By Jeremy Sollars
Federal Agriculture Minister and Maranoa MP David Littleproud has come under fire from animal rights groups for ruling out an immediate and permanent ban on live exports.
Mr Littleproud this week announced what he described as a “short, sharp review of the standards for the sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer”, following the airing of disturbing footage on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program last Sunday night of sheep which perished during a voyage to Qatar and Kuwait last August.
Heat stress in 40 degree-plus temperatures on the vessel Awassi Express caused the deaths of 2400 sheep, representing 3.76 per cent of the total consignment of nearly 64,000.
Mr Littleproud – and the Federal Labor opposition – have ruled out an end to live exports from Australia, saying it would only serve to hurt Australian producers.
Groups including the RSPCA and Animals Australia have been vocal with their demands for a live export ban since the airing of the footage, shot by an officer-turned-whistle-blower on the Awassi Express in August last year and given to Animals Australia.
The review announced this week by Mr Littleproud – who has been minister for just a few months – is expected to take four weeks, to allow any recommendations to be acted on before sheep are sent to the Middle Eastern summer, starting in June, from Australia’s winter.
“This will be a short, sharp review looking into the standards of the northern summer trade give confidence in those boats and the standards in which those sheep go to the Middle East,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I’ve asked Dr Michael McCarthy, a pre-eminent vet who has experience in the export industry, to undertake that review.
“I spoke to Dr McCarthy this morning and he believes he’ll be able to get that done well within the timeframe because of his experience in the industry and researching it.
“It’s important we take decisive action because it’s the livelihoods of farmers and their families at stake.
“It’d be great if the live export industry led on this issue and had already taken strong action by the time this review comes back.
“If I have to drag them kicking and screaming, I will, but I’d prefer they led and proved to the Australian people they are serious about cultural change.“
The Awassi Express is preparing to leave for the Middle East with another sheep consignment this week – around 57,000 animals – but has been ordered to remain in dock in Fremantle by maritime officials due to concerns over inadequate ventilation.
It is still unknown when the voyage will commence.
Department of Agriculture records show there have been 30 ‘reportable mortality incidents’ during Australian live export voyages – both by sea and by air – since 2006, involving sheep, cattle, goats and buffalo.
The majority of the incidents have involved cattle being exported by sea and air to Asian destinations.
One of the worst incidents involving sheep was in August 2013 when 3256 sheep, or 5.53 per cent of the total consignment, perished during a sea voyage to the Middle East from heat stress.
Summer in the Middle East is from June to August, with top daytime temperatures in locations such as Qatar in the Persian Gulf averaging above 40 degrees.
The average maximum in Qatar in April is 33 degrees.
Live export ‘mortality incidents’ become publicly reportable when deaths in individual consignments are over certain thresholds set by the Department of Agriculture – 2% for sheep, goats, camels and deer, 0.5% for cattle and buffalo on a voyage of less than 10 days, and 1% for cattle and buffalo on a voyage of more than 10 days.