The issue of live export of Australian sheep is complex and requires a considered response by government.
No-one condones the mistreatment of animals and I was appalled by the recent video footage of sheep suffering in poor conditions.
Animal cruelty in any circumstance is abhorrent and must be condemned.
The Government is determined to make the trade accountable for its actions. The Minister for Agriculture and Water commissioned a review by veterinarian Dr Michael McCarthy to ensure the health and welfare for sheep being transported to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer.
The review was to provide the science and evidence to act. The report has been handed down and the live sheep trade is in for significant change.
The Liberal/Nationals have accepted all 23 recommendations made by Dr McCarthy, subject to further testing and consultation of a recommendation to revise the Heat Stress Risk Assessment.
The changes to the regulation of the trade will include:
• a reduction in stocking densities so less sheep will be carried on a vessel at any given time;
• the reportable mortality level to be halved from 2 to 1 per cent;
• there will be tough new penalties on exporters who put profit before animal welfare and break the rules; and
• independent observers to be placed on every voyage carrying either sheep or cattle, reporting back daily to the Independent Regulator.
There will be immediate changes that impact now on the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer and there will be changes that will take more time to introduce.
These actions give exporters an incentive to invest in improving boats which improve animal welfare, rather than running old boats at bigger profit margins at the cost of animal welfare.
The Coalition Government supports a sustainable livestock export trade but expects exporters to continue to work hard at meeting their animal welfare responsibilities.
A ban on the whole industry would unfairly punish those exporters and farmers who have done nothing wrong and adversely affect regional communities.
There are also countries that retain strong cultural preferences for live animals and the Australian livestock export industry is a key player in meeting this market demand.
It should be noted that Australia imposes more rigorous animal welfare standards than any other country exporting live animals. It is our strong intention to hold the trade to account in a manner that places animal welfare as the highest priority.