ANIMALS Australia has made a last minute attempt to block a shipment of sheep leaving Fremantle this Saturday, although they have not submitted an injunction.
The animal activist group, which is opposed to the live export trade, was not available for comment but Rural Export and Trading WA (RETWA) has confirmed that it received the 700 page submission from the group via the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) on Wednesday, to which it is required to respond to before being permitted to continue its planned voyage.
About 56,000 sheep are expected to be loaded aboard the leased Ocean Drover, a Wellard owned vessel, as RETWA sends off its final shipment before the three month moratorium on live sheep exports kicks in on June 1.
A DAWR spokesperson said that "the Ocean Drover was not due to arrive at Fremantle until late on May 23".
"The department's regulatory decision-making is proceeding consistent with the legislation and with other voyages of this kind," the spokesperson said..
"The department does not discuss specifics of individual regulatory decisions."
Federal Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson went public about Animals Australia's submission after he was provided with the details by the exporter.
He said RETWA was advised of the document on Wednesday night and only had until Friday midday to respond.
Mr Wilson said he "had been advised of this requirement (to respond) as part of their notice of intention to load".
He said the submission referred to voyages that took place in 2017 before the latest changes brought in since November last year - which have seen "outstanding results" for animal welfare and a 99.7 per cent delivery success rate for sheep.
"I think it is quite outrageous that they should give them so little time to respond to such a detailed document," Mr Wilson said.
"The Ocean Drover will be loaded under the new allometric loading formula which will have a reduction in stocking rate of 28 per cent.
"And the Al Messilah, which is currently on the water at day 15, has had 0.123 per cent mortality rate (or 78 sheep lost of 58,000) across the voyage so far.
"These are extraordinary outcomes and have no relation whatsoever to do with the submission that Animals Australia have been allowed to submit by the department."
Mr Wilson said the Agriculture Minister's office had given him an assurance that the permission date for the voyage would not be changed from Friday, May 24.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said "individual shipment's were a matter for the independent regulator" and wouldn't comment further.
But Mr Wilson said this seemed like a repeat of what happened last year.
"We have seen this play out before when the department led Emanuel Exports to believe that they would receive permission - they asked for them to delay loading for 24 hours and then withdrew their licence and stranded 65,000 sheep in the Baldivis feedlot," Mr Wilson said.
"The ramifications of that was that those sheep needed to be fed.
"The pellet market was all sucked into that feedlot - I had farmers calling me saying they couldn't get pellets.
"Even the raw materials, hay, lupins and barley were being sucked into that.
"As you know we haven't had a general break across WA, even if we get a good rain and there is nothing in sight it is going to be a very slow feed season.
"We simply cannot allow these 56,000 sheep to be stranded in a feedlot consuming supplementary feed that may well be needed for the sheep that are left here."
Mr Wilson said he believed it was the intention of Animals Australia to delay the departure of the shipment until after June 1, when it would be unable to depart under new regulations.
"There is no doubt that Animals Australia, and I believe that people within the department that are continuing their vendetta against the live export trade, that is their absolute goal to delay the departure of this boat until after June 1," he said.
"There is no doubt that this is what this tactic is all about."
Mr Wilson said with little time to respond to the submission it gave the department the opportunity to say the response was not sufficient, and therefore not to issue a licence.
"That is certainly a concern that I have, and certainly RETWA, who has a day and a half to respond to a 700 page document," Mr Wilson said.
He said while he would be working with the minister to help resolve the issue, there was growing anger among farmers who would be willing to drop their tools and head to Fremantle to send off the shipment - regardless of the legal consequences.
"My preference would certainly be to work through the minister's office to make sure that we get a satisfactory resolution here," he said.
"I have had farmers ring me, who have indicated that they would be prepared to get off the tractors and go to Fremantle to help load this boat, throw the ropes and deal with the legal ramifications later on.
"That is the strength of feeling around what is going on here.
"The next 48 hours is going to be critical for the WA livestock industry - the sheep industry in particular.
"I will be watching very closely - I have had some contact from some very irate farmers who are very motivated to effectively take matters into their own hands if they see fit."
RETWA managing director Mike Gordon said the company was aiming to respond to the submission by the Friday deadline and would continue to plan for the Saturday departure.
He said his parent company Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading would be "going to source sheep elsewhere" during the three month moratorium in order to meet its customer demand during that time.
Mr Littleproud addressed the issue of last minute submissions or injunctions to the department last year by allowing more time for them to be filed in the lead up to the export date, to prevent incidents like this from occurring.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said the submission was an enormous document and its submission was mischievous.
"To expect the exporter to have the time to respond is simply beyond belief."