​​Press conference

Release of the McCarthy Review, Sydney

17 May 2018

[E&OE]

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:     So, good morning. Look, as we all know, last month we saw some footage on ships that hurt and angered all of us. What we saw in that footage was plain disgraceful. As the new Minister for only three months, I saw this as an opportunity to recast the direction into something sustainable and viable. I want to thank Dr McCarthy for his review, particularly given the time constraints put on him, but we felt it as a government it was important to get a direction in quick time. It's important to understand this review relates only to the Middle Eastern summer trade of live sheep. The government accepts all 23 recommendations, most of which will be implemented immediately, but there are others which require further modelling and consultation.

Today, I announce there will be no ban to the live trade sheep in the Middle Eastern summer. However, as a result of this review, we will be making serious and meaningful change to the industry. A major recommendation, which will be adopted for this year's summer trade, will be the elementary stocking density model. This means an increase in space for sheep of up to 39 per cent, resulting in a stocking reduction of up to 28 per cent.

Additionally, in a sweeping change, Dr McCarthy recommended a seismic shift from stocking density based on animal mortality to one based on animal welfare. The greatest contributor to animal mortality on boats in the Middle Eastern summer is heat stress. Dr McCarthy has created a new model that goes towards addressing this, using the probability of sheep enduring heat stress systems and issues of ventilation and air flow on boats.

This model could have the potential merit of giving exporters incentive to improve ventilation and air flow to increase their carrying capacity. In short, it could encourage exporters to upgrade their boats. However, we don't have audited ventilation scores for boats and there needs to be more work in consultation on the number of animals enduring heat stress symptoms, as Dr McCarthy himself says. The heat stress model he recommends would potentially dictate stocking density reductions of between 19 to 79 per cent. Given the significant variance of approximately 60 per cent in the system, further modelling and consultation would be required before any adoption. Another key recommendation the government will implement immediately is that the independent regulator will investigate any voyage which has a mortality rate of 1 per cent or greater. I announce today this will be extended across all sheep voyages all of the time.

That's the McCarthy review. But I want to go further. In coming weeks, I will introduce a bill to amend the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act (1997) to create a new offence to punish those who seek to profit from breaking export rules, including around stocking densities and poor animal welfare practices. Under this offence, a company would face a fine, of whichever is greater, of $4.2 million, three times the benefit gained by the company, or 10 per cent of the company's annual turnover. A director guilty of a company could face ten years prison or a fine of $2.1 million. An individual convicted under the same offence, would face ten years and $420,000 fine. Other penalties will increase from the current five years prison and or $63,000 fine for an individual to eight years prison and or $100,800 fine. For a company, the fine will be increased from $315,000 to $504,000.

I'm seeking support from Labor and the crossbenchers on this. Lasting solutions require us to bring others along with us. This is about changing the culture of the industry, which has been unacceptable for too long. I also intend to make sure there is an independent regulator which holds the industry to account. The review I commissioned into the culture, capability and investigative powers of independent regulator will be handed to me in late August.

Further, today, I announce all boats, both sheep and cattle shipments, will have an independent observer on board, feeding back vision and reports to the independent regulator on a daily basis. On cattle boats, the phase in of the independent observers will take place over the coming months. This is about getting truth and proof from those boats. Finally, I want to remind people of the whistleblower hotline. I want to create an environment where people feel safe to come forward on animal welfare issues. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept, and I call on any individual or any group out there with any footage or information around animal welfare, to come forward. Government cannot do this by our own. We need the community to come with us. Today is about setting a new course for the live export industry. There's still a lot more to be done and I give you a commitment to lead that journey. If anyone in the industry is not up to it, I urge them to leave now because there is too much at stake. Thank you. Questions?

QUESTION: Minister, how bad does the footage have to be for you to end this trade?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The footage was disgraceful, but what you don't need to do is predicate your decisions on emotions, not facts. This was one exporter, one incident. I need to work through that systematically. Now, if you have other footage of other incidents, bring them forward. The reality is, if I [inaudible] a culture with a regulator and with penalties, and get the industry themselves to come on this journey, we'll eradicate that. But what I'm also doing is getting ahead of the curve, by putting independent observers on all boats, we'll eradicate this type of behaviour going forward.

QUESTION: What would someone have to do, you've got this new legislation coming forward, what would someone have to do to in practical terms to earn a ten-year period in jail?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:     The new offence is around making profit out of it. So, it's an extension of the existing Meat and Livestock Export Bill. So what it will do if we can prove that it was done for financial gain, then we'll be able to extend it into the directors and further into the companies. So, it's an extension of existing breaches of standards and the standards that we are about to increase around stocking density and animal welfare. So, this is an extension of it and digging deeper into those that will gain financially from this industry.

QUESTION: So, if someone is not doing it for profit but is simply incompetent at doing it, they won't suffer the full weight of the law of the extra penalties?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They'll come under the existing MLE legislation.

QUESTION: Doesn't that give a leave pass to simply incompetent operators, or will it [inaudible] should be kicked out of the industry?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think that's where a robust independent regulator that has the investigative powers, the prosecution powers, to be able to undertake these investigations properly. We will be able to get underneath the bonnet of it and by actually having observers on the boats, we will get better truth and proof of what is happening on those boats. So this is about a whole system making sure that the regulator sets the culture, because if we don't set the culture as the regulator, the whole thing falls apart. So it's about making sure that they're there to be able to investigate and then have the penalties to hold the industry to account.

QUESTION: Are you confident in 10 years' time it will still be live sheep and live cattle to overseas in Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: If we set the right foundations around it- environment around it, yes. And that's what I intend to do.

QUESTION: Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have warned that if further regulatory changes could put the entire live export trade at risk, can you guarantee these changes will allow the industry to remain viable?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, I have already reached out to our trading partners and it's important we understand this is an important part of our trade, and not just for agriculture, but for the entire nation. And in fact next week, I intend to visit those key trading partners to let them understand how important they are to us and that what we have put in place, a framework that we have put in place, will make sure there is a sustainable and viable live trade industry into the future.

QUESTION: Do you have their support- are you confident in the support of the Coalition for the future of the industry?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, obviously, we've made these announcements today and there's been some within the Coalition that have flagged their disappointment around the live trade. We intend to engage with them in a proactive way. I have said from the outset, I intend to make decisions predicated on fact, not emotion, and I know that's hard because I have felt emoted too. When I saw that footage, I was disgusted. But the reality is I have to be calm and concise. When you're in government, you've got to make tough decisions and you can't make knee-jerk reactions. You've got to be calm and decisive, and that's what this government has done in respect of calling these reviews, systematically going through the issues one by one. This is a journey. We don't intend to stop here. We intend to go further, dig deeper and go right through the supply chain. That's the responsibility of the government, that's the responsibility I have to those farmers in Western Australia and South Australia and the responsibility I have to the animals that preside here in Australia.

QUESTION: Support is growing for Sussan Ley's private bill to end live sheep exports, are you confident of convincing the parliament that the industry has a future?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well I think today, we have laid a foundation stone in which to rebuild that trust. A trust around how we can do this in a sustainable way. I intend to hold them to account and I think that- candidly, I don't think we've held them to account properly as a government. I want to leave a legacy as the Minister of Agriculture for however long I'm lucky to be here. I want to make sure there is a legacy that no matter who comes in after me, that this cannot be broken down, that we move forward and we give this a sustainable industry and those farmers a future that they deserve, and their kids a future.

QUESTION: You have got two members of your party who are- who have come out against this trade. What do you say to these recommendations don't really marry with community expectations around animal welfare?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:     Well, look, no-one, no sane human being would see animal cruelty as something they'd accept. The reality is, as a government, we make sure that we put a framework around those that fall through the net and do do the wrong thing. I don't think any government of any persuasion in the past have done it right, but I'm putting a line in the sand. Today I'm saying now is the line the sand, let's take this journey, let's have faith and confidence in us as Australians. Because if we think for one moment that the demand for live sheep and cattle will go away, we are kidding ourselves. If it's not our sheep and if it's not our cattle, it will be another nation's sheep and cattle, and they may not have the same standards and values as ours. And if you think you go to bed tonight and- we banned it, you can sleep soundly, I'm sorry but we've got a responsibility to stay and get this right. There is a world demand for live exports. We've got a responsibility to stay and get it right. We've got a responsibility to the animals, but also to our farmers.

QUESTION: After the live cattle scandal a few years back, the Coalition, Labor were in government at the time, the Coalition was vociferous in its support of the live cattle trade and dismissive of the Labor Party's efforts to try to reign that in. How much do you blame the enthusiasm from the live trade through that period for signalling to the industry that it could pretty much get away with anything?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I've made it clear from the outset. My decisions will be predicated on science, not emotion, and I've led all the way. And I don't intend to stop. My hand is still out to the other side of the aisle to come on this journey with us. I don't intend to get into name-calling, to bring down to make cheap political points. This is too important. This is too important to the people of Western Australia, this is too important to Australians that we don't stay and get this right. This is about leadership, not politics. So I don't intend to get into name-calling with those who don't agree with me. I respect their views, but I ask them to consider the science, to consider the facts, to come on the journey with me because we can get this right. We should have faith in Australians that we can get this right.

QUESTION: Some of these things are due to come in by July 1, it's not a long period of time. Are you confident the industry can make these adjustments in time to meet their deadline?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Definitely. I mean, we've been working- my department has been working with industry and we've had some consultation with them. But obviously Dr McCarthy is experienced and he wouldn't make recommendations he doesn't think that we can impose. But obviously, there is one element that needs more work and we're prepared to put the shoulder to the wheel and make sure we go through on that journey.

QUESTION: You mentioned changing the culture of the industry and I'm thinking about live cattle as well. Have you been disappointed even with your time preceding your time in office about the speed of cultural change within the live export sector?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I mean when incidents like this happen, there is obviously a culture deficiency of some level. Now, I don't think we should pass aspersions on all the industry. The reality is in any industry, there are always outliers that do the wrong thing, but you've got to create the culture to pick them up and hold them to account and your own industry sometimes has got to say: mate, it's time to move on. Bugger off. That's what a good industry culture looks like. But as a government, it's our responsibility to set that with tough penalties and with a regulator that is there doing the job, on the beat, making sure they can investigate and find out exactly what's happening, get under the bonnet of what's going on. Thank you.