SUBJECTS: 60 minutes report on live export; Barnaby Joyce’s performance as Agriculture Minister; Tony Zappia’s proposed Private Members Motion; Bipartisan approach to animal welfare reform.
LEON BYNER: Not surprisingly there is a lot of talk around about the thousands of sheep left to cook on a vessel because they didn’t have enough air, there were even pregnant sheep amongst them. We did approach the Minister to get him on air today, unfortunately he had other things going. But let me just play you the main comment he made pertinent to what you are about to hear.
(RECORDING) LITTLEPROUD: Shocked and gutted. This is the livelihoods of Australian farmers that are on that ship. That is their pride and joy. It is just total b**** that what I saw has taken place. Further information around actions they took as the regulator of live trade exports from this country. I also wrote to the Live Export industry to give me an update in respect to the research they are undertaking under the guise of heat and what progress they have made because there has been considerable money given by the Federal Government in respect of research. I have asked for that update. However yesterday I saw footage provided to me by Animals Australia that quite frankly was very disturbing.
BYNER: What he basically said was, that the report he had been given by his Department was totally inconsistent with the footage that had been shown on 60 Minutes. The Federal Minister Mr Littleproud was given a report by his Department of Agriculture, it gave the all clear to the ship involved in the “cooking sheep scandal”, he is now investigating the investigators. It has been known for some time that the only imperative bureaucrats are interested in is trade – with no impediments. Animal cruelty is regarded as an impediment. It is particularly bad when a department invested with the responsibility to manage rules, put on a blindfold when they do their job which is what appears to have happened here. We see the sanctimonious outpourings by the Minister and he is not going to be able to defend Emanual Exports nor is he trying but what are we saying here? Are we saying he has got a department that deliberately misled him? The report he received was not a mistake. It was a lie. Let’s see what stiff sanctions are handed out. Let’s see if the licence to export is withdrawn. Let’s see if there are other reports giving a clean bill of health to ships that similarly do not comply with animal welfare standards, because that is highly likely. The trade boffins, and I have got this from insiders, don’t care about animal welfare, nor do they care about unsafe products entering Australia. We have had a lot of discussions on this. These people should not be working in the public sector. Now we need to wake up to the reality. To stop pandering to the minority interest and start pandering to the most important one – the public. Let’s start with the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, thank you for joining us today. The Minister yesterday ordered a review of his own Department and even said the vision he has seen from these ships doesn’t match the reports he has seen. Do you believe there has been a deliberate attempt to cover up shocking conditions on these vessels and the number of deaths?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well Leon, I do know that Barnaby Joyce has now departed the portfolio and we have been cleaning up his mess ever since and this is the next project. A Minister importantly sets a standard and a culture in any department and the last time a department head stood up to him, Barnaby Joyce sacked him, the Secretary of his Department. So I am with David Littleproud on this, I don’t want to reflect on the Department, only the leadership. I welcome the fact that David Littleproud has accepted my invitation to work on these things on a bipartisan basis. A business-as-usual approach is not acceptable.
BYNER: Has the regulator failed in its duty to uphold animal welfare standards?
FITZGIBBON: Well it has either failed in its duty because of the Barnaby Joyce culture or the standards are not good enough. In the past when we have had these live trade incidents we have had a debate about whether a particular company have or have not breached and whether sufficient sanctions were imposed. But this time, it is clear watching that footage there is unacceptable cruelty going on here and yet the Department wasn’t able to find a breach of the standards. So it is either a failure in the investigation or poor standards or both.
BYNER: What does this say about Barnaby Joyce’s time as the Agriculture Minister, not very positively in a reflection is it?
FITZGIBBON: Well sadly not very much at all. When I was the Minister in 2013, I announced the appointment of the Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports and Barnaby Joyce abolished that position. It was going to be the role, among other things, of that Inspector General to continue to pursue reform, to investigate unfinished business out of what was called the Farmer Review at that time. And of course that work was never done. So community support has of course gone backwards for this sector under his watch. But again, I am at pains to stress I welcome the fact that David Littleproud seems at least at this stage to be committed to a different approach.
BYNER: What should happen? I think it is great there is a bipartisan view on this, but we have been promised reforms before, and for reasons partly you’ve explained, we have not seen them. What would you expect now? What would be a reasonable expectation given what we now know, opposed to what was whitewashed?
FITZGIBBON: Well, first of all we have to resurrect the Inspector General, an independent cop on the beat overlooking the work of the Department. So that when the Department looks at a breach, he independently audits what was done, that is really important. He also, or she I should say, would lead the reform work and make recommendations to government about a working program on reform. We also want, and Labor announced these things at the last election, an Independent Office of Animal Welfare. I won’t dwell on that now as it will take time. But of course we have to immediately review these standards. I mean, my god, if that footage did not breach standards, there is something terribly wrong with those standards.
BYNER: Stay on the line would you because your colleague the Federal Member for Makin, Tony Zappia, is on the line. Now Tony we understand that you are going to move a Private Members Bill on this?
TONY ZAPPIA, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: I will be move a Private Members Motion when we go back to Parliament in respect to this. I have done that previously in respect to other matters related to live export trade. But I am going to do this again because I suspect that the footage that we saw on the 60 Minutes program is only the tip of the iceberg, based on other feedback I have had over the years. And what disappoints me is that this Government has shown little interest in animal welfare ever since it came into office and the Minister David Littleproud who has now just announced a review of his own Department is the same person who only just over a month ago, said the reaction that Labor did in 2011 in banning the live trade to Indonesia was, and I quote, “a knee-jerk decision”. Now that is the mind-set of the government we are dealing with. It seems to me that we have the regulations in place, I have read through them, they are simply not being enforced or overseen. In addition to that, in 2016 the Productivity Commission itself, separate to politics, recommended that an Australian Commission of Animal Welfare be established as an independent body to oversee the trade. The Government has done nothing in response to that report.
BYNER: So Joel Fitzgibbon, where to from here?
FITZGIBBON: I thank Tony for his contribution. He has had a long-standing interest in this issue and has been very active on it. I support the idea of him creating a debate in the Parliament. Where to from here? Well I think this time around we need to get real and meaningful long lasting reform. And who knows, if I am so fortunate, I could be the Minister within six or 12 months, so whatever the reform looks like I want it to be sustainable when we are in Government and the other mob in Opposition. Tony is right, David Littleproud has obviously had a bit of change of heart and I welcome that epiphany. I don’t think about the past, I look to the future and I will continue to talk with David Littleproud every day and continue to press him to maintain the bipartisanship approach and to embrace our six-point plan, at least the key parts of it, as part of this reform project.
BYNER: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you for joining us. That is the Shadow Agriculture Minister.