Per­mit ap­proval for ex­port of 58,000 sheep is 'il­log­i­cal', court told

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Melissa Davey

The as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of the agri­cul­ture depart­ment, Narelle Clegg, must have ap­proved the ex­port of 58,000 sheep from Western Aus­tralia based on “ir­ra­tional, il­log­i­cal or un­rea­son­able” in­for­ma­tion, the fed­eral court has heard.

An­i­mals Aus­tralia has taken the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to court to ar­gue the ex­port per­mit granted by Clegg to Emanuel Ex­ports for the voyage was un­law­ful. The ship is bound for the Mid­dle East and be­gan its voyage on 6 June.

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Rep­re­sent­ing An­i­mals Aus­tralia, Dan Star QC, told Jus­tice Deb­bie Mor­timer at hear­ing in Mel­bourne that Clegg had been pre­sented with sci­en­tific and expert ev­i­dence that showed the ship did not meet manda­tory re­quire­ments for an ex­port per­mit to be ap­proved.

This in­cluded a re­port from a vet and a me­te­o­rol­o­gist show­ing a 50% prob­a­bil­ity that am­bi­ent wet­bulb tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the In­dian Ocean part of the jour­ney could reach tem­per­a­tures of 28C or more for more than one day in a row. This prob­a­bil­ity rose to 70% for the Per­sian Gulf part of the jour­ney, Star said.

These con­di­tions could lead to se­vere heat stress and death to the an­i­mals, he said. But per­mit re­quire­ments mean the sec­re­tary needs to be sat­is­fied that the health and wel­fare of an­i­mals will be main­tained through­out the course of an ex­port jour­ney.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to be sat­is­fied of these con­di­tions and manda­tory re­quire­ments,” Star said. “The sec­re­tary must have mis­un­der­stood the scope of her power ... there is noth­ing to jus­tify her be­ing sat­is­fied of these re­quire­ments ... [her de­ci­sion] must have in­volved ir­ra­tional, il­log­i­cal, or un­rea­son­able find­ings.”

Emanuel Ex­ports came un­der scru­tiny in April af­ter footage was aired on 60 Min­utes from one of its ex­port ships, the Awassi Ex­press, which showed sheep dy­ing from se­vere heat stress. The footage, filmed in Au­gust 2017, trig­gered an in­quiry into con­di­tions on board ex­port ships dur­ing the Mid­dle East­ern sum­mer. Live­stock vet Dr Michael McCarthy led the re­view and made a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions. In its sub­mis­sion to the re­view, the Aus­tralian Ve­teri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion called for a ban on live sheep ex­ports to the Mid­dle East be­tween May and Oc­to­ber. The gov­ern­ment re­jected this rec­om­men­da­tion.

“It gets worse for sheep in July and Au­gust,” Star said. “We say that it is ur­gent for there to be a trial be­cause there is a heat-stress sea­son that runs from May to Oc­to­ber.”

Star re­quested that Clegg pro­vide the court with doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process be­hind grant­ing the per­mit to Emanuel Ex­ports by 19 June. He said he wanted to see the risk as­sess­ment model for heat stress used by the depart­ment in mak­ing its de­ci­sion to grant the ex­port per­mit.

“It should be pub­licly avail­able or at least pro­vided to us,” he said.

Mor­timer re­sponded: “We’re not here on some ju­ris­dic­tional fact in­quiry about the va­lid­ity of the model.”

A lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the gov­ern­ment told Mor­timer “the model con­tains a soft­ware pro­gram”. Data was en­tered into the pro­gram, such as the num­ber of live­stock and the species. “It pro­duces out­comes which as­sists in some eval­u­a­tion of likely oc­cur­rence of heat-stress events and mor­tal­i­ties,” he said. “I don’t think the depart­ment it­self pos­sesses the soft­ware pro­gram.”

The reg­u­la­tory regime for ex­port­ing live­stock was likely to change as early as next week as a re­sult of find­ings from the McCarthy re­view, he said, but he did not elab­o­rate on that those changes would be.

The hear­ing con­tin­ues.

Pho­to­graph: Ian Waldie/Getty Im­ages

An­i­mals Aus­tralia says a cur­rent ship­ment can­not meet manda­tory safety stan­dards.

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