Exporters are responsible for ensuring that they meet the animal welfare requirements under Commonwealth and state law. The investigation was conducted by the independent regulator, which the government fully supported, with a show cause notice and a suspension being issued.
Senator GEORGIOU (Western Australia) (14:26):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. As you know, there are more than 60,000 sheep stranded in a feedlot on the outskirts of Perth with nowhere to go. They were due to be shipped off to the Middle East earlier this week. Now that the federal government has suspended the licence for Emmanuel Exports, can the minister explain if he had consultation with the exporter prior to the suspension of the licence and how many times? Secondly, what time frame constitutes a northern summer export ban?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:26):
I thank Senator Georgiou for that very important question. As Senator Georgiou has alluded to, the licence in question—to Emmanuel—was suspended, and a show cause notice was issued following evidence obtained in the course of an ongoing investigation. Exporters are responsible for ensuring that they meet the animal welfare requirements under Commonwealth and state law. The investigation was conducted by the independent regulator, which the government fully supported, with a show cause notice and a suspension being issued. These are serious decisions for the regulator, and they cannot be rushed; nor can they be held off once the evidence indicates the need for action. We support that action, but it is one conducted by the independent regulator, and it is they that have held the discussions and investigations with the relevant exporter in this case.
In terms of the second part of your question, I reject any suggestion that there is a northern summer ban in force. The government remains committed to supporting a sustainable live sheep export industry that is appropriately regulated according to strict animal welfare standards. We were all disgusted by the footage that was revealed a couple of months ago, but the government did not have a kneejerk reaction; we took appropriate action to establish a proper independent review—the McCarthy review. It's made a number of recommendations, which we have all accepted. Already we have reduced the mortality threshold allowable on boats from two to one per cent. We've put independent observers on ships leaving for the Middle East and we have reduced stocking rates on boats leaving for the Middle East. The government is taking further action as well in the assessment of a heat stress assessment model, along the lines recommended by Dr McCarthy. We will continue to support a sustainable industry that is appropriately and strictly regulated.
Senator Georgiou, a supplementary question.
Senator GEORGIOU (Western Australia) (14:28):
Can the minister provide an update on, firstly, the welfare of the sheep, and, secondly, whether any other arrangements have been made to ship the sheep to their intended destination?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:29):
It is my understanding that the sheep are currently held in a registered feedlot and being cared for appropriately. The options and next steps are a matter for the company concerned, given that they remain in the domestic supply chain. It is also a matter for the Western Australian government to regulate. This is now a commercial matter between them and the Western Australian government. But, of course, we'd support efforts to ensure that the welfare of these animals is protected.
Senator Georgiou, a final supplementary question.
Senator GEORGIOU (Western Australia) (14:29):
Given that live sheep exports represent a $200 million business for WA alone, is the government aware that there are already reports emerging about stockfeed suppliers in rural WA having to lay off staff due to a pending oversupply of feed pellets? And what compensation measures, if any, will the government provide?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:30):
The government is proud to support all farmers who face distress and difficulty in their business. To the extent that there are issues in Western Australia in the live sheep trade, the Australian government already provides a range of assistance measures to Western Australian farmers and farm businesses facing hardship, including farm household allowance payments to eligible farmers, rural financial counselling services and the provision of farm management deposits. We will continue to work closely with the farm sector to support those farmers in need, as we have done in many other circumstances.