Australian Greens animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon questions officials from the Live Animal Exports Division during Senate Estimates about what is happening with current complaints and investigations, including the recent controversial incidents in Kuwait, Bahrain and Pakistan. Watch the video or read the transcript.
Monday, 11 February 2013 - Senate Estimates
RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Live Animal Export Division
Ms Rebecca Irwin, First Assistant Secretary
Ms Lee Cale, Assistant Secretary, Animal Export Reform
Mr Jonathan Benyei, Assistant Secretary, Animal Export Operations
Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that there are five complaints currently under investigation by the department to incidents in Kuwait, Pakistan, Israel and Mauritius?
Ms Irwin: Yes, there are currently five investigations on foot.
Senator RHIANNON: One investigation is the Pakistan-Bahrain investigation, isn't it? Ms Irwin: Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: That was where there was the tragic slaughter of 21,000 sheep. What is the status of that investigation?
Ms Irwin: That investigation is still underway.
Senator RHIANNON: When do you expect that the report will be finalised?
Ms Irwin: All of the investigations are a clear priority for the department. We are working through them. In terms of specific time frames, we are not able to give definite dates as to when they will be finished given the various issues that need to be followed up in each of the investigations.
Senator RHIANNON: Will the reports be made public?
Ms Irwin: Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering the distress this caused the wider Australian public, considering the challenge that the industry has and considering your own workload, which is obviously very relevant here, can you give us some more information about how these are being conducted? You have said they are all priorities.
The five of them sound like a lot of work. Is there one that you are concentrating on more? Would not the advice from one help inform the others? Could you give us some more advice please?
Ms Irwin: The department does have an investigations and enforcement division to conduct investigations across any of its regulatory programs. That division plays a key role in advising any program across the department on compliance and enforcement action. Specifically in relation to the way investigations are undertaken in the live animal export program, there are a range of areas in the department that provide expert advice to assist in the completion of investigations. For example, my own division will provide regulatory advice for the regulatory framework that we work under. The animal biosecurity division will provide expert advice for animal health issues that may arise, including advice from the CVO on occasions. The animal welfare branch will provide advice on animal welfare standards. As you can appreciate, there is a range of areas of expertise that may need to be called on depending on what the particular issues are in any investigation on foot.
Senator RHIANNON: Has any of this investigation or advice work been outsourced or has it all been done within the department?
Ms Irwin: To the best of my knowledge, it is all being done within the department.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you want to take that on notice if you are not sure?
Mr Metcalfe: We will correct the record or add to the answer if there is anything more to say.
Senator RHIANNON: I will go back to the question one more time about the time frame. It was such a huge incident. You obviously organise your work and make determinations on how long this work will take. Surely you are able to give some guidelines on when these reports will be finalised and what does take priority because there is variation within these five incidents. Could you provide more details about how you are managing this within the department. Surely that has been discussed in some detail.
Mr Glyde: Senator, you are not the only person that is very keen to know what the time frame will be for these investigations. That is something that I am particularly keen to know and also the minister is always very interested in the timing of it as well. I would make a general comment, which is that you do not know what you do not know until you start investigating.
As we initially discussed, sometimes we have information that comes to light and then when we go back we get further information, and that all has to be assessed. Other times we may not necessarily be provided that information and we have to find other ways to better understand the circumstances that occurred at the time.
There is almost always a degree of consultation and investigation with a wide range of parties, not just the person who has made the complaint.
In addition to that, in terms of natural justice, once we have come to a position, an initial finding, we then provide to relevant interested parties our preliminary findings and conclusions and ask if they have any further information to provide. That can then lead on to further legal processes. If, for example, the particular interested party feels that that is the wrong step they might challenge what we are doing. By the same token, they might also provide additional information which will take time for us to assess. Putting all that together, we cannot really guarantee exactly how long these things might take, particularly the natural justice step where we try to make sure that the facts as we have ascertained them are absolutely correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering it was revealed in the estimates last year that it had taken more than a month after Minister Ludwig promised an inquiry to kick start the investigation by writing to the exporter Wellard to seek background information, can you assure the committee that similar delays are not occurring?
Mr Glyde: We have an internal process for registering the complaints, making initial inquiries et cetera that we go through, and I can reassure you that we do these as expeditiously as we can. It is really important for confidence in the system that we do undertake these investigations thoroughly but we also do them as quickly as we can.
Later - Monday, 11 February 2013
RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Mr Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary
Ms Rona Mellor, Deputy Secretary
Mr Phillip Glyde, Deputy Secretary
Mr Mark Tucker, Deputy Secretary
Senator RHIANNON: It has been reported that Australian sheep are being sold to unaccredited livestock markets in Kuwait's Al Rai livestock market, in the Friday local market. Do you have details of your investigation of this latest breach of the export rules? I am after any information about who did this and how this happened.
Mr Metcalfe: Chair, Senator, this really should have come up under the live animal export discussion we had earlier this afternoon. Mr Glyde is Deputy Secretary. He may be able to assist, but I doubt if we will have any other officers at this stage of the proceedings.
Mr Glyde: The Secretary is right. The people who have the detailed knowledge about the particular investigations were in the live animal export division. What I do know is that we have received two complaints from Animals Australia in relation to animals being in this particular market in Kuwait. I do not recall the exact date that we received the first one, but we also received a second allegation in January this year—I forget the specific date—and we have commenced an investigation into that second incident.
Mr Metcalfe: I think it was addressed to me, and so it was very recent.
Mr Glyde: Yes, it was extremely recently. I probably have it here in the briefing, but it is probably safer for me to give you the precise timing as to when we received both of those allegations on notice, if that is okay.
Senator RHIANNON: I will put the questions in on notice. I am sorry about that; I am still working that out. I want to ask a fairly general question: as you are aware, a number of animal groups have often alerted you to the issues of animal cruelty. Apart from animal groups alerting you, have you been informed by any other groups or individuals not associated with animal welfare groups?
Mr Glyde: We receive information about non-compliances essentially from three resources. The first source is our auditing system of both initial audits and performance audits. They come through as a result of the ESCAS. The second source of information we have is from the exporters themselves. We have had a number of incidents where the exporters have declared noncompliances that they have become aware of. The third source of information is from third parties, and to date the third party information has come from animal welfare groups or from people reporting through the Australian animal welfare groups.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you have a breakdown for those three? What percentage of the reporting comes from those three different groupings?
Mr Glyde: Yes, we can provide that. I do not have the exact information to hand, but we can provide that classified by our hierarchy of critical, major and minor noncompliances by the source from where they have come. The vast majority of the noncompliances tend to relate to documentation, but we can give you that breakdown. In looking around for that, I have found the dates for those two investigations, if that would help.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Mr Glyde: The original complaint in Kuwait was received by us on 30 August, alleging that Australian sourced sheep were being offered for sale and slaughter outside of the approved supply chain in Kuwait. We received a second complaint, as the Secretary said, on 30 January with the same allegation—that is, the animals were being offered for sale and slaughter outside an approved supply chain. But I will also provide the specifics about our sources of information in relation to noncompliances.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Chair, I will put my questions on notice and get them into the right group.