CONFIRMED payments to a live sheep export whistleblower has raised the prospect of a new investigation and doubts about subsequent animal activist-generated footage.
And federal Labor’s vacillation on its live sheep export policy during the federal election has raised the ire of the nation’s peak exporters’ body.
The Australian newspaper yesterday reported that a leaked statutory declaration by Animals Australia strategy director Lyn White discloses details of $US107,710 ($148,000) in various payments made to AA’s star whistleblower Fazal Ullah and his family.
The disclosure has prompted Nationals Senator Matt Canavan to call for a new investigation into the payments, despite Agriculture Minister David Littleproud claiming an investigation by his department found no evidence that any payments to ship workers had been made.
Australian Livestock Exports Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said the more concerning thing about the whistleblower payments is that they create a market for animal cruelty.
“If you have incentives for footage of animal cruelty footage, you are creating a market for poor animal outcomes.”
Mr Harvey-Sutton said he was not suggesting that sheep were placed in a less than optimum animal welfare situation to create the footage supplied by Fazal Ullah.
“But that is, in my view a very serious potential consequence of this practice.”
Mr Harvey-Sutton said he could not comment on whether the confirmed payments undermined the credibility of the whistleblower’s evidence and the validity of the subsequent regulatory constraints put on the industry.
“I think, taking that (The Australian) story on face value, and assuming that the payments were made, that questions do need to be asked about the strength of the evidence.
“The one thing we can’t deny that those animals on the Awassi suffered terribly, so in no way am I denying the issue there,” he said.
“But the broader practice that I am concerned about is this practice of activist groups paying people for footage if the potential consequence is that that footage becomes incentivised and therefore poor practices are encouraged.”
No Labor backflip on live sheep trade phase-out
In other live export news today, when asked if the ALP would commit to timeline for ending live sheep exports, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in Sydney said: “No, we won’t, and we haven’t in our policy.
“Our policy’s changed,” he said.
“The amount of live exports has halved in recent times and we will continue the summer ban, but we’ll consult with state governments, in particular the West Australian state government, but we will also consult with the agricultural sector about the issues around live sheep export.”
Some media outlets have interpreted this as a ‘backflip’ from the ALP’s 2019 policy to phase out live sheep exports; however, Mr Harvey-Sutton said he has had it confirmed by Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s office that there has been no backflip.
“Albanese’s office has confirmed that the policy (to phase out the trade) still remains … the phase-out policy without the timeframe on the phase-out, so that’s the bit that has changed.
“It’s fair to say this lack of clarity is not fair on the industry nor it is fair on farmers, because essentially they are flip-flopping on people’s livelihoods,” he said.
“We think the (phase-out) policy itself is unnecessary because of the industry performance, particularly since the last election; it’s been nothing short of outstanding and ship exporters have had the best results they’ve ever had.
“And it also sets a very concerning precedent that an industry can do everything that’s asked of them and exceed those expectations with best-performance-ever, yet they can still be shut down as political fodder,” he said.
“That’s very concerning to the whole sector.”
Mr Harvey-Sutton said he could not speculate on whether Labor’s posturing on its live sheep export policy was due to its desire to improves its standing ion key Western Australian rural seats.
“I’m not going to speculate on what their election strategy is.
“I think they key thing that I’m more focussed on is allowing what is a legitimate industry — that has performed extremely well and is of great importance to the farmers and also our geopolitical trading partners – to continue,” he said.
Sheep Producers Australia CEO Bonnie Skinner said the peak body and its state-farming organisation members share a commitment with ALEC and its exporter members to high animal welfare standards that underpin Australia’s reputation as a trusted supplier of high-quality livestock.
““Allegations into any “cash for cruelty” is of grave concern and any activity to jeopardise animal welfare, our reputation and our trading markets requires thorough investigations and severe penalties across all our respective areas of the supply chain if allegations are proven,” she said.
Sheep Central is waiting for responses to questions put to Animals Australia, Mr Littleproud, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the ALP, Senator Canavan and WA Premier Mark McGowan.