Stockie enjoys niche animal welfare role

Stockie enjoys niche animal welfare role

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Halleen Australasian Livestock Traders ESCAS manager Patrick Coole.

Halleen Australasian Livestock Traders ESCAS manager Patrick Coole.

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"I probably took the very traditional live export route, which is, start as a stockie on a ship and basically work your way up."

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IT all started out as a bit of an adventure 10 years ago but now Patrick Coole, Halleen Australasian Livestock Traders, a family-owned and operated business based in West Perth, finds himself in the thick of government regulation and animal welfare issues for the live export company.

As a child his family moved between cattle stations in the Kimberley and a few mixed cropping enterprises near Southern Cross and Marvel Loch, while his father worked as a manager.

"I think I went to 10 different schools," Mr Coole said.

He said growing up in different places with livestock gave him a "pretty good cross section of experience in the Kimberley and on a few different properties in the Wheatbelt".

"We also did a brief stint in Queensland on a cattle station and then we settled in Dandaragan - now mum and dad own a cattle property."

Mr Coole attended Curtin University where he completed a double degree in Finance and Anthropology.

"During my uni break I would jump on the live export boats and do a few trips," he said.

"I did that for five or six years - including during the period of the Indonesia suspension in 2011.

"I saw it as a grand adventure to go gallivanting off around the world, so that was about as far as I could see when I started doing it.

"I did whatever voyages were available, all over the world, going to a bunch of countries in South East Asia, the Middle East, as well as a trip from Colombia (South America), to Lebanon.

"I probably took the very traditional live export route, which is, start as a stockie on a ship and basically work your way up."

Mr Coole said he began working full-time in the live export trade in 2015 after he finished university.

He said it was a "natural progression" to go from working on boats to becoming an "in market" consultant and observer.

"What do you do after working on the boats?" Mr Coole said.

"If you are good enough, when you get off at the other end, you'll get asked - 'can you follow the cattle onto a feedlot' or 'go have a look at this abattoir while you are up there'.

"So I did that and then that progressed into living in the market and being an Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) consultant for Halleen."

He said working in the market for a year was a challenge on many fronts, there were communication barriers and different cultures and practices in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam that he would have to understand and work with.

But that experience set him up to work as Halleen's ESCAS manager.

Mr Coole said the unique and "niche" role gave him the opportunity to influence positive animal welfare outcomes like never before.

"It's such a niche industry with a peculiar skill set," he said.

"The skill set that I have - I'm effectively managing an international animal welfare program but working for a commercial company - it's a really peculiar and very niche position to be in.

"There's not a lot of live export companies so if you go around and try to find people with the same job title as me there's probably only a dozen in Australia."

Mr Coole said the nature of the industry was one of constant change and depending on which minister was in the role "the department of agriculture would behave in different ways in terms of how they implement regulations".

"There will be different levels of scrutiny depending on who is in power and what the latest headline story is," he said.

"I'm sort of a buffer between that and what happens on the ground in the market.

"I'm interpreting where the focus is going to be from the department and making sure we are buttoned up in whatever area that is."

Mr Coole said ESCAS, which was introduced in 2011, "has been extremely effective in creating change in practices in the supply chains".

"ESCAS has been incredibly successful - if you looked at it through the lens of an animal advocacy program - trying to raise the standard of animal welfare in a foreign country," Mr Coole said.

"It's really the only horse in the race in South East Asia in terms of improving animal welfare for cattle in the region.

"Unfortunately it doesn't get regularly compared to other animal advocacy programs operating up there cause it's not seen as that type of program but I think it should get more recognition among animal advocates for how effective it has been in achieving change and how its gone about it.

"I'm hoping through my studies - in my masters - I'll probably try to make that comparison of ESCAS as a mechanism for improving animal welfare."

On top of his full work load Mr Coole is studying a postgraduate diploma course through the University of Edinburgh in Animal Welfare Ethics and Law.

He said as part of his studies he has "been looking at all these other animal advocacy programs that are operating in South East Asia and there's some good ones for chickens and other species, but for cattle there's nearly nothing operating in terms of animal advocacy".

Mr Coole said during the past 10 years most animal welfare programs were focused on the consumers side - "trying to get the labelling of products as animal welfare friendly".

"They are hoping that consumers will give the incentive for companies to provide that product because it has this positive animal welfare aspect," he said.

"ESCAS is a supply side animal welfare incentive.

"We are using, turning the supply tap off, as a way to drive animal welfare down the line, which is something that in terms of animal welfare I haven't been able to find anywhere else.

"Hopefully as part of my masters I'll be able to highlight the model and why it's so effective."

Mr Coole said his masters was "definitely work related".

"I'm fortunate that my employer is fairly progressive and wants the best outcome from their animal welfare program so they throw a substantial budget into that each year," he said.

"The majority of our staff in the company are employed in animal welfare-related roles."

Mr Coole said he thought that the Federal government had "unintentionally stumbled upon a really effective way to get the result they are after in terms of animal welfare" through the implementation of ESCAS.

"I guess that's why it's not acknowledged, because they have stumbled across it and the industry has not done a great job of communicating the changes that have happened up there," he said.

"It may have got through to the consumer, but it hasn't got through to animal advocates."

Mr Coole said part of his job was to participate in regular communication with other exporters and the regulator.

"It keeps you up to date, and on top of that, a couple of times a week you'll be speaking to them on various issues," he said.

"It's pretty unique.

"I've spoken to friends who do compliance work in other industries, such as mining and it just blows their mind.

"They say they barely ever speak to their regulator and if they do it's through a very formalised process, whereas live export, because you are dealing with a live commodity, it's so dynamic.

"You've got cattle up there in feedlots and abattoirs and there's a million different ways that it can get complicated.

"The different ways of processing the animals - the many different practices and procedures that you can use for the one commodity - and the department wants full oversight of that.

"They have a third party auditing system for ESCAS so there's a lot of oversight, queries and interpretations of the standards."

Since 2016 Mr Coole has built up a team of in market specialists that oversee the day-to-day practices and procedures of the supply chain and ensure everything lines up with the ESCAS requirements.

Although he is restricted to his office "for the foreseeable future" due to the coronavirus, he is in regular contact with them.

Mr Coole said he would typically "head in-market once a month to verify what the guys are doing is right".

"They are on the road day-to-day visiting facilities and they do a risk assessment for each facility, trying to identify animal welfare issues,'' he said.

Building an in-market team has been a progression of how live exporters do their in-market work.

"It used to be, Meat and Livestock Australia consultants or Australian consultants would go up to do the training,'' he said.

"They started doing that intensely from when the ban occurred in 2011 for a good 4-5 years and it was effective.

"That's probably where ESCAS got its base knowledge implemented from - all those consultants going up.

"I was one of them, but I was on the tail end of that.

"So in 2016, when I came back here we started employing locals up in the market - getting Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese staff managed from the office here and that has been effective.

"There has been a lot of training to get them up to standard."

He said the industry had "a lot of good support programs" - including the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association exchange program which brings Indonesian university students down and gives them a hands-on Australian cattle industry and live export experience.

"We pretty much recruit exclusively from the graduates out of that program," he said.

Mr Coole is also vice chairman of the Young Live Exporters Network, which gives its members access to workshops and supports professional progression.

"Between that and the support my employer gives me I have a pretty bright future,'' he said.

"I have every opportunity in terms of professional and skill development.

"Certainly it is an industry that gives you every opportunity you can possibly have, so it is what you make of it."

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