HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.37 pm]: I rise because I want to make a few comments about the Al Kuwait incident that occurred during the parliamentary break and how it was handled. Of course, members will be aware that the community has many concerns about the live export trade. It came to a head back in 2016, when there was a 23-day voyage during which 2 400 of 64 000 sheep being exported died from heat stress in quite shocking conditions. The footage ended up coming out on 60 Minutes and, of course, there was huge community outrage about what had happened. There was a lot of fallout after people were made aware of just how inherently cruel the industry is capable of being, and that resulted in industry-led self-regulation. That included a moratorium on trade in summer and, subsequently, a federal government review.
In March this year, following public consultation, a seasonal ban from 1 June to 14 September was announced. I would like to point out that animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA are still adamant that we need to stretch the ban out to October, because we are still looking at sheep being shipped in very high temperatures. But I want to make some comments particularly about the issue of the Al Kuwait, which ended up docking in Perth on 22 May, just two months after the seasonal ban was first announced. The Al Kuwait had a shipment of 56 000 sheep. That was first postponed and then cancelled after it was revealed that crew members on the live sheep export ship Al Kuwait had tested positive for COVID-19 subsequent to their arrival in Fremantle on 22 May. Over 20 seafarers from the ship’s 48 crew have now tested positive to COVID-19.
I note that Rural Export and Trading (WA) applied to the federal Department of Agriculture for an exemption to allow the export of the sheep after 1 June, when the shipping ban to the Middle East starts, but the exemption was refused on animal welfare grounds. As a result, the sheep are now going to be processed domestically. The industry reaction was interesting, with the Pastoralists and Graziers Association criticising the decision to refuse that exemption. It could not quite believe that that is something that would be considered, but the federal regulator handed down its decision not to grant an exemption. It said that it did it following consideration of all relevant matters, including animal welfare and trade implications, and had taken the decision not to grant an exemption to the exporter.
I note that the exporter was stunned by the knockback. It was very disappointed and said that it felt it was the wrong decision. However, I note that Rural Export and Trading (WA) is a closely aligned partner company to Emanuel Exports, which was responsible for those five horror Awassi Express journeys in 2017 and for which I note Emanuel Exports is still facing animal cruelty charges. Therefore, quite frankly, I think that the regulator has ended up doing the industry an enormous favour. RSPCA Australia was very fearful that if that shipment had gone ahead, it was going to result in a heat stress catastrophe, and it said that under no circumstances should exemptions from regulations prohibiting the export of sheep between 1 June and 14 September be granted to accommodate this consignment. The chief scientist, Bidda Jones, said that the department had acted appropriately and —
“We welcome the department’s decision to prevent this exemption and act on the overwhelming evidence that sending sheep into the Persian Gulf at this time of year would expose them to prolonged heat stress, suffering and increased mortality,” ...
I thought the WA government’s response was interesting. I note that initially the Minister for Agriculture and Food said that she was hopeful that the federal Department of Agriculture would grant the exemption, but I also note that the shipment would have proceeded using that notorious carrier the Awassi Express, which has now been renamed the Anna Marra. The RSPCA was very strident and very clear in its objection and said —
“Now, in the first season since those regulations were enacted, we’re already facing the threat of a live exporter seeking exemption from those rules, which risks completely undermining the new regulations and further damaging the broader industry’s reputation.”
I note that once the decision was made, the minister took a different view and recognised that the decision had been based on scientific data, and also rejected the suggestion that the decision would damage Australia’s reputation in overseas live export markets, and I utterly concur with that revised position of the minister. Meanwhile in the Middle East, for those members who might think that that decision should not have been made and that the shipment should have proceeded, I would like to say that it has been a particularly hot summer. The weather forecast for Kuwait on Monday this week was 48 degrees Celsius; yesterday had cooled down to a balmy 47 degrees Celsius; today it is back to 48 degrees Celsius; and tomorrow is going to be warming up to 49 degrees Celsius, or 120 degrees Fahrenheit, with relatively high humidity over coastal areas. I just want members to think about that and think about another 23 days. I am really glad that the regulator made that decision. I understand that it has caused significant disquiet from some in the industry, but, as I said, I think that the regulator has done that industry an enormous favour because, potentially, we were going to have another catastrophe on our hands. I think it is very disappointing that so soon after including this very important ban on shipments over the summer, we are already seeing people trying to get out of it. However, I have told members about those sorts of temperatures, and that is why it had to be put in place in the first instance. Therefore, I think it is very interesting. It is one issue that I am going to be keeping a particularly close eye on, but I am not the only one. Obviously, a lot of animal welfare organisations are going to be keeping an eye on this as well.
The way that this all rolled out is highly unfortunate. Obviously, we needed to respond to what was happening for that crew. It is very unfortunate that those sheep ended up having to be put back into the holding pens. Ultimately, it is a good outcome, and I am glad that it was the outcome that the regulator decided on.