcome move”.
He said better oversight of the industry and the regulator, the Department of Agriculture, was needed.
“The inspector-general would be for animal welfare and live animal exports at the federal level, and he or she would be the cop on the beat overlooking the regulator to ensure that the regulator did its work fully and properly,” he said.
“And he or she would lead the way in establishing an independent office of animal welfare, which I hope would be a creature of COAG.”
There is no suggestion the live export industry supports the idea yet, but the fact Mr Crean has flagged it is up for discussion is significant.
Just ‘a band-aid solution’: Coalition
But some, like the Coalition’s Sussan Ley, do not think Labor’s policy goes far enough.
“It sounds like a band-aid solution,” she said.
“And unfortunately when we’ve seen the work of inspector generals in other portfolios they’ve often come across as rather toothless tigers.”
Ms Ley, who used to be a farmer and a shearer, said she supported a ban instead. She was appalled by the recent incidents involving Australian sheep onboard and Emanuel Exports ship.
“I’m calling for a phase out of all live exports of sheep to the Middle East, not cattle to Indonesia,” she said.
“The level of anger and angst in the Australian community has reached unprecedented levels, and that’s no surprise, because people like me have watched this for 15 years. And I used to be the first person to get out of bed in the morning and defend the live sheep trade.”
Emanuel exports were blocked from sending another shipment of sheep to the Middle East after the shocking vision of dead and dying sheep was aired on commercial television.
Mr Littleproud has ordered a review into the latest incidents. That investigation should be completed in a few weeks.
The company has claimed it has taken “decisive steps” to improve welfare standards, including reducing the number of sheep on board.