Australia’s independent live export monitoring program has weakened significantly since resuming from a Covid-related pause, with observers sent on just five ships to observe animal welfare conditions.

The 2018 Emmanuel Exports scandal, which involved the deaths of 2,400 sheep from heat stress, prompted the former government to set up an independent monitoring program.

Initially at least, observers were deployed to all live export ships, but the program was watered down in 2019. Observers are now only required for higher-risk journeys.

Australian observers are likely to board just one live export ship in two years

Observers were largely pulled from ships when the pandemic hit in early 2020, and none were sent on ships during 2021 due to Covid-related travel restrictions. The program restarted in May. But Senate estimates heard last month that just five observers had been sent on ships between May and September. During that period, there were a total of 85 live export voyages, 38 of which were eligible for independent monitoring.
Eleven of the 38 eligible ships went to China, where ongoing Covid restrictions prevented observers from boarding. Others gave the government reasons for why they couldn’t take on a monitor, including that there was “insufficient cabin space” or that “there isn’t space available, because something is happening on the vessel”, the agriculture department told estimates

No reports from independent observers have been published from the five journeys. In fact, the last time an independent observer report was published was in June 2020.

The agriculture department said the more recent reports will be published in “coming weeks”.

The Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi accused the government of a “galling and unacceptable” approach to the ongoing monitoring of live export ships.
“The deployment of independent observers is a basic transparency measure that helps to protect animal welfare,” she said. “Observers are critical for monitoring heat stress and animal deaths on live export ships.” “I urge the government to make sure that independent observers are on every live export ship. Labor claims to be better than the Liberals on animal welfare but words are meaningless for the animals without corresponding action.”

The Coalition introduced the requirement for independent observers on live export ships in April 2018 after the release of whistleblower footage from a ship taking sheep from Australia to the Middle East. The sheep were suffering from extreme heat stress

A whistleblower filmed conditions on the ship and provided the footage to Animals Australia, which showed it to Littleproud. “I saw footage provided to me by Animals Australia, which is very disturbing,” Littleproud said at the time. “I am shocked and gutted.”

“This is the livelihood of Australian farmers that are on that ship … This is their pride and joy, and this is total bullshit that what I saw has taken place.”
Labor’s agriculture minister, Murray Watt, told estimates last month that the government remains committed to the independent monitoring program.
“We are considering how independent observers are deployed, but certainly I have not received any advice that we should eliminate the program altogether,” he said.

The department was approached for a response.

Source: the guardian.com