Dr Lynn Simpson gives her verdict on the Moss review looking into Australia’s Live Animal Export industry.
Several months late the government has finally released the Moss review. Akin to waiting for a deadbeat kid to give their parents a damning, school report card.
Philip Moss was tasked with investigating the true culture of Australia’s department of agriculture, the department responsible for decades of regulatory failure in the live export-shipping sector from Australia.
Unsurprisingly, it highlights that improved leadership is the only safe ‘ship’ for livestock.
The Moss review was prompted only after decades of animal welfare complaints and concerns. Thousands of shipboard vet/stockmen reports were ignored. Parliamentary senate select committee reports were shelved. Standard reviews were stalled. An untold number of freedom of information requests were refused, or delivered with so much black ink redaction that they read like the night sky. Let’s also not forget all the tragic and traumatic exposés of animal cruelty in and around this trade have been aired in the media followed by public dismay and outrage.
Seriously, how much more evidence would it take?
It turns out the most compelling force for action is the upcoming election. Add the ever recurring proof that the Australian government is as stable as a mobile home in the path of a tornado and the fear of losing public faith and the mighty vote has this draconian trade at a tipping point.
The review findings are not new. They have been yelled through loudspeakers for decades. The only change is it is now the government, via Moss, that is actually admitting and airing the grievances, abject failures and conflicts of interest to in fact be a reality that had ben vehemently denied for years.
The quick summary of findings includes:
– The regulator of live export shipping from Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) is essentially incapable of conducting either a timely, coordinated or consolidated investigation to animal welfare concerns.
– DAWR has a profound conflict of interest as it is tasked with both facilitating and regulating the trade – running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds one might say?
– Head office (landlocked no where near a ship) cannot communicate with regional offices, based near ports – essentially left hand can’t and/ or won’t share information and assistance to right hand.
– DAWR can’t be trusted to regulate properly so an external inspector-general of live exports, independent of DAWR is recommended to be the new regulator.
– If DAWR actually gives a toss about animal welfare, it must change its operational paradigm from one triggered by death to one triggered by welfare concerns. Sounds familiar.
– The industry needs to prove itself trustworthy to continue trading and attempt to at least be transparent enough to be believable. Ouch, that’s going to hurt and see a few traders stymied.
– DAWR needs to stop operating under a culture of fear, where staff can’t raise concerns without risk of reprisals.
– One of my favourites, apparently it was found that DAWR should actually employ people who know what they are talking about, have experience, and or at least an appropriate skillset. Personally, when I worked briefly with DAWR in live export animal welfare, I was told to my face multiple times that DAWR neither wanted, nor needed vets or animal scientists on their staff. At one point my closest colleague was a recent history graduate. Lovely person, no idea what we were doing. So I embrace this move wholeheartedly.
– The Australian Standards of Exporting Livestock have been recommended to be regularly reviewed (current issue is 2011!), be science-based, and meet community expectations – however it still fails to mention the need for a vet on each and every voyage. Dropped the ball there in my opinion.
– The DAWR animal welfare branch that was abolished in 2013 will be reinstated – absolute no brainer there.
Along with other recommendations it is stated that automated animal welfare monitoring systems should be installed onboard (at the ship’s expense).
This is something that has been demanded for years. Temperature, humidity, ammonia loggers, and cameras where most appropriate.
As a continued example of the governments ignorance they have agreed to this recommendation ‘in principle’, based on feasibility studies and the need to see if new technology needs to be developed (sounds like the industry is still in someone’s ear?).
Anyone who has ever stepped on a vessel such as a car carrier or cruise liner will know this technology is already entrenched in use.
So, good luck wiggling out of that.
The current system of having one dry/wet bulb thermometer, hanging mid ship, in a walkway on each deck, being read in mid-morning and then being relied upon as indicative of overall deck conditions for research and industry development purposes shows how lacking science has been with this trade.
So many of these recommendations are like the proverbial broken record. It’s a great review; it simply needs to be implemented. This in itself, if conducted properly will improve conditions considerably, if only by knocking out the most rogue operators.
However, rogue operators have never been the only concern. The inherent risk of shipping has always been a danger for livestock, crew and the very ships they sail on; livestock simply shouldn’t be on ships!
Commonsense aside, the overarching finding in this report is the lack of DAWR’s integrity.
The review advises “that the department strengthen its regulatory capability and culture, including in relation to the Live Animal Export, by developing its whole-of-department integrity measures.”
Wow, in writing, published by DAWR itself. That must have stung.
Add to that the science-based reduction in stocking density (profit loses) brought on through the McCarthy review and the global sulphur cap looming just 14 months away and I suspect we will see live exports slip into the history books not a minute too soon. I suspect the scrap yards will certainly have a stinky glut.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.