HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.56 pm]: I rise tonight because, unfortunately, I need to say something about the 56 000 ill-fated sheep that were to be exported aboard the Al Kuwait. Only a week ago I stood here and spoke about this issue. I said then that I believed the decision by the regulator to not allow an exemption for those sheep to travel to the Middle East was correct. I thought that the decision at that time was sensible and in line with scientific evidence. The independent regulator rejected the exemption request, a move that was subsequently applauded by the RSPCA, veterinarians and anyone concerned about animal welfare. I think the delay should have been the end of the matter, with the sheep remaining in WA and being processed locally by Western Australians for the benefit of local consumers and for the benefit of the animals that would be spared sailing into a horrendous Middle Eastern summer.
I am extremely disappointed that the regulator permitted 35 000 of those sheep to be exported today. Once again, it feels as though COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to cut corners and to allow things that otherwise would absolutely not be permitted. Regulations to ban exports to the Middle East between June and September follow an industry-led moratorium on the practice and came into force this March. Now, less than four months after first coming into force, we see, at the first hurdle, the ban collapse and the federal government sanction a voyage for over 35 000 Australian sheep into the hell of a horrendous, hotter-than-usual Middle Eastern summer. I remind members of the sorts of temperatures that we are talking about. At the moment, it is forecast that in the next two weeks it will be between 41 and 44 degrees Celsius and rising. Last week, there were unbelievable temperatures of up to 49 degrees, with 90 per cent humidity. Clearly, any government reassurance to prioritise animal welfare in the regulation of the live animal export industry is meaningless.
The RSPCA has had a lot to say about this. It said —
The Federal Government’s own reports indicate that, over this period, even with lower stocking densities and better ventilation on board, sheep will almost certainly be exposed to unacceptable levels of heat stress.
The exporters have applied for the exemption in the knowledge that the sheep will face extreme heat and humidity on board at this time of year and will almost certainly suffer from heat stress on the two weeks plus voyage.
Senior policy officer Dr Jed Goodfellow from the RSPCA is reported to have said —
“To allow this voyage to go ahead is a tragedy; to do so with no independent eyes onboard to report on the welfare of the sheep goes against everything the Minister has previously committed to, and will irrevocably undermine public confidence in the regulator,” ...
I also note that Rural Export and Trading (WA), the operator of the Al Kuwait, is tied to Emanuel Exports, the disgraced exporter behind the Awassi Express disaster. I remind members of the voyage of the Awassi Express in 2017 that saw over 2 400 sheep die from heat stress. I do not think the term “heat stress” properly explains the slow, cruel deaths that animals experience as they literally cook from the inside out. The footage was horrendous. It showed sheep gasping for breath, sweltering and suffering, and covered in their own excrement. I understand that the live exporter Emanuel Exports is still facing criminal charges over the incident.
It was hoped that by at least introducing the summer export ban, we were starting to see a shift away from commercial interests taking precedence over animal welfare, but in granting the exemption for the Al Kuwait, the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment acknowledged and took into consideration both the impact of COVID-19 and the impact on Australia’s trade relationship with Kuwait. In doing so, once again we are seeing the balance shift away from animal welfare. I note that our own Minister MacTiernan has previously flagged that the local meat processing sector was willing and able to handle the sheep that had been originally banned from departing. Last night, ABC TV news reported that WA meat processors are warning that they are facing job losses and that abattoir closures are inevitable in the coming months. That was according to Western Australian Meat Marketing Corporation chairman Craig Heggaton. That will have a flow-on effect in regional communities. The reduction in the number of sheep processed locally will also impact WA consumers, with prices at the check-out predicted to skyrocket.
Australian animals are destined to suffer in the Middle East. As local processing works are predicted to close, job losses will hit rural communities hard. At the same time as WA consumers are paying more, we are seeing opportunities to boost our meat processing sector by value adding and boosting exports going by the wayside. I think now is the time for the WA government to step up and assist the production, marketing and exporting of chilled boxed meat products. We need to make sure that we let our federal counterparts know that we do not support live export. We do not support sending live animals to the Middle East to suffer and die in another catastrophe, particularly in the middle of summer.
Late this afternoon, I learned that today’s weather has further delayed the departure of that ship. My understanding from what I have been told is that is because having fewer sheep means the ship does not weigh as much. Part of me wonders whether it is some sort of divine signal that this voyage should not go ahead. It is terrible to think about the ship moving out to sea and anchoring to ride out the storm before heading into the heat of a Middle Eastern summer—those poor animals.
I have one final point. The fact that there have been changes to how these sheep can be transported in itself illustrates the point that sheep exporters could have done it more humanely all along. If I look at all the considerations that have been given to how the industry needs to change the usual practice, I believe it is not enough; I think it is an appalling outcome. It is bad not only for the animals, but also, obviously, in terms of local jobs.