SUBJECTS: Moss Review recommendations; Barnaby Joyce wrecking ball; Live exports
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Dramatic changes are in store for the live export regulator after a really scathing review found that it had failed to protect animals from abuse. It was ordered after the 60Minutes program which aired that shocking footage of thousands of sheep dying on Emanuel Exports ship bound for the Middle East. Details of allegations against the company have been exposed in this damning report and they include accusations that the ship was overstocked and simply didn’t have enough food and water for the sheep. The report though has also slammed the bureaucracy for being toofocussed on promoting the live sheep trade rather than policing animal welfare. And the Agriculture Minister has accepted all of the 31 recommendations from this review and ordered an immediate overhaul of his Department as well. And that includes promises of an independent watchdog to monitor the Department overall and to re-establish an Animal Welfare Branch which was cut due to budget constraints back in 2013. Export ships would also be subject to random checks and companies could have to foot the bill to install CCTV monitoring on vessels. I know that is something Ben [Fordham] has been calling for as well, CCTV on ships, for months. It makes sense. It is a simple way of making them accountable but will these measures be enough to keep the industry in line? Well, Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture Minister and he is with us on the line this afternoon. Shadow Minister, hello to you.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: G’day Deb.
KNIGHT: They are not mincing words with this review. It seems the Agriculture Department really has dropped the ball here, what went wrong?
FITZGIBBON: Well it certainly is a damning condemnation of government action, in particular Barnaby Joyce’s antics of almost five years ago. In fact I wouldn’t describe the recommended changes as dramatic as most of them are simply restoring the things that Barnaby Joyce got rid of all those years ago. The key is of course the Independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. I appointed that person back in 2013 when I was Agriculture Minister, only to have Barnaby Joyce abolish the position after 2013 election. Of course, the unit for animal welfare within the Department, it also ran an Australian Animal Welfare Strategy – Joyce got rid of all these initiatives and of course that is what drove such a bad culture in the Department. And it is what led to dramatic events like the Awassi affair.
KNIGHT: Is there a humane way for this live export trade to continue? Because no one wants to see animals mistreated but this is an important industry in Australia. Do you think it needs to be shut down?
FITZGIBBON: It certainly has a long history of controversy and back in 2011 you might recall the former Labor Government was forced to suspend the cattle trade until we dealt with some very serious issues there. We did that then after four weeks’ suspension we were able to put that industry back on a sustainable footing and the live cattle trade has been operating pretty much incident free since. And ofcourse it has been able to meet, based on the science, reasonable animal welfare expectations. The live sheep trade is another matter altogether. Their whole business model is far more challenging, 60,000 sheep at a time going into the hottest middle eastern summer in the course of a four week period. The science on live sheep is very, very clear, you cannot sustain that trade in a profitable way while also meeting reasonable community expectations on animal welfare.
KNIGHT: So what do you and the Labor Party want? Do you want to shut it down?
FITZGIBBON: Well we welcome the fact that David Littleproud has backflipped today on behalf of his Government and restored both the Inspector-General and the unit within the Department of Agriculture, and hopefully therefore there will be an attempt to change the culture. We heard today people in the Department, people within the regulator weren’t prepared to blow the whistle for fear. Now I don’t know who they were fearful of, but I think we have a fair idea it was Barnaby Joyce who gave a green light, an unqualified green light to the industry to do things in any way they like but the live sheep trade does need to be phased out. The science is very, very clear. It’s incompatible with reasonable expectations on the animal welfare front and we have said a Labor Government would immediately put a stop to that northern summer trade, that is that period where they are shipping sheep in the hottest of the middle eastern summer and phase out balance of the trade probably over a five year period.
KNIGHT: Isn’t it worth though waiting to see if these measures, and there area strong measures contained in this review to see whether they work before you call for a phase out?
FITZGIBBON: Well hopefully the Moss Review will fix the culture in the Department but that’s all it was looking at, the culture and capability of the Department. We are still waiting for a review ona the standards that are applied to the trade and of course, there are two sets of standards and there is another that should be reviewed sometime soon. But with the sheep trade in this northern summer, the science is very, very clear. It is impossible to ship those sheep on those long voyages in the middle eastern summer while meeting community expectations and all of our expectations on animal welfare so it wouldn’t matter. Talk about stocking densities, I have often drawn the analogy- it’s like saying it’s not okay to leave three dogs in the car in the hot summer while you duck into the supermarket but it’s okay to leave one dog in the car. No that is not right. It is so hot and humid in that time of the year that it is impossible for sheep to take that voyage without coming under distress.
KNIGHT: Well you say this review is looking into cultural issues but it is making some strong recommendations including export ships to be subject to random checks and that companies could have to foot the bill to install CCTV monitoring on vessels. These are concrete measures that surely we should wait and see if they are effective before we make a call?
FITZGIBBON: We welcome those recommendations and we will embrace them – they should have happened a long time ago and as I said, some of them were already in place and with the imprimatur of his Cabinet colleagues, Barnaby Joyce abolished them. But I make the point again, it doesn’t matter how good the regulatory framework is and how good the supervision is, you just cannot continue with that northern summer sheep trade while also ensuring that the sheep are treated humanely. They are just not compatible, doesn’t matter how well you regulate it.
KNIGHT: So Labor will stick with the position that was announced in May where you did call for a complete ban on live export but you still want to stick with this, you want it phased out?
FITZGIBBON: Well when I introduced the Private Members Bill to restore the Independent Inspector General which I established in 2013, I did so with no expectation that it would change the dynamic in the live sheep trade. I did so with the expectation that it would cover the cattle trade and while ever the sheep trade is in place it would help the situation. But it doesn’t change the science. And when I introduced that Bill by the way, members of the Government lined up to criticise it and you know that is most disappointing. Today they are suddenly all embracing it. There is a bit of trick or treating going on in Canberra as well.
KNIGHT: What compensation would you be offering for the industry because it’s a big industry in Australia and a lot of farmers and a lot of industry rely on it. If you do phase it out what will you being offering in compensation.
FITZGIBBON: Well the live sheep trade is all about Western Australia mainly and South Australia. It’s funny you ask that because David Littleproud and this Government has effectively shut down the live sheep trade, about 19 or 20 weeks ago now and it has not reached out to sheepmeat producers or other affected in any way. Not even a conversation let alone compensation or talk about an orderly transition plan. That’s very disappointing. What we have said is that we will phase it out over a five year period and we will work with all the stakeholders in the supply chain to help them transition to something better and something more profitable. One of our key goals here is to make we do more value adding in Australia to create more jobs here in Australia.
KNIGHT: Well you have no argument with me on that regard. I think it would be worthwhile for us to actually have the abattoirs doing the work here in Australia rather than shipping them off shore for the export trade that is for sure. We can do that effectively we know that is the case so I agree with you on that front. Joel Fitzgibbon, good to have your time this afternoon.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.