THE Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) has blamed the inaction of government to review the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) for the circumstances the industry finds itself in at the moment.
ALEC chairman Simon Crean told the WAFarmers Trending Ag 2019 conference in Perth last week, that three years ago his organisation urged the government to introduce a review into ASEL and the industry was "paying a huge price for that inaction on the part of the government, because the Awassi incident was a breach of ASEL".
The review has taken place under Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud with the final report being released by the department on Tuesday.
ALEC has welcomed the report, which Mr Crean said would provide some clarity to exporters and producers.
"The response has been delayed as has been the Heat Stress Risk Assessment mechanism," Mr Crean said.
He said the assessing panel didn't have industry representation and came up with a 28 degree Celcius wet bulb temperature as a trigger, which effectively could shut the trade.
"You don't have to wait for the five years (of phase out) if this is introduced - the trade simply won't be economic," he said.
Mr Crean said ALEC was engaged in "active discussions" about the wet bulb temperature because it was not based on science or reflective of the Independent Observer (IO) reports.
"It is not a reliable indicator," he said.
"It depends how long that heat exists, what are the reprieve mechanisms, the cooling down at night and the different parts of the voyage that the animal goes through.
"That is what we are actively engaged in at the moment in presenting our case back to government and as I say there has been a delay in the final decision - we welcome that and we are using it most intensely."
Mr Crean said the wet bulb temperature was not driven by what the IOs have seen on the vessels.
"And the IO reports have been quite favourable in terms of the voyages that have gone with the new stocking densities."
Industry reports that live sheep exports have improved mortality rates under the new requirements to about 99.7 per cent successful, about a 0.5pc improvement since changes were made about May 2018.
Mr Crean defended the live sheep trade, along with the "largest manufacturing industry" in the country, and its value to the national economy.
He said he understood "the fundamental importance of a red meat industry to this country".
"I don't think many Australian's do but I think when you look at the statistics, it is a huge contribution," he said.
"In total if you take the whole supply chain it's a $20 billion industry.
"It makes it Australia's largest manufacturing industry that is trade exposed.
"You hear a lot about manufacturing jobs, but does the red meat industry ever get a look in?
"They employ about 440,000 people, many of them in regional centres, and its exports are worth $13b plus.
"And in the past six years alone, the value of the industry has grown over 60pc.
"So this is not just a significant industry - this is a significant growth industry.
"Now live (exports) is an important component of that.
"But the solution that says get rid of Australia from the trade does not make sense to me because demand exists for the live trade.
"It exists for (reasons such as) cultural practices and the lack of effective infrastructure in countries with preferences for live.
"And the simplistic argument that says substitute the trade with boxed beef doesn't wash because there are 100 other countries in the world that in fact export live."
Mr Crean said the live sheep trade was "crucial, not just for WA, not just for the sheep industry - it is important to the grains industry, it's important to the other jobs that supply it not just here but in countries of destination".
"And it is important to the nation," Mr Crean said.
"We are only one of 100 countries that export live - take us out of the trade, do you really think you'll improve animal welfare practices?
"This is the challenge that we have got to make - and I think we can make it.
"I also think it is important to reflect in these circumstances - yes there is an animal welfare objective but there has also got to be a human welfare perspective.
"The countries in our regions, as their incomes rise, are increasingly demanding better access to protein and they want it to be safe and nutritious.
"They trust the Australian brand and I've seen that in all of the time that I have been in politics.
"Why should we deny them that opportunity when decisions are being taken, not on the facts, but on emotion?"
Mr Crean said the industry wouldn't survive unless it embraced the changes taking place, although those changes have seen some exporters bow out with only two major sheep exporters still left in WA - Rural Export and Trading WA and Livestock Shipping Services.
With all of the anti-live shipping commentary in the media, he said ALEC was trying to "establish the voracity of the claims that Animals Australia had been paying crew members for footage".
"If that is the case it is a terrible practice," he said.
Mr Crean said attempts to gather the information about the footage were unsuccessful.
"We do appreciate the fact that the Minister of Ag has launched an investigation through his department and we eagerly await the outcome of that," Mr Crean said.
He said the industry needed to understand better its own supply chain and improve the relationship between the producer and the exporter and The Sheep Collective was doing a good job at that.
Mr Crean also highlighted the need for the industry to find a "mechanism in which the industry speaks as a whole - not just to community but to government", and not just Mr Littleproud, but all other ministers who oversee trade and foreign relations.
"There are so many other ministries that are important to the future of the trade - industry and development, science and technology, education and skills and trade," he said.
Mr Crean said the possibility of a change of government could see a phase out of the trade - "but that's not the reason to give up" fighting for the industry.
"If there are solutions to this we should be looking for them, we should be advocating for them and we should be persisting in a determined way to get acceptance of them."
Mr Crean said ALEC had adopted a mandatory code of conduct for all exporters last year - that contained significant sanctions including suspension of membership, as well as recommendations to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, "not to issue export licences".
ALEC also developed an ethics committee - "an independent body that will be established where, because the code of conduct enables bad practices to be called out, this is a reference point we can go to, to have the incident investigated".
ALEC has also had a major review of its governance procedures and called for an independent inspector of animal welfare - which the Federal Labor Party said it would introduce if elected at the upcoming Federal election.