The Australian Government will look into new allegations about the way footage was obtained and used in a campaign by activists to close the live export trade.
Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said allegations in major newspapers that footage from a livestock vessel was paid for were “terrible”, but said he did not know if there was any truth behind the claims.
“Our Government will be looking into it, of course, but what we want to do is get on and continue to make sure that [the] live animal export [industry] has a future,” Mr McCormack said.
The Daily Telegraph and West Australian newspapers published allegations on Thursday that footage showing sheep in distress was paid for by animal activists as part of a campaign to ban the trade.
The ABC has not verified the claims or been able to contact whistleblower Fazal Ullah about their veracity.
“Under no circumstances should payment be made for video or any information as it provides [a] potential incentive to do the wrong thing,” Mr McCormack said.
“This is true across any industry and of all parties.
“Animals Australia need to clarify the issue around payments and address matters raised immediately.”
Animals Australia defends whistleblower
Animals Australia has defended the whistleblower who exposed the footage from a live export ship that brought significant national attention to its campaign to ban live exports.
In a statement to the ABC it said: “The indisputable evidence of animal abuse obtained by whistleblower Mr Fazal Ullah was corroborated by other workers from the Awassi Express who were similarly concerned about the suffering of animals on the vessel,” it said.
“The overwhelming evidence of suffering across five voyages, confirmed in End of Voyage Vet Reports, was accepted by industry associations and Government regulators.”
On Thursday, Animals Australia said it would not comment on the matter while a criminal justice investigation was underway.
“We reserve all of our rights with respect to any allegations made, defamatory or otherwise,” it said.
In a later statement, it said: “no amount of mud thrown could cover up the behaviour of this exporter or bury the bodies of the sheep whose deaths they are accountable for.”
“Animals Australia stands by the evidence provided and will continue to cooperate with the regulator and relevant authorities as required.”
A spokesman for exporter Emanuel Exports said it “encourages anyone with evidence like what was reported in the newspaper to take it to the appropriate authorities immediately”.
Farmers demand review
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association and WAFarmers have demanded an investigation into how footage, used in the campaign to end live exports, was obtained.
Following the allegations published by the newspapers, WAFarmers president Tony York said if footage had been fabricated in a bid to mislead the public it discredited the organisations that used the footage.
“The livestock industry has put a huge amount of time, effort and money to improve its integrity systems to ensure the best practice animal welfare standards possible for all animals going into the live export trade,” he said.
“Breaching animal welfare is punishable by law, as is bribery.”
The National Famers Federation also expressed concern about the Animals Australia campaign.
Opposition says industry’s days still numbered
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the newspaper report raised questions “that should be answered”, but maintained the Opposition’s support to phase out the trade.
“Three Government-commissioned reports have now found systemic failings in the live sheep export trade, both … behavioural and regulatory,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“The science is very, very clear that the industry is unable to meet reasonable community and science-based animal welfare standards.”
Speaking in general terms, Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said he did not have a problem with welfare groups paying for footage.
“I think it is important that organisations that care about animal welfare take any step necessary really to uncover the truth,” Mr Steele-John told the ABC’s Country Hour.
Concerns raised in late 2018
Last December the ABC reported that Government backbencher Barnaby Joyce had used parliamentary privilege to claim a live sheep export whistleblower was paid about $200,000.
The footage showing sheep deaths onboard a live export ship headed to the Middle East led to fierce debate about whether the industry should be shut down.
Animals Australia was provided with the vision, which was published by the 60 Minutes program in April 2018.
Speaking in Parliament on December 5, the former Deputy Prime Minister said the whistleblower was paid, but did not say by who.
“Where was the person that was responsible for looking after them? He was the person that took the footage, he was the person that took the footage. And now he sold the footage, he’s been paid and he’s living in Pakistan,” Mr Joyce told Parliament.
“I think he got in excess of $200,000 for it.”
Animals Australia denied that it, or the 60 Minutes program, provided any payment for the footage.
Mr Joyce’s comments to Parliament came during the same week that exporters announced a self-imposed ban on the live export of sheep during the northern summer next year.