The RSPCA says the live export industry’s dismissal efforts to place an independent observer on board ships casts serious doubt over its claims of increased transparency and accountability.
The RSPCA previously made the offer to place RSPCA observers on long-haul live export voyages after the community was horrified by evidence of appalling conditions for exported sheep captured by an on-board whistle-blower.
The RSPCA wrote directly to all major live export companies about the offer at the time; however, all have since failed to accept or even acknowledge the letter.
And in a damning admission of its own shortcomings as the industry peak body, the Australian Live Export Council (ALEC) said it was unable to influence its members to accept the offer.
“Of course, we’re not at all surprised that they don’t want an independent observer on board – avoiding any kind of scrutiny is business as usual for live exporters,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Science and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones.
“But we cannot let this go by unrecognised,” said Dr Jones.
“If the live export industry is serious about their claims of improving transparency and accountability, then there should be no reason not to embrace independent oversight,
“While the Government is currently placing a Departmental observer on board each voyage, they’ve failed to assure us that the full, unedited footage and images they capture will be released for independent examination,
“Given the Department has been heavily implicated in this scandal as being complicit in the trade’s failure to meet standards and community expectations, this departmental observer cannot be seen as independent,
“Right now, it seems the industry-wide culture of resisting oversight and improvement, hiding behind closed doors and deceiving farmers and the public remains very much entrenched,
“At the same time, we’ve heard very little from the exporters themselves, they’ve left ALEC to lobby for them in the public eye – but apparently, ALEC cannot influence them to place a single additional person on board a ship,” said Dr Jones.
“How on earth could they expect us to believe they’re capable of leading industry-wide change, then?,” she said.
Al Shuwaikh set to sail with McCarthy review due any day
The call comes as the controversial twin-tier ship, the Al Shuwaikh, prepares to load up to 80,000 sheep in Fremantle.
“The McCarthy review is set to be handed down any day,
“And yet, we’re seeing this ship about to take tens of thousands of Australia sheep into the Middle East during the highest-risk heat stress period, where both temperatures and humidity are already reaching the mid to high 30s,” said Dr Jones.
“We already have the evidence that says this is a disaster waiting to happen,
“There is absolutely no doubt that this ship should not be allowed to leave,” said Dr Jones.
The Al Shuwaikh is more than 30 years old, and like most live export ships, has an extensive history of disaster.
In 2002, it was part of a series of disasters that triggered a temporary ban on live sheep exports from Portland in Victoria, after more than 2,300 sheep died on board, en route to the Middle East.
In 2012, up to 50,000 sheep were left stranded at sea for over a week, after the ship was blocked from docking in Kuwait due to an on-board breakout of scabby-mouth disease.
Tens of thousands of Australians are continuing to express their fury over live exports at liveexport.rspca.org.au/take-action