WAFarmers’ Jeff Murray won’t be fooling many sheep farmers in his most recent rant and baseless accusations about the RSPCA after we said we were not satisfied with the new export licence granted to Rural Exports and Trading WA (RETWA).
Mr Murray’s attempt to mislead sheep farmers into believing everything is all fine in the live sheep trade, if only the RSPCA would stop complaining, has been shown up as completely misleading in light of the Moss Review released a few days ago.
The investigation into the Federal regulator at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) by Philip Moss confirmed what the RSPCA has been saying for three decades – animal welfare has been callously disregarded in the trade administered by a regulator that is hopelessly conflicted and incompetent.
In having a go at the RSPCA for opposing the new RETWA licence, Mr Murray appeared to be suggesting that anyone who supports agriculture must automatically support the live sheep trade.
The RSPCA has always supported farming but we are certainly opposed to RETWA’s licence approval and the decision to water down new animal welfare requirements made by DAWR.
Here are the reasons why.
In response to public outrage about the Awassi Express horror voyages in April, Federal Minister David Littleproud pledged a range of animal welfare improvements, including removing bad operators.
But, what we are seeing from the Federal government are broken promises through new regulations that are so weak they will do almost nothing to improve sheep welfare.
Following the Awassi debacle, the minister said he would weed out bad operators from the industry.
He said at the time: “Personally, I’d like to see company directors be held more personally accountable if they do the wrong thing, facing big fines and possible jail time.
“They shouldn’t be able to hide behind companies and shelf companies.
“I want to let the light shine in.”
Letting the light shine in apparently means granting a licence to an exporter with strong connections to Emanuel Exports and an equally horrendous track record on mass animal mortalities.
In 2004, RETWA had its export licence cancelled by former agriculture minister Warren Truss following a string of 25 high mortality voyages within a two-year period between 2000 and 2002.
In granting the new export licence, the government says a 17.5 per cent reduction in stocking densities will apply on board, a move that Mr Murray says should “satisfy any reasonable person.”
But, the reduction of just 17.5pc goes against the advice of the Australian Veterinary Association which is that live sheep exports to the Middle East between May and October should not take place due to the extremes of temperatures in the northern summer and for the rest of the year, a stocking reduction of up to 28pc should be applied.
The RSPCA is most definitely not satisfied with the mere 17.5pc reduction which means only half the sheep can lie down at any one time during the three to four-week voyage.
This was admitted by the Department of Agriculture at the Senate Estimates last month.
The majority of Australians, including many sheep farmers, would not be satisfied with knowing sheep have to timeshare their lying down time or resort to lying on top of each other for almost a month at sea.
The government also pledged independent observers would be on all live sheep export voyages to monitor animal welfare conditions and report directly to the Federal regulator.
Another broken promise.
Now, we are told independent observers will only be on board if there is room for them.
In the minister’s words, the on-board independent observers were crucial to providing “truth in proof” in live exports after it was found the extent of the suffering and death of sheep in appalling conditions on Emanuel Exports voyages had been seriously downplayed in reports to the Federal regulator.
The RSPCA has long raised concerns with the apparent indifference to animal welfare in the regulation of the live export industry.
Our dissatisfaction has been completely justified with the Moss Review exposing a culture of fear and conflicts of interest within the regulator which have prevented proper regulation of the trade.
The Moss Review is the third damning assessment of the live export trade in 15 years and the same problems are revealed each time – a callous disregard for animal welfare, inherent conflicts of interest and a regulator rendered weak and incapable by political interference.
We support Mr Littleproud for commissioning the review and he again pledged major reforms, including the appointment of an independent live export regulator.
We expect the Australian public will make sure he stands firm on those promises this time.
The support for ending live sheep exports increases to around eight in every 10 Australians if government assistance is available to help sheep farmers exit the industry.
It is also a fact that not all sheep farmers in WA support live exports.
This was obvious at the Katanning rally organised by WA Farmers in July.
At that event, several sheep farmers spoke up against live exports suggesting there are other types of agribusiness in WA that should be encouraged and promoted.
Of course, WAFarmers is conflicted with its leadership heavily involved in the live sheep trade and unable to effectively represent farmers who aren’t part of that.
It is the role of RSPCA to prevent animal cruelty and to advocate for the application of the most up to date animal welfare science.
For more than three decades our position on live export has been consistent.
Over that time, we have repeatedly called for independent and external oversight and proper attention to and enforcement of animal welfare standards in the trade.
It is not the role of the RSPCA to support industries that are inherently cruel to animals involved.
The live sheep trade is one of those industries and the Moss Review has given Australians further reason to believe animal welfare will never be assured in the trade.
Since the RETWA licence was issued by a government agency that was under review at the time and has now been exposed as incompetent, we believe the decision to grant the licence should be reviewed by an independent third party, perhaps the soon to be appointed Inspector-General for Live Animal Exports.
We know the vast majority of farmers treat their animals humanely and believe good animal welfare is good for farming.
They will just be getting on with running their farms, paying no attention to Mr Murray’s attacks on the RSPCA, which is just taking aim at the messenger instead of attempting to address the issue of obvious cruelty in the live sheep trade.