Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has announced a review of the standards for the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer.
The review follows the release of confronting footage aired by the Nine Network on 60 Minutes on Sunday which showed images of sheep suffering from severe heat stress on route to the Middle East.
About 2,400 sheep died on an Emanuel Exports vessel in August last year, and footage taken from on board the livestock carrier was also presented to Mr Littleproud last week.
The ship featured in the footage — the Awassi Express — is currently docked in Fremantle awaiting a load of more than 60,000 sheep.
Mr Littleproud said conditions required of the exporter are a matter for the independent regulator – the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
An independent observer paid for by the regulator will be on board sending back daily reports and photographs.
Emanuel Exports was also investigated last year after it was revealed more than 2 per cent of a shipment of 69,000 ship sent to the Middle East in July 2016 had also perished on board.
Pre-eminent vet to head review
The review is expected to take four weeks to allow any recommendations to be acted on before sheep are sent to the Middle Eastern summer from Australia's winter.
“This will be a short, sharp review looking into the standards of the northern summer trade give confidence in those boats and the standards in which those sheep go to the Middle East,” Mr Littleproud said.
Dr Michael McCarthy, a pre-eminent vet who has experience in the export industry, will conduct the review.
“It's important we take decisive action because it’s the livelihoods of farmers and their family at stake,” Mr Littleproud added.
Mr Littleproud is concerned a mortality report he received recently from the independent regulator did not accurately reflect the conditions seen in the vision on the ship.
He has also announced a review into investigative capability, powers and culture of the independent regulator.
Hotline for whistleblowers
Also, a hotline will be established to allow whistleblowers to anonymously call and provide information.
Mr Littleproud will work with the Federal Opposition to increase penalties for those doing the wrong thing, through legislation now before Parliament.
"Personally, I'd like to see company directors be held more personally accountable if they do the wrong thing, facing big fines and possible jail time. They shouldn't be able to hide behind companies and shelf companies," he said.
"I want to let the light shine in. No-one who is doing the right thing should be scared of transparency.”
Logical step to increase transparency
Mr Littleproud thanked the whistleblower for coming forward.
“We need more of it,” he said.
“A hotline for whistleblowers to call anonymously is a logical step to increase transparency and encourage that behaviour.
“I said I'd aim to create an environment where whistleblowers are comfortable and confident stepping forward, and a hotline is a start.
“I'll consult further with Animals Australia and the RSPCA, both of whom I've been in contact with, to help strengthen this.
"A review into the independent regulator is a good thing. We need to make sure the regulator has the right tools, training and culture to make sure exporters do the right thing. This requires prosecutions and heavy penalties where breaches occur.”