THE attempt by Animals Australia to stop 56,000 sheep from being exported from the Fremantle Port last week aboard the MV Ocean Drover was "unprecedented", according to Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton.
The Rural Export and Trading WA (RETWA) leased vessel departed on Saturday for Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as scheduled after the company was required to respond to the last-minute submission within 48 hours.
Animals Australia made the 700-page submission last week outlining what it said were risks associated with exporting during late May-June, when temperatures in the northern summer begin to peak.
Animals Australia chief executive officer Glenys Oogjes said the group "submitted its brief as soon as it became apparent that a shipment of sheep was being prepared for export to the Middle East".
"The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (Independent Regulator) provides no transparency or notice regarding impending shipments and intended export applications," Ms Oogjes said.
"Animals Australia has persistently requested this information in advance from the department so that there is ample time to provide it with relevant submissions.
"The department, however, continues to provide no such notice or transparency regarding intended export applications and shipments.
"Consequently, shipments only become apparent once vessels are moored in Fremantle Port and sheep are being trucked to feedlots.
"This leaves Animals Australia with a small window in which to provide the necessary submissions."
The animal activist group believed that the MV Ocean Drover shipment "due to its date of departure and the associated high risks of heat stress, cannot meet legal requirements", although it did not seek an injunction.
"Beyond that, it is nonsensical for an industry seeking to convince producers and the public it is reformed to be putting sheep on the water at a time when the science, the evidence and the industry itself acknowledges increased suffering and death from heat stress is inevitable," Ms Oogjes said.
"Sheep producers are being misled about the impact of regulatory changes regarding stocking density.
"The science is conclusive that it does not matter if it is 1000 sheep or 10,000, when temperatures and humidity reach the very predictable levels during the northern summer, they will suffer and die."
Mr Harvey-Sutton said "the submission was clearly politically motivated" and the decision by the regulator to allow the voyage to proceed as planned "was the right decision to make".
"In terms of the process they went through, there are some questions about how it occurred," Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
"We will be meeting with the department to discuss this in the near future."
He said the submission was different to an injunction and how it was handled was "unprecedented as far as we understand".
State Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Animals Australia's submission was "not a constructive way to deal with issues in the live export industry".
"Industry and animal welfare groups have known for months that shipments would be allowed in May and industry has planned around those rules," Ms MacTiernan said.
"A last-minute attempt to stop the shipment just causes chaos and creates a whole new potential animal welfare issue for the sheep in a feedlot awaiting export."
Ms MacTiernan said the pause to the trade during the northern summer was an opportunity to finalise the rules and regulations for exporters into the future.
She said the new standards imposed higher obligations in respect of May but "if there is a case that these are not adequate, then this needs to be examined in an orderly way, so industry can plan around it".
Ms Oogjes said the suggestion that animal welfare would suffer if sheep remained in the feedlot in WA was "not supported by the facts or the evidence".
"They are far better off in a feedlot in Australia than in a feedlot in Kuwait at this time of year where overnight temperatures provide no relief from searing heat," Ms Oogjes said.
"There is plenty of industry data that shows sheep continue to suffer and die from heat stress in Middle East feedlots soon after arrival and that these deaths can be as high or higher than deaths on shipments."
WAFarmers livestock section president David Slade applauded Ms MacTiernan's comments on the untimely, last-minute attempt by Animals Australia to stop the last sheep shipment leaving Fremantle before the three-month summer moratorium began.
Mr Slade backed the minister's position and said "what these groups need to realise is that the industry has adopted all the necessary measures required by the government".
"It's clear these groups will go to any length to see the industry stopped," Mr Slade said.
"To ensure this does not happen again we would like to see the government treat the claims of the activists with far more scepticism, as they have lost all shreds of credibility with this latest attempt to stop the shipment.
"From now on the regulator should only accept scientifically-backed data with real evidence from credible organisations."
Mr Slade said WAFarmers looked forward to the new government setting new standards for the regulators to apply the common-sense rule, when clearly being played by activist organisations.
During the blow up last week a DAWR spokesperson said that "the department's regulatory decision-making is proceeding consistent with the legislation and with other voyages of this kind".
"The department does not discuss specifics of individual regulatory decisions."
Federal Member for O'Connor Rick Wilson went public about the submission after he was provided with the details by the exporter.
He said RETWA was advised of the document last 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 had 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 was loaded under the new allometric loading formula which saw a reduction in stocking rate of 28 per cent.
The Al Messilah which left Fremantle earlier in the month delivered its 58,000 sheep last week with a 0.123 per cent mortality rate.
"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.
Former agriculture minister David Littleproud said "individual shipment's were a matter for the independent regulator" and he wouldn't comment further.
Mr Wilson said he believed that Animals Australia and people within the department were continuing "their vendetta against the live export trade".
He said while he would be working with new Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie to help resolve the issues into the future.
RETWA managing director Mike Gordon 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.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said the latest attempt by Animals Australia to disrupt the trade showed that the minister's efforts to fix the problem hadn't worked and it revealed a "weakness" from the department to deal with the issues.
"It is an enormous document and its submission is just mischievous," he said.
"To expect the exporter to have the time to respond is simply beyond belief."