An independent Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports will be appointed to oversee Australia’s live animal export industry.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced the decision following the release of a long-awaited review into Australia’s live export industry.
The review was conducted by Phillip Moss, a public sector integrity expert who was appointed in April this year.
Mr Littleproud initiated the review following revelations of thousands of sheep deaths aboard the Awassi Express earlier this year.
The Moss Review has made 31 recommendations – all of which have been accepted by the federal government.
The new external inspector-general will oversee the Agriculture Department’s regulation of live animal exports.
Key to driving cultural change
"I specifically asked Mr Moss to consider an inspector-general in his review, and I said at the time I don't care who thought of the idea," said Mr Littleproud.
"The principal regulatory officer will be key in driving cultural change within the department as well as improving compliance and investigations."
The report found the removal of the Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Branch in 2013 led to many of the regulatory failures identified in the report.
The decision to remove that branch was a decision made by the former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce.
In a statement Mr Littleproud said he would instruct the Department to reinstate that branch.
The Moss Review found there had a culture of fear within the Department of Agriculture which meant staff were not reporting their concerns about animal welfare within the industry.
“To be candid, I’m disappointed that we have a culture within the department where there are people who feel they are too scared to come forward and report incidents,” Mr Littleproud said.
Also, the skills, resources and technology for effective regulation were lacking within the department, the review found.
The report expressed concerns the Department’s dual roles in promoting the trade and policing it could be contradictory.
Livestock exporters welcome new role
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council welcomed the Moss review's recommendations and the push to improve industry culture.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) chairman Simon Crean said the Minister's response to the Moss Review was part of suite of measures to improve animal welfare practices across the live export trade.
"The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports (role) is very important, we called for this back in April," Mr Crean said.
"We accept the fact we have to ensure we don't have another incident like the Awassi, we have to ensure that we are leading in the way in which animal welfare is ensured.
"We're proud of the way in which we have approached the problem.
"We have to deal with circumstances of a particular incident and the perception of the trade that came from that, but we are genuinely committed to ensuring no fear, no pain on behalf of the animal and developing very measure possible to ensure that outcome."
Labor stands firm
However, Labor has promised to phase out the live export of sheep if elected at next year's federal election – despite the government’s intention to implement all the Moss Review’s recommendations.
National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the changes should be implemented urgently.
“We have said from day one that things need to change. The footage and incidents we and everyone else saw were unacceptable. Governance and accountability of the regulator has to improve,” Mr Mahar said.
Introducing an inspector general of live exports and using clear scientific animal welfare indicators were a step in the right direction, he said.
“These are absolutely measures that will make a difference.”
Have your say on the review of live export standards
Meanwhile, draft options for improving the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) are now available for stakeholder feedback.
The independent Technical Advisory Committee undertaking the ASEL review has released a draft report with recommended changes to the standards. It has also released a revised version of the standards.
In developing its recommendations, the committee has drawn extensively on submissions received in earlier public consultation processes.
It has also considered outcomes from the review of conditions for the export of sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer by Dr Michael McCarthy.
The review of the ASEL is examining livestock exports by sea, including requirements for how animals are sourced, prepared and exported.
The draft report and revised draft standards are open for feedback until November 27.
Exporters of livestock, animal welfare groups, industry producer bodies and interested members of the public are encouraged to submit their views through the ‘Have Your Say’ website.
More information is available at haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au/review-asel and agriculture.gov.au/animal/welfare/export-trade/review-asel.