Live sheep exports. Picture: Supplied
Live sheep exports. Picture: Supplied

Public servants slammed in live animal export review

AUSTRALIA'S live export industry will be overseen by an independent inspector-general after a damning review of the government regulator showed disastrous failings to stop animal cruelty.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud today released a long-awaited review of the culture, capability and investigative capacity of his department conducted by public sector integrity expert Philip Moss.

The external inspector-general will police the Agriculture Department's regulation of live animal exports.

There will also be a principal regulatory officer within the department to improve regulatory practice, compliance and its culture.

The department's animal welfare branch, which was scrapped by former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce in 2013, will be reinstated.

Animals are fed a blend of pelletised hay and other mixed grains, formulated to help them maintain condition during transport. Picture: Supplied
Animals are fed a blend of pelletised hay and other mixed grains, formulated to help them maintain condition during transport. Picture: Supplied

New animal welfare indicators will be developed and introduced along the supply chain.

"We've always been reactionary around live trade, governments of all persuasions, and now we're being proactive," Mr Littleproud told reporters in NSW.

The Moss review found the skills, resources and technology for effective regulation were lacking, with concerns the department's dual roles in promoting the trade and policing it could be contradictory.

Getting rid of the animal welfare branch detracted from the regulator's ability to achieve that balance.

Mr Moss said it was telling the department had rarely used significant powers to suspend or cancel an export licence and it took a whistleblower to prompt that action earlier in the year.

"As a regulator, the department appears in some respects to have been inactive," the review says.

"It has failed to address issues within the regulatory framework leading to continuing incidents."

A department staff member told the review there was little point in raising concerns, as they would not be well received or fairly considered.

"To be candid, I'm disappointed that we have a culture within the department where there are people who feel they are too scared to come forward and report incidents," Mr Littleproud said.

Animal Justice Party held a National Day of Action earlier this year to ban live exports. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Animal Justice Party held a National Day of Action earlier this year to ban live exports. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

In response, the department will implement a system ensuring any issues and concerns raised by staff are addressed in a transparent and timely manner.

In April, footage of 2400 sheep dying on voyages to the Middle East during a shipment in August 2017 emerged, prompting Mr Littleproud to initiate a range of reviews and immediate responses.

Animals Australia chief investigator Lyn White said the trade had seen animals exposed to tendon slashing, eye stabbing, sledgehammering, mass suffering and deaths from heat stroke on ships.

"There is not a single valid justification for this industry being allowed to continue," Ms White said.

Labor proposed the idea of an inspector-general in 2013, but former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce dumped it when the coalition won government.

Mr Littleproud called on Labor to back legislation to put harsh new penalties on dodgy live exporters, which has stalled because of an opposition amendment to phase out the trade over five years.

The government and the Agriculture Department have accepted all of the 31 recommendations made by Mr Moss.