Rebel Liberal backbencher Sussan Ley will reportedly push on with a private member’s bill to phase out live sheep exports within five years, despite the outcome of a government-ordered review into the trade.
“Scientific advice from the Australian Veterinary Association tells us it is impossible to avoid animal deaths in the heat and humidity of a Middle East summer, regardless of lower density rates or moves towards better ventilation,” Ms Ley told The Conversation.
Ms Ley is not the only one dissatisfied with livestock vet Michael McCarthy’s review, commissioned after the release of shocking footage of sheep dying, recommending widespread changes.
Western Australian Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan indicated on Thursday she might yet move to restrict exports in the northern summer. The WA government has sought legal advice on whether it can impose its own restrictions on live exports from its ports.
“It’s going to be quite complex but we will act, if we have an obligation to act,” Ms MacTiernan said.
And the opposition’s agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, said Labor would stop the summer trade at the first opportunity, and phase out the wider industry over time. That makes live exports a potential federal election issue.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Thursday accepted all 23 of Dr McCarthy’s recommendations for the northern hemisphere summer trade.
Required changes in shipboard conditions include independent observers on board with all live sheep and cattle exports and cutting the number of animals on ships by up to 28 per cent, with up to 39 per cent more space on live export vessels.
“The footage was disgraceful, but what you don’t need to do is predicate your decisions on emotions, not facts,” Mr Littleproud said on Thursday.
The government has proposed tough penalties for dodgy exporters, with jail terms of up to 10 years for company directors and individuals.
Fines ranging between $420,000 for individuals and $4.2 million for companies will also be included in legislation to be introduced in coming weeks.
Any voyage with a mortality rate of more than 1 per cent will be investigated by the independent regulator, down from 2 per cent.
All sheep and cattle ships will have an independent observer on board to send vision and reports to the regulator on a daily basis.
“This is about getting truth and proof from those boats,” Mr Littleproud said.
The Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA had also called for a ban on the northern summer trade, which they say is not possible to do humanely.
But Mr Littleproud said people were kidding themselves if they thought the global demand for live sheep would go away.
“We have got a responsibility to stay and get it right. We have a responsibility to the animals, but also to our farmers.”
Animals Australia’s Lyn White said it was a “lily-livered” government response designed to protect exporters, not animals.
National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson backed the new measures, but admitted there was no guarantee sheep would no longer die in large numbers on export ships.
“What I can give the public a guarantee about is that it is a better system than we currently have,” Ms Simson said.
“From the farmers’ perspective, we need to fix it, not ban it.”
– with agencies