IN THE NEWS: On DEC 4, 2018
The live export industry has announced its own three-month ban on the sheep trade to the Middle East during the northern summer but conceded it cannot guarantee against another mass death at sea.
Simon Crean from the Australian Livestock Exporters Council announced the moratorium in Canberra on Tuesday, a month after first telling the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud of its intentions.
The three-month ban will begin June 1 next year. Labor, which is according to polls most likely to win the federal election expected in May, has pledged to phase out the industry over five years.
Mr Crean also announced a new mandatory code of conduct would include industry-imposed suspensions and strong sanctions for exporters caught mistreating animals and the development of monitoring technology on export vessels.
He said the issue was "front of mind with the community" and the industry had belatedly "bitten the bullet", accepting it needed to demonstrate it could change but denied it was too little too late.
However he said the industry was paying a "significant price" for the Awassi Express disaster when a whistleblower exposed the mass deaths of 2400 sheep during a heat wave in 2017.
"This incident has badly hurt the industry, it's an incident that shouldn't have happened and the industry is paying a significant price for it.
"But I think that that significant price is recognition of the serious steps that have been taken to ensure that these sorts of things don't happen again in the future."
He said the community would not accept another mass death but conceded he could not guarantee another would not happen, even under the industry's new rules.
"It's bit like road traffic accidents, as much as you strive for none on the road, you can never guarantee there won't be another one," he said.
"The [community] won't accept another incident like the Awassi Express but the circumstances surrounding the Awassi and some of the other incidents, predominantly they happened in the northern summer and they happen in the Gulf and we're recognising that problem and saying we're going to put a moratorium on it - they won't go," he said.
Lyn White from Animals Australia, which is campaigning to end the trade, said the industry had not suddenly found a conscience. "This should be seen for what it is, an admission of guilt and an attempt to save their own skins," she said.
The RSPCA also expressed scepticism. "This latest announcement must be seen for what it is: a desperate and last-ditch attempt by a dying industry, to prolong practices that Australians no longer want or support."
Mr Littleproud suggested the industry may have left it too late to act, noting a new heat stress test is imminent that could knock out the trade completely.
"I have repeatedly asked exporters to lead," he said. "It would have been better if industry had shown leadership across a broad range of animal welfare matters some years ago."
Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it was extraordinary that the industry's own policy was now tougher than the governments'.
"It demonstrates how out of touch it is with the community: we now have the industry's peak body moving ahead of the government," he said.
Mr Littleproud opposes a ban but introduced a 30 per cent reduction in the number of sheep allowed on board and mandated independent observers on board every shipment, as a result of the McCarthy review he commissioned after the Awassi disaster was first exposed.
That report recommended a new heat stress test that would have rendered the trade unviable. However the minister delayed implementing the recommendation until further scientific modelling could be carried out. That review is due within weeks.
There are three private member's bills proposing a ban currently before the parliament as a result of the community backlash against Awassi Express disaster, which sparked two government reviews: one into the viability of the trade during the hot months and a second that delivered a scathing verdict on the Department of Agriculture's failure to protect animals from abuse at sea.