SUBJECT/S: Moss Review; Phasing out of live sheep exports; Departmental failings and culture.
FRAN KELLY: We are going to stay with this damning review [Moss Review] on the Federal Government’s handling of live sheep exports that has revived the campaign to abolish the trade. The review was sparked by the death of thousands of sheep aboard the Awassi Express earlier this year. It found that catastrophic failure to regulate the industry since 2013.The Government says it will adopt all 31 recommendations of the review, including an independent watchdog, random checks and industry funded surveillance technology to monitor welfare.
[prerecord] “Because the world wants live sheep, and anyone that says they don’t is ignorant or naïve. The reality is our markets want live sheep.”
That’s the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud making the point that the industry won’t be shut down. But key crossbenchers are unconvinced by this latest attempt to reset this trade and Labor is promising to phase out live exports if it wins the next election. Joel Fitzgibbon is the Shadow Agriculture spokesperson. Joel Fitzgibbon welcome back to Breakfast.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be back Fran.
KELLY: You heard the Agriculture Minister there, the world wants live sheep exports, that the industry has a future. Do you agree that live exports has a future?
FITZGIBBON: Well, live exports really fall into two categories, Fran. There are those activities, which based on the science and the advice of the experts, can operate sustainably while also meeting reasonable expectations on animal welfare. But there are other activities which the science tells us are completely incompatible with those standards and that includes the live sheep trade. So there are two categories and what we have said about the latter is that we will work with the industry to phase it out and set it onto a new and more sustainably profitable path.
KELLY: So you would phase out live sheep exports over five years, I think is your timeline, but not all live animal exports. Is that your position?
FITZGIBBON: That’s our position. We have got to stick with the science and the expert advice. And if you recall back in 2011 when the ABC aired that terrible footage in abattoirs in Indonesia, that was a problem we didn’t have in our supply chain here, it was a problem in another nation state. We put in place a system to monitor and regulate that into the future. But what we have with the live sheep trade is a broken model. A model which depends upon too many sheep going onto a ship on a too long a voyage into a too hot a climate and conditions. So we came to a conclusion, based on the advice that is not sustainable. You can’t regulate that. You can’t fix that. So we will work with the industry to phase it out over time.
KELLY: Well the review has recommendations which suggest it believes you can regulate it and you can fix it, includes the establishment of an independent Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, which I think you welcome, and the Minister himself says to change culture the light needs to be shone onto animal welfare. And the threat of being caught and punished needs to be real. You’re saying you don’t think even the presence of an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports will enough, or any of these other 31 recommendations?
FITZGIBBON: We certainly welcome the Government’s backflip on all these matters, we have been pushing for their restoration for five years. It has been a serious area of policy failure for this Government and we do need to embrace these things to ensure that part of the sector which is sustainable, which can meet reasonable animal welfare expectations, for them, that the rules are enforced and upheld. But for the other side of the equation, where the science is clear and animal welfare standards cannot be met, well, we need to work with the sector to phase it out.
KELLY: OK the other finding, the startling finding I think of this review was the failure of the Department which has the job of overseeing whether these live exporters do stick within the regulations, the complete failure of the Department. It found that the Department suffered from a culture of fear, a lack of expertise and is too focused on trade and deregulation rather than policing. Were you aware of that? You’ve been Agriculture Minister I think haven’t you. Were you aware of this or was this news to you?
FITZGIBBON: Very aware of it Fran and have spoken ad nauseam about it publicly including in the Parliament for many years and of course culture in the Department and within the regulator is set by the Minister at the time and Barnaby Joyce wanted to send a political message to some of his base that he was in charge now and they’d have a unqualified green light and he was trying to capitalise on Labor’s forced suspension of the cattle trade in 2011. As I have often said, sometimes in life those who purport to be your best friend turn out to be your worst enemy because if you destroy the culture in the regulator and you give that unqualified green light, people in the industry start both risk taking, or worse act in contempt of the rules and the regulation. What we saw with the Awassi Express is a manifestation of that.
KELLY: Well we have that experience seared in our minds now thanks to the images. We also have this finding form this review. To change the culture of the Department should the secretary stand down? Is that necessary?
FITZGIBBON: Questions certainly need to be answered. While I am always happy to have a whack at Barnaby Joyce as you know, he changed this culture. He cut the Animal Welfare Unit, he cut the funding for the Animal Welfare Strategy, he abolished the Inspector General for Live Animal Exports with the imprimatur and support of all those who sat around the Cabinet table with him. Know this is not an isolated example – the forced relocation of the entity that regulates our ag vet chemicals, the way he tore up drought reform policy after the 2013 election -
FITZGIBBON: – There are many questions needed to be answered about how the people around Barnaby Joyce sat back and just let him have his way with these things.
KELLY: Well I just want to stick with this issue because the industry itself bears some responsibility doesn’t it? I mean it has welcomed – the industry body the Australian Livestock Exporters Council - has welcomed the reforms and has welcomed the Inspector General, the independent watch dog and it says its number one priority is best practice in animal welfare and poor welfare outcomes are never acceptable. Aren’t those hollow word given the Awassi is not the only time we have seen these images of shocking treatment of animals?
FITZGIBBON: They are hollow words. I mean a whole raft of farm groups rejected my Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports every time I raised its restoration. You asked me about accountability within the Department. Yes I think the Secretary probably should answer some questions, but remember the last time a Secretary of the Agriculture Department stood up to his Minister Barnaby Joyce, he was dispatched for being so bold so you can understand why people in the Department have been unwilling or unable to speak up on these issues.
KELLY: So just very briefly, we are almost out of time. In 20 seconds or less how quickly if elected to Government would Labor move to phase out this because the crossbench is planning to do this. Derryn Hinch and Kerryn Phelps have already signalled that, just very briefly.
FITZGIBBON: I’m attempting to phase it out now with amendments in the House of Representatives and will do so at the first opportunity. We will move on that terrible northern summer trade as quickly as possible, an immediate cessation and the balance of the trade probably over a five year period.
KELLY: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you very much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.