MPs call for sheep shipping moratorium to be slashed

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Sheep at Fremantle Port.
Camera IconSheep at Fremantle Port. Credit: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

A group of Coalition MPs is lobbying the Federal Government to “urgently” speed up its review of WA’s live sheep shipping moratorium and consider slashing the 31/2-month ban period.

The group, including Federal O’Connor MP Rick Wilson, has written to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud asking for the review to be expedited to provide more certainty to the live export sector.

The MPs have cited the example of the Al Kuwait livestock carrier, which made a successful voyage from Fremantle last year, nearly three weeks after the pause on live exports to the Middle East started on June 1.

The Al Kuwait’s departure from Fremantle was delayed after 20 of its 48 crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

The vessel was only allowed to leave after gaining a special exemption from the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

Mr Wilson, who comes from a sheep farming background, said the fact that the Al Kuwait recorded just 28 mortalities from a cargo of 33,341 sheep was proof the moratorium period could be reduced.

“This is just extraordinarily low numbers,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a farmer in Australia who could lay claim that they could yard and handle 33,000 sheep over 14 days and only lose 28 of them.

“All we’re asking for is the Government to get on with the review, which was scheduled to happen this year, and to hold it expeditiously to give both the exporters and the importing countries some sort of certainty about what’s coming up.”

Federal O’Connor MP Rick Wilson on board the Al Shuwaikh while sheep were being loaded in February, 2019.
Camera IconFederal O’Connor MP Rick Wilson on board the Al Shuwaikh while sheep were being loaded in February, 2019. Credit: Supplied

Mr Wilson said it was hoped the evidence would show the northern hemisphere summer moratorium, while necessary in the hot months of July and August, could be “shortened by at least a month at either end”.

“We’ve seen a very successful voyage by the Al Kuwait in late June, and I’m sure the weather conditions in September, which are starting to cool down, could be managed as well,” he said.

His views were backed by Federal Senator for WA Slade Brockman, who also signed the letter.

“I believe a review will show that a much shorter moratorium is justified by the evidence,” he said, adding that “an urgent review is needed in order to provide industry certainty into 2022”.

Senator Slade Brockman.
Camera IconSenator Slade Brockman. Credit: Supplied

The moratorium was initiated by the live export sector and endorsed by the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council in the wake of the August 2017 Awassi Express disaster, which saw about 2400 sheep die in sweltering conditions en route from Fremantle to the Middle East.

ALEC chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton has also called for the review to be expedited, saying there was plenty of evidence supporting a reduced moratorium period.

“There’s a whole range of data that’s been captured over the last two years, as well as the outcomes of the Al Kuwait voyage, that warrant re-examining whether it is the best timeframe and if there (is) a possibility of having a reduced moratorium,” he said.

“It’s par for the course that sheep shipments will have stock hands on board and veterinarians that monitor the sheep on a daily basis, and what we’ve found is that the outcomes of the shipments have been very good... The industry is getting the best outcomes that it’s ever had in terms of mortalities on a vessel.”

A Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment spokesman said the moratorium review was under way and included a focus on “evaluating the sustainability of the length of the prohibition period”.

He said the review was expected to be finalised in February 2022, which would allow the industry time to prepare for the Northern Hemisphere summer starting next May.

“The review will be available for consultation in late 2021, noting the Northern Hemisphere summer ends on 31 October and data from September and October 2021 voyages need to be part of the review,” the spokesman said.

“The review will analyse voyage outcomes from the 2020 and 2021 Northern Hemisphere summer periods as well as any other new evidence and science... A draft review will be published for public consultation, as will the final review, after consideration of stakeholder feedback.”

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