How can an industry policy-setting organisation claim to be objective when its board includes a representative from one of the industry’s most profitable players?
It’s like appointing a fossil fuel producer to the Clean Energy Council, or having Philip Morris on the board of the Australian Council on Smoking & Health (ACOSH).
Having a representative of Australia’s largest live sheep exporter, Emanuel Exports, on the board of the Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC) could be seen as taking self-regulation a step too far, given that any contributions made by that representative are hardly likely to be against their own company’s interests.
While ALEC board member John Edwards has an impressive background including former Chairman of the WA Livestock Exporters’ Association and a series of senior management roles for major livestock importers in the Middle East, there is no escaping the fact that he is currently Export Services Manager with Emanuel Exports, one of the companies that ALEC is supposed to be supervising.
So, in light of the 60 Minutes exposé that aired in April this year, revealing multiple breaches of regulations aboard one of Emanuel Exports’ ships, it really wasn't surprising that the regulating department (historically notably influenced by ALEC) chose to give that export company another chance to clean up its act.
And perhaps it's less surprising still that the government is backflipping on it's very public promise to 'crack down' - with Turnbull having pulled the bill out of fear that it 'wouldn't get the numbers', even as his own backbencher threatens to cross the floor on the issue.
The 60 Minute exposé in early April revealed secret video footage taken by a crew member on several voyages made by an Emanuel Exports ship carrying live sheep to the Middle East.
The footage revealed serious breaches of Australian export regulations and animal cruelty laws, showing sheep stacked 10 storeys high and forced to stand upright in crowded pens for up to three weeks. Also contrary to regulations, pregnant sheep were onboard and the crew were reportedly cutting the throats of baby lambs before throwing them overboard.
On one voyage in 2017, a consignment of 63,804 sheep bound for the Middle East suffered 2,400 mortalities, which is nearly double the 2% accepted industry threshold.
Export regulations require sick or injured animals be treated immediately and euthanised humanely if required, but the vessel’s sole vet on this voyage was unable to keep up with the death rate, and sadly, many animals died of suffocation and heat stress.
In response to being shown the secret video recordings made for Animals Australia and aired on 60 Minutes, ALEC’s CEO, Simon Westaway argued that Australia still has the best live export standards in the world.
A joint statement (yes, they issue press releases together now) issued by Emanuel Exports and ALEC said that according to investigations carried out into the incident, the sheep were prepared and transported in line with federal government standards and all onboard livestock services were operating satisfactorily on the voyage.
The statement concluded that humidity, high temperatures and deck conditions prior to arriving in Qatar were likely to have caused the severe mortality levels.
Mr Westaway did, however, concede that the deaths were unacceptable and that more needed to be done, and so he announced that a revised Heat Risk Management Plan was being considered to address the risks of transporting sheep to the Middle East in the hottest months of the year. (I mean, considered?! Come on guys.)
When new Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud was shown the 60 Minutes footage, his reaction was somewhat less placatory. He announced that there would be a government investigation into the matter and potential bans could be in the offing.
He also said that Emanuel Exports’ next long-haul voyage must carry a reduced number of animals, and an independent inspector must be onboard to report back to Canberra on their wellbeing.
The RSPCA was less conciliatory, calling on the government to immediately suspend the live export trade. Chairman Gary Humphries said there was every reason to assume that what occurred on the Emanuel Exports ship was typical of what is happening right across the live export industry.
He said there was no difference in standards on ships used by other operators and because no exporter can control the temperature and humidity these animals are being exposed to in the Middle East in summer, mass deaths of sheep are inevitable. Meaning there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between animal welfare and the continuation of the live export trade.
But is the 60 Minutes exposé likely to trigger a total market suspension by the government? Given that the live export sheep trade is worth $250 million a year, it would seem unlikely.
While certainly the bill that Turnbull pulled last week fell short of what many (including Coalition backbencher Susan Ley) are calling for - a total ban on live exports - it was a start, and signalled the government's readiness to debate the issue. But in fear that those shortcomings would be brought to light and the bill would fail, the government has run hiding into a corner. And perhaps that's exactly where they intend to stay until this whole thing 'blows over'.
At best (although we admit we, industry standards will hopefully be improved, but unless something significant happens, the live animal export trade isn’t going anywhere any time soon, particularly when leading players such as Emanuel Exports have a seat on the board of the industry policy maker, the Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC).
So what could ‘something significant’ look like?
There’s only way to put a stop to harmful and destructive industries like live animal export. We have to hit them where it hurts them most… in their back pockets.
Ordinary Australians have an extraordinary superpower; our superannuation, which is often invested in industries that damage the environment and cause harm to humans and animals alike.
When we rise up as a group of like-minded people, who take ethics seriously, and commit to only investing our super in ethical companies that not only do no harm – but actively help to make the world a better place – we can use our retirement savings to make a real difference right now.
Cruelty Free Super is Australia’s only vegan-friendly super fund. When you switch, you can be confident that your super is being invested in line with your ethics, meaning no companies involved directly or indirectly in animal testing, farming, eating, hunting or racing.
And investing with Cruelty Free Super is not just the ethical choice, it’s the better choice - responsible investment funds have outperformed normal funds over the last 5 consecutive years*.
So if live animal exports in particular, or cruelty to animals in general, are offensive to you and you want some way to do something about it, switch to Cruelty Free Super now and make your opinion count. Money is (unfortunately) the only language some people understand, and you may be surprised at how quickly change can be affected if enough concerned Australians do this one small thing and use their superpower to make the world a safer place for animals.
* Source: Responsible Investment Association of Australasia, 2016 Benchmarking Report, 10 year performance returns to 30 June 2016. Past performance isn't a reliable indicator of future returns.
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