MacTiernan warns of stiff animal welfare penalties after sheep deaths
WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan has warned live exporters will face stiff penalties for animal welfare breaches, as the latest Middle East live sheep death scandal unfolds.
A scathing Ms MacTiernan said she was “appalled” by the vision that aired on Sunday night showing sheep affected by heat stress aboard a live export ship en route to the Middle East last year, where about 2400 animals died.
Ms MacTiernan, who has been a vocal opponent of the industry for most of her public life, warned the State Government intended on “kicking in” new animal welfare laws, which could result in fines of up to $250,000 for companies or five years imprisonment for individuals found to be in breach.
Ms MacTiernan said the State Government had been conscious of problems on the Middle Eastbound live export boats since receiving a report on mass fatalities on board an Emanuel Exports consignment of sheep to the Middle East last year.
“Six weeks ago we started an investigation of the possible animal cruelty on this ship after we received a report in 2017,” she said.
“At the same time, we assembled a team of experienced investigators and lawyers who will now take the footage and accelerate the investigation.”
Ms MacTiernan said she wanted the latest incident dealt with quickly.
“On the face of it there is evidence of breaches of the Animal Welfare Act, and we are looking to see how we can bring those charges forward, and you would have to say the conduct of this nature has to be at the top end of the scale,” she said. “We’re very serious about putting some weight behind this.”
Ms MacTiernan accused the Federal Government and the live export industry of “having their head in the sand” over events of animal cruelty.
“The look of 2500-3000 sheep dying of heat stress in a confined space is always going to be harrowing and, unfortunately, up until now, there has been a culture of allowing these appalling practices to continue,” she said.
“It’s got to end here, and our part as a State Government is to make sure our animal welfare legislation is enforced.”
Ms MacTiernan said the Federal Government had “whitewashed” sheep deaths en route to the Middle East in the past two years.
“Less than two weeks ago the Federal Government produced a report that underplayed what happened on that vessel, which was a replica of what happened the year before when they had whitewashed it,” she said.
“Quite clearly taking sheep from the southern summer and taking them into the Middle East in high summer has been the experience over and over again, that these animals suffer intensively.
“So we had 3000 losses in 2016, over 2500 last year and yet, until this footage came out, the Federal Government was not prepared to do anything.”
The live export industry needed to “lift its game” to have any future in WA.
“Last year I went to the annual conference, and it was a bit like being a sheep at the festival of the slaughter,” she said.
“I told them we can’t keep doing this because we know these reports are coming out.
“We hope with the introduction of stiff penalties for people doing the wrong thing in WA, that we will also get the Federal Government being prepared on their end to put some real changes in that are necessary.”
Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan.