Our livestock expert Dr Lynn Simpson returns today, with some serious questions for Australia’s Department of Agriculture.
I mean, seriously. It’s only a few million live animals and maybe a thousand or so potentially exploited crew who suffer each year.
Most of us haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ (deep sarcasm there folks) of having toiled in this environment, witnessing and experiencing the unnecessary pain, suffering and distress of all onboard. Let alone the horrendous deaths and ongoing cruelty afterwards.
Fewer of us have complained and pushed for better welfare for all exploited in this trade since the turn of the century.
On Wednesday last week I attended a high level meeting in Sydney, Australia, held by one of the two Live Export regulators, AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority). AMSA are responsible for ships being seaworthy and of an engineering and safety standard that can best protect the Livestock loaded and crew employed.
The other regulator is Australia’s Department of Agriculture. Animal welfare and management being their responsibility.
Together AMSA and the Department of Agriculture regulate the trade from Australia.
We gathered to discus the rewriting of Marine Orders 43 (Australia’s Livestock ship legislation).
The goal: make ships safer for all living beings as well as the environment. Many attendees had travelled across the world to listen, learn, speak and contribute.
Imagine our collective surprise as we sat around awkwardly, waiting for Australia’s Department of Agricultures representative/s to arrive… they didn’t.
Live exports are of course one of the Department of Ag’s, most contentious issues. And like most people, I expect them to be committed to improvement.
They sent no apology, indicated no intention to participate this important process, yet were a mere 25-minute flight away.
Topics to be discussed in depth included:
– Improved drainage of sewerage from animal pens
– New fire protection standards, including bulk fodder.
– MARPOL requirements
– Removal of Two tier arrangements in sheep decks
– Ventilation improvements including alarm systems on the bridge
Amongst other crucial animal welfare issues…
So, do you know whom cares deeply about live exports? Apparently not Australia’s Department of Agriculture.
This was a far change from the same AMSA meeting in 2013 that I attended. I was working for the Department of Agriculture at the time.
Having known this rare meeting was due I had eagerly agreed to attend long before joining the Department of Ag.
I had already produced an AMSA specific submission for the meeting well in advance.
AMSA, showing professional courtesy, sent a re-invite for my attendance to the Department of Ag as I was now working with them and no longer an independent vet.
Strangely I waited weeks before anyone would admit I had been invited by AMSA for my extensive experience and niche expertise. I had had great relations with AMSA since 2003 and found them much more proactive in improving welfare concerns than the Department of Ag throughout my sailing years.
I planned to quit the Department before missing that meeting.
To my surprise, the week before the meeting I was called to a very senior office and told to remove all images from my submission so they would not upset people (I had photos of troughs, gate latches, drain holes… not contentious or confronting stuff). “Sure” I said, “if that’s required, however; It’s a waste of time. AMSA have had this document for ages”. Nevertheless I removed the images from the Departments version of the document.
Then the deputy secretary erred.
“Actually, you cant go, its too risky, I want you to brief another staffer”, he said.
For clarity I asked if he “really expected me to brief a non vet on;
1, being a vet
2, having done 57 loaded live export voyages
3, for many exporters
4, on many different ships
5, to many destinations
6, in many different and challenging weather situations
7, regarding a multitude of inherent shipping risks
8, and predict the conversations, comments and need for reply?”
He said, “Yes”. I objected, stating that that was simply ridiculous, and the complexities of shipping with or without live animals onboard could not be covered in a quick brief.
Several days of deliberation and I was granted permission to take my text only document with me; provided I went with two senior level chaperones with no shipping experience.
During the meeting in 2013, attendees could clearly see that my version had images in it and theirs were text only. Even my two Departmental chaperones were peaking over my shoulder. I was swamped in break times, so ship owners, having never done a loaded voyage could see the issues faced.
Many were shocked and wanted changes made to improve welfare.
Not as shocked as one of the exporters who showed his true colours and used the coffee break to phone a senator in our Parliament house to complain about my attendance. He failed to mention I was simply and calmly showing direct evidence. Evidence he would rather have kept in the dark.
Instead he made misleading comments about my presence and likely caused delays to welfare improvements.
He sat across the table from me last week, this time politely listening, learning and contributing. More than I can say for the missing Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile back in Canberra the Department of Agriculture have declared a defibrillation of the rewriting of the Australian Standards for Exporting Livestock (ASEL). A process that was meant to be finalized in 2013, but was shelved due to irreconcilable contentious issues. In 2013 it was labeled as a 6-month project. Now it has been projected to take over two years.
Just how many animals have to suffer due to the Department of Agricultures elongated milestones of action?
Thank goodness for AMSA.
For Lynn’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.