PAYING $1300 a day for an independent observer to accompany every live export voyage is about to become the new cost of doing business for all livestock exporters, as part of the Federal Government’s crackdown on the trade in response to the Awassi Express sheep welfare crisis earlier this year.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud announced in April that an independent observer would accompany every voyage carrying sheep or cattle in a move to ensure compliance with animal welfare requirements.
His department recently told Beef Central it has been working to implement that decision and has already placed observers on some high risk voyages.
Speaking at a Rural Press Club of Queensland lunch last week Mr Littleproud said that from October 10, every livestock shipment that leaves Australia will be required to have an independent observer, with the cost to be borne by exporters.
In addition to paying the $1300 per day cost for an independent observer, exporters say they have also been told they will have to pay for a business class ticket to fly the independent observer home to Australia after each journey.
Last month the Northern Territory Government demanded the Federal Government abolish the plan, saying independent observers were unnecessary on short-haul voyages and the move would add unnecessary cost that would cripple the industry and kill jobs.
NT minister for primary industry and resources Ken Vowles said the live export of cattle and buffalo was very different to the long-haul export of sheep and should not be punished for welfare breakdowns in that trade.
“To slam our industry with costs for Independent Observers at this vital growth stage is madness,” he said.
Mr Vowles said DAWR figures showed that between June and December last year, 369,114 cattle were shipped from North Australia. The mortality rate was 40, which is a percentage of 0.01 per cent.
Mr Vowles’ comments have done nothing to shift Mr Littleproud from his stance.
“I don’t want to have an incident in cattle live export like we did in the sheep,” the Minister told the Rural Press Club last Thursday.
“We have to be proactive.
“The NT Govt are into me at the moment saying it is going to cost too much money.
“Let me put this in perspective: A cattle boat going to Indonesia is about 10 days to sail at the most.
“(It costs) $1300 a day to put an independent observer on, so $15,000 to put a government observer on there taking photos, making sure we have truth and proof in this industry.
“For a total shipment cost of between $2 and $3 million is not a big investment.”
He said the equivalent cost for a 23-day sheep voyage would be about $35,000.
“Of a $10-$12m shipment cost that is three parts of bugger all.”
Mr Littleproud the cost of paying for an independent observer should be viewed as insurance for the livelihoods of farmers who rely on the trade.
“Those farmers who I’ve sat around their kitchen tables only this week in Charter Towers who are scared out of their wits that this industry could fall over,” he said.
“We have to be proactive, I have to protect the livelihood of those farmers and more importantly those communities as well.”
Earlier this week the Minister said the government is preparing to pass legislation that will double penalties for livestock exporters who breach animal welfare requirements, and called on the Federal Labor to support the bill.