‘Weak and unacceptable’: RSPCA condemns proposed backflip in live export regulation

The RSPCA has issued a grave warning to the federal government and live export industry today, after plans for new industry regulations were released that reveal a proposed backflip on animal welfare safeguards introduced earlier in the year.

Upon review of the Department’s Policy Options Paper, it is abundantly clear the only realistic option (Option 3) is a significant backwards stumble, involving the removal of the prohibition period for live sheep exports during the highest risk months of the year – a dangerous outcome that the RSPCA believes is completely unacceptable.

The RSPCA is further seriously concerned that the revised heat stress model - a fundamental component of the regulatory reforms proposed over the past 18 months recommended by the McCarthy Review, the Moss Review, and the Heat Stress Risk Assessment Review – is missing from three of the four options.

The live sheep trade is under greater scrutiny than ever before, and over a year and a half since the notorious Awassi Express footage was exposed, that shows no signs of subsiding.

For the community to have any confidence, the government must show it is willing and able to effectively regulate this trade, and it must base its decisions on science and evidence – rather than trusting the live exporters that have consistently and recklessly proven they are unworthy of that trust.

This is not the time for the government to weaken existing standards, nor to shy away from the (very moderate) reforms that have been put in place, in response to a litany of disastrous voyages.

For its part, the live export industry must stop resisting the very basic animal welfare improvements that it claims to be committed to.

The only viable option to protect the welfare of Australian live exported sheep while the trade continues, is to prohibit the highest risk months of the year – as the Government has started to do this year – and introduce the revised heat stress risk assessment model, which the Government has already committed to doing on multiple occasions.

This is effectively, a combination of Options 2 and 3 and would provide greater certainty to everyone concerned including the community, Government, trading partners, and the industry.

The Australian Government has repeatedly said it will be guided by the science, and the science is crystal clear. Any other course of action is not backed by the science or evidence; and represents a backflip on the government’s previous assurances, as well as an unmitigated failure to act on the community’s concerns.

For background:

The four options presented in the paper are:
1. A three month prohibition but no revised heat stress risk assessment model;
2. A three and a half month prohibition (as per the 2019 regulations) but no revised heat stress risk assessment model;
3. The revised heat stress risk assessment model but no prohibition on the highest risk months;
4. No prohibition and no revised heat stress risk assessment model.

The full Discussion Paper is available online: https://haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/middle-east-sheep-exports