SERIOUS questions need to be asked if allegations of ship workers being paid to deliver animal cruelty vision onboard live export vessels heading to the Middle East from May to October 2017 are proven true.
Last week an alleged email exchange between Animals Australia and a ship worker on the highly-publicised Awassi Express journeys, allegedly plotting a campaign about how to obtain the vision and even a suggestion from a ship worker to turn off the ship’s ventilation to capture footage.
On face value, the allegations that have been presented in the emails are explosive and getting to the bottom of the finger pointing, identifying all the key players and ultimately who is responsible is going to be like a massive game of corporate hide-and-seek.
That is however what needs to be done – and fast!
The anti-live export movement continues to gather momentum and political point scoring continues – and will no doubt continue – in the lead up to the Federal election due some time before May.
Only a high-level investigation into any alleged deals that were done that leaves no stone unturned should be accepted.
We are pleased that Federal Agricultural and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud confirmed on Monday that the Federal Department of Agriculture has started to formally investigate the conditions on how footage of voyages from May to October 2017 was obtained.
The minister said if animals were deliberately mistreated for even one piece of footage then those responsible must be brought to justice.
But why has it taken until now to formally investigate?
Allegations that a ship employee was paid were made in Federal Parliament late last year by former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and many in the industry have suggested that should have been the catalyst to start the investigation.
The fallout from vision onboard the highly-publicised Awassi Express has been huge and has become the foundation for a massive anti-livestock campaign that has been peddled out to all and sundry.
It has brought a lot of people into the debate who up until that point, and still to this day, have absolutely no idea about how live export, animal welfare and farming works.
Media commentators, politicians and the uneducated have all been pushing the anti-live export message based on the vision they had seen from the Animals Australia marketing machine, believing it to be an accurate and ongoing reflection of the industry.
Granted, there were pockets of the industry that needed to lift its game and since then they have done so.
Everyone involved needs to ensure that adequate checks and balances are in place.
Animals Australia has previously said it did not pay anyone for onboard ship vision of heat-stressed sheep.
Similar claims about payments to people to film Australian cattle at Indonesian abattoirs in 2011 have also surfaced and that footage brought the live cattle export industry to its knees – something many in the industry are still struggling to recover from.
If it is proven that payments from any organisation incentivised people to deliberately misrepresent the live export industry, then everyone who is invested in the live export industry has the right to demand answers and seek compensation.
Maintaining a high standard of welfare is one thing, and is welcomed, but if it is proven that underhanded tactics have been employed in any animal welfare campaign, then the people responsible need to fall on their sword.
That would seem only fair given that Emanuel Exports’ Graham Daws and Mike Stanton voluntarily stood down as directors last year after heavy criticism about the video footage.
Emanuels had its licence suspended and the industry came to a grounding halt, with sheep left sitting in a feedlot on the outskirts of Perth – at a massive cost to all concerned.
And if any organisation is found guilty of providing cash incentives and they currently enjoy charity group status, that privilege should also be stripped.
It’s not just animal welfare that is at stake here – the welfare and functionality of all businesses related to live export and farming also needs to be protected.
Farm Weekly revealed last week that Animals Australia spent $4.4 million in the 2017-18 financial year in its anti-live export campaign, driven largely on the back of this footage.
No doubt this will continue and largely go unchallenged because individual farm organisations and lobby groups across Australia lack the collective clout to fund an adequate response and cut through the messaging wall.
It’s time for the national ag industry to fight back, protect its heavy investment and say enough is enough.
And it’s time for any unscrupulous activist activities to be investigated and the rogue players held to account.
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