Government promises to put independent observers on all live export voyages... then doesn't.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 3 September 2019

Government promises to put independent observers on ships to monitor animals: then doesn’t.

After whistle-blower footage taken on board five live export vessels revealed the routine suffering of Australian sheep at sea, former Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, promised a new era of transparency.

No longer would live exporters be able to carry out their business under a veil of secrecy, he promised. Independent Observers were to accompany every live export vessel and report back on what they saw, he said.

"Full transparency is the only way to build public trust in any industry."
- David Littleproud

Sounds good in theory. But in new evidence provided to Senate Estimates Hearings the Department of Agriculture has admitted that of the 506 live export voyages that have sailed since April last year, only 184 (36%) have had ‘independent’ observers on board.

This is despite the government committing to put them on every vessel.

And the broken promises continue with the government announcing that it is now official government policy that ‘independent’ observers will not be required on short-haul voyages at all, unless deemed ‘necessary’.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that this decision can only be based on evidence of smooth sailing for Australian animals at sea.

Sadly, you’d be wrong. Here’s just a snapshot of what ‘independent’ observers have witnessed (on both long-haul and short-haul voyages):

  • sheep suffering from heat stress
  • sheep mired in mounds of wet faeces
  • cattle mired in mounds of wet faeces
  • sheep blinded from infectious eye diseases
  • lambs being born then killed onboard
  • a steer ‘suddenly’ dying during unloading
  • a steer breaking his leg during loading
  • a steer escaping during loading, caught then euthanised
  • cattle with leg injuries, lameness and eye infections
  • cattle suffering and dying from gastroenteritis
  • contaminated or empty water troughs
  • failure to immediately treat injured and ill cattle
  • the same syringe being used to administer medication to all animals throughout an entire voyage and the inappropriate storing of medications
  • and in one case, the crew even killing and eating an animal on board (for the record, that’s not allowed).

And these are the sanitised versions of the reports. Because not only can they take up to a year to be released but only carefully selected excerpts of the ‘Independent’ Observers findings are made public.

That’s if they are made public. Recently, the government department, the Department of Agriculture — the same Department found to be ‘lacking’ as a regulator because it also promotes the trade — confirmed it will not release footage from a May 2019 shipment because it could expose the exporter to ‘unfair treatment’. And that’s despite indications of significant suffering on board including this grim observation:

"Death by smothering was an observed outcome."
- ‘Independent’ Observer report

If you agree that one animal suffering for live export profits is one animal too many; and that this cruel industry needs more transparency, not less, then tell your MP now.