NZ to ban live exports by 2023
New Zealand Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor announced on Wednesday that live exports of livestock would end within the next two years:
"There's a lot of public pressure here, a lot of concern.
"We must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny."
Mark Sutton, CEO of the Australian Live Exporters Council (ALEC) told FlowNews24 in a statement:
"ALEC expresses its sympathies with its New Zealand colleagues today following news that the New Zealand Government will phase out livestock exports over the next two years.
“This is understandably disappointing news, particularly for New Zealand producers that rely on the trade for competition in their livestock markets as well as their international trading partners.”
“The Australian industry will continue to be a world leader in livestock exports and continues play a critical role in providing food security for our trading partners as well as providing competition in the market for Australian producers.
“We have full confidence in the standards the Australian industry upholds and expect the impacts of the New Zealand decision to have limited bearing on the strength of the Australian industry and its continuing growth.”
News of the New Zealand ban came in the same week that Australian Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar responded to allegations aired on Sky News that Animals Australia obtained footage of distressed live exported animals in circumstances contrived to create distress:
"Australian taxpayers provide charitable status to entities, those tax concessions, for organisations to do good works, charitable works.
"If these allegations are true that these charitable donations provided by Australians went to make secret payments that then led to animals being treated in a cruel fashion, I think Australians would be appalled.
No doubt the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission will take these allegations seriously and look very closely at them, in determining whether Animals Australia should continue to be charity."
New Zealand paused their live exports in September 2020 after the Gulf Livestock 1 ship sank on a journey to China, drowning 41 crew - including two Kiwis and two Australians - and almost 6000 cattle.
While exports resumed a month later with more rigorous welfare standards, Jacinda Ardern's government has now decided to phase out the trade over the next two years.
Since a controversy surrounding sheep dying in extreme heat onboard a ship in 2018, Australia restricted exports to the predominantly Middle Eastern market during the northern summer, approximately June to September, out of concern for animal welfare.
However, last June activists lost their court action to prevent a live export ship departing Fremantle in June for the Middle East.
Federal House of Representatives crossbenchers Zali Steggall, Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie have lobbied to have the Department of Agriculture cease regulating and approving live exports, preferring an independent body principally focused on animal welfare.
Australia’s cattle live exports banned for a brief period of time in 2011 under the Rudd government, which led last June to a massive compensation payout for primary producers.
The ban comprised a six-month suspension of live cattle trade to Indonesia, signed by then Agriculture Minister, the ALP senator Joe Ludwig.
The ban created a significant uproar, exemplified by those by the former chief executive of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, Tracey Hayes, who said at the time:
“(The ban) highlights the dangers of knee-jerk reactions and political stunts.
“The truth is the shutdown wasn’t required.
“Had calm heads prevailed established government decision-making processes been followed, both the livelihoods of our farmers and many, many others in the supply chain and the welfare of our animals could have been protected.”
Last June, a class action featuring 300 affected parties seeking $600 million in compensation succeeded, with the Federal Court finding the minister 'committed misfeasance', with the blanket ban 'invalid and capricious'.
Justice Rares stated in his judgment:
"I am comfortably satisfied, based on the whole of the evidence, that the minister was recklessly indifferent as to first, the availability of his power to make the Ban Order in its absolutely prohibitory terms without providing any power of exception and, secondly, as to the injury which the order, when effectual, was calculated to produce.
"Accordingly, the minister committed misfeasance in public office when he made the Ban Order on June 7, 2011."
"The minister plunged ahead regardless. "He made the ban order shutting his eyes to the risk that it might be invalid and to the damage that it was calculated to cause persons in the position of (plaintiff) Brett Cattle."
Animals Australia's Lyn White said at the time in response to the judgment:
"While processes and decisions made by Senator Ludwig were scrutinised by the Federal court, it should not be forgotten that the brutality Australian cattle faced in Indonesia was widespread and well known to exporters and Meat and Livestock Australia for over a decade. It was they who let cattle producers down, not the government.
"If anyone is to 'blame' for economic losses that resulted in the temporary halt in trade, it isn't the government that prevented further animal cruelty, it's the industry body that not only ignored it, but facilitated it.
"Had this 5-week suspension of trade not been imposed, changes in Indonesian slaughterhouses that now see the vast majority of exported Australian cattle stunned unconscious before slaughter, would not have been implemented.
"There are many Australians today who remain deeply grateful to Joe Ludwig for having the courage to make a decision that was in the interests of animals. Senator Ludwig in 2011 offered affected producers compensation and all animal protection groups publicly supported compensation being provided.
"We accept the legal determination by the Federal court and wish the plaintiffs well. In the aftermath of this court case, regardless of whether we are pro live export or opposed to it, it is our hope that all can agree that cattle should be protected from cruel treatment and should not be abandoned to a traumatic, brutal death."
-- with AAP