The RSPCA has expressed its grave concerns over reports the Morrison Government is intending to defy the advice of its own agency and backflip on a key live sheep export reform, by allowing the ‘worst of the worse’ live export ships to keep operating in 2020 and beyond.
Following the Awassi Express crisis last year, the then Agriculture Minister David Littleproud committed to phasing out the high-risk twin-tier vessels by 1 January 2020.
Officials from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) advised a Senate Estimates Committee in November 2019 that the phase out, which had been discussed since 2006, was necessary because these twin-tier vessels obstruct air flow and ventilation across pens, and make it almost impossible to visibly inspect sheep and access sick or injured animals, contrary to the applicable Marine Orders.
However, the Morrison Government is now indicating it will subvert that decision and break its promise, by granting open-ended exemptions to allow the two remaining 30+-year-old non-compliant vessels (owned by the two wealthiest live export companies in the world) to continue operating.
The RSPCA says it’s a decision that defies common sense, and represents a slide back to the days of complacent live export regulation.
“The animal welfare consequences of this decision are profound, while the economic advantages are so limited. It really makes no sense whichever way you look at it,” said Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow.
“When these proposed changes were opened up to consultation in June 2018, thousands of Australians (over 7,000 through the RSPCA alone) made submissions in support of the phase-out.
“And yet, despite clear evidence from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority – including a minimal impact on shipping capacity - it appears the Morrison Government is intent on allowing these floating rust buckets to continue transporting Australian sheep,” he said.
“What does this say about the Morrison Government’s commitment to protecting animal welfare, and just as importantly, their ability to effectively manage these rogue live export companies?
“This is precisely the kind of poor decision-making that led to the current live export crisis and turned hundreds of thousands of Australians into advocates against this cruel trade, as they grew ever more infuriated by the government’s inaction while countless animals suffered over decades.
“Are we really going to slip back to the chaotic and ineffective live export regulation that was condemned in the independent Moss Review just 12 months ago?
“Last week we saw the horrific scenes of a live export vessel capsizing off the coast of Romania, killing all but a couple of hundred of the 14,600 sheep onboard,
“We’re seeing community concern over this trade remaining high, a continuing record of animal welfare disasters, and major financial institutions strengthening their ethical lending policies - now is not the time for the Australian Government to go weak on standards,” said Dr Goodfellow.
RSPCA Australia strongly encourages Minister Michael McCormack, who is the responsible minister for shipping standards, and the broader Morrison Government to reconsider this decision.
Statement by AMSA CEO Mick Kinley to Senate Estimates on 11 November 2019:
We've been on a trajectory to phase out two tiers for some time. As I said, discussion started in 2006 with that original date of 2023. There are a few reasons for that. The primary reason is getting airflow across twin-tier pens. There are two aspects to airflow: one is the number of air changes you have in a space per unit of time and the other is how you distribute the air across the pens. Where two-tier pens have a problem is in getting our requirement of 0.5 metres per second right across the surface of the pens. Basically, I don't think any of the two-tier ships meet that requirement. The other issue is about animal husbandry. When you have two tiers in a deck, access is a challenge. For example, if you have shy feeders, you can't see well how the animals are behaving in the pens. You can't access the pens to remove sick animals and that sort of thing. They are the reasons why we are on that trajectory to phase out two tiers.