There is no doubt the current trade and regulatory system, the exporters and the Australian Livestock Exporter Council (ALEC) have been joined together in overseeing a gross and immoral failure. It is a system incapable of identifying the most obvious and gross mistreatment of animals, let alone doing anything about it. It is a system incapable of making the live export industry responsible and answerable for the prolonged suffering and inhumane death of Australian animals. It is a system complicit in a trade that practices deliberate cruelty.
The Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, has claimed this is an isolated incident, but the truth is he has no idea. His own Department gave the voyage in question a clean bill of health in its report. We only know about this latest animal atrocity because of the courage and persistence of animal welfare advocates and, in this case, a whistleblower.
It astonishing that the Department and the exporter itself were unable to discern the horrible suffering and death of thousands of sheep. It seems they found a way to ignore the horror. There have been no consequences for the exporter involved, nor for the Department or the ALEC. Instead the Minister talks about “second chances” for an industry that has already enjoyed dozens of chances and responded with disregard for both animal welfare and the broad public interest.
That is so far from being good enough. It is a million miles away from the basic animal welfare standards that Australians expect. Clearly, the cycle of mealy-mouthed excuses and platitudes have to stop. As the 60 Minutes broadcast rightly said, “we have all been lied to” – and this has been going on for more than 15 years.
As the representative of the Fremantle community that has long been a leading voice in calling out the cruelties of the live export trade, I believe the federal government needs to do much more. It should acknowledge the intrinsic suffering involved in treating live animals as long-distance freight, and it should be prepared to plan for and support a shift towards an expanded chilled meat trade and away from live export.
Federal Labor has set out a six-point plan of serious reforms to the live export industry, which most crucially, includes the creation of an Independent Office of Animal Welfare. I also welcome the actions of Western Australian Minister for Agriculture, Alannah MacTiernan MLC, who is intent on stepping into the gaping breach left by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture.