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Estimates: Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee (Live Animal Exports Division)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 28 May 2014

Senator RHIANNON: Recent developments are showing that there is a lack of consequences for exporters, such as Livestock Shipping Services, who fail in their duty of care towards livestock. How do you explain the lack of serious consequences for exporters, such as LSS, who have been investigated for fraud and ongoing welfare issues?

Mr Glyde : Senator, we have had this discussion many times. I think I would reject the starting point, which is that there is a lack of consequence for exporters. I will ask Ms Irwin to run through the statistics and how we have gone about the investigations that have come into the public domain and the other activities we undertake. But I can assure you that there are significant consequences for exporters who are not able to meet the objectives of our regulation. I will now ask Rebecca to take you through some of the statistics in relation to that.

Senator RHIANNON: Could I just add one bit to the question; it might give you some context. It is understandable that you say that, Mr Glyde, but there are some glaring examples, and maybe this could be commented on by Ms Irwin. I understand that LSS is implicated in not following the rules in Gaza, Israel, Egypt, Mauritius, Jordan and Kuwait; in the deaths from heat exhaustion of 4,179 sheep on the almost 40-year-old Bader III; and in the cattle that died on the flight to Kazakhstan. That was why I started off with that question: why has no sanction, at least, been imposed on them? There seems to be a record there.

Mr Glyde : Before Ms Irwin starts, I would just make the point that LSS is one of the largest exporters. You would expect that, as in any system, we cannot get 100 per cent perfection, because of the nature of working with animals over these distances. You would expect them to have some noncompliances, as indeed other exporters have had. But the fact that LSS comes to mind a lot is in part due to the number of animal shipments they are involved in. It is also important to put these in the context of the broader trade. I think that in 2013 total exports of live animals—cattle, sheep and goats—were in the order of $900 million in trade value. There were also 2.9 million animals shipped during that time. What we have been focusing on, quite rightly, is trying to make sure that as many animals as possible meet the requirements of the regulation. I think it is important to think about the number of incidents we have in that broader context. With that as an introduction, I might ask Ms Irwin to take us through some of the statistics in our compliance activities.

Ms Irwin : Before I turn to the specifics of any individual exporter, the regulatory framework does provide the regulator with a range of compliance tools and options. We work under two acts—both the Export Control Act and the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act. Under those acts we have options to look at in relation to individual consignment and supply chain approvals; we have the ability to put conditions on individual consignments; we have the ability to put conditions on an exporter's licence; we have the ability to look at whether or not certain consignments should be approved; and we also have the powers to take actions in relation to a licence.

In addition to that, both acts provide for criminal offence provisions. Under section 9 of the Export Control Act it is a criminal offence for exporters not to meet conditions of their export licences. Under the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act it is also a criminal offence for exporters not to meet licence conditions. So there are a range of compliance tools available to the regulator under both pieces of legislation.

To specifically look at what the regulator has done in relation to ESCAS compliance across the board since ESCAS was introduced, 29 reports of ESCAS noncompliance have been received. In terms of where they have come from, 23 have come from third parties and six of them have come directly from exporters. Of the 29 reports, 19 investigations have been completed, and those completed reports have made a range of findings. Six found that sheep were outside approved supply chains—

Senator RHIANNON: With these ones, because I wanted you to come back to LSS because I did rattle off a whole number of countries there, so as you are going through these figures about the ones completed, could you indicate where LSS comes into this please?

Ms Irwin : I have that separately; I can do that after this if you like. Just in terms of the 19 investigations completed, six found that sheep were found outside approved supply chains, four found that cattle were approved outside supply chains, five found that there were animal handling or slaughter issues that did not meet OIE animal welfare recommendations, one related to Pakistan, and three found there was no regulatory breach. Ten remain under investigation. Following those reports, the regulators applied a varying range of conditions to exporters. They include reducing the size and complexity of supply chains; you can imagine that a supply chain might have a number of abattoirs and a number of feed lots. A way of managing risk is to bring that down to one feed lot and one abattoir so that the exporter can maintain control and traceability through the supply chain. In the compliance framework that is publicly available for ESCAS, we have the categorisation of minor, major, and critical non-compliances. I do have the statistic for a number of the key exporters in relation to that.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you table those please?

Ms Irwin : Yes, but I only have them hand written. Let me explain what they are. I think it is important because it puts the exporters in context. In relation to LSS, LSS has recorded 15 non-compliances: 13 are minor, one related to Jordan was major, and one was a critical finding which also related to Jordan. Emanuel Exports has had 14—

Senator RHIANNON: Before you leave LSS, has Gaza been investigated as part of that?

Ms Irwin : There are two current reports being investigated in relation to Gaza, and they remain under investigation.

Senator RHIANNON: So Gaza has not been finalised?

Ms Irwin : That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are saying everything else—Kuwait, Mauritius, Egypt, even Israel—is all minor?

Ms Irwin : No.

Senator BACK: Just a point of clarification, Chair, LSS does not export to Mauritius and never has, to my knowledge.

Ms Irwin : Exactly. What I can say in terms of the current investigations in relation to LSS is that from the two completed ESCAS investigations, one reported a critical non-compliance and one reported a major non-compliance. Both of those relate to the export of sheep to Jordan. In terms of current investigations that relate to LSS, there are six investigations on foot; three relate to sheep outside the supply chain, two in Jordan and one in the United Arab Emirates; two relate to Gaza; and there is one report related to unloading of livestock in Israel.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. So, Mr Glyde, are you seriously saying that, because LSS is such a big exporter, you can therefore expect this very large number of non-compliances? You would expect that a large exporter would learn how to do the job properly.

Mr Glyde : I was really trying to establish the broader context in which LSS operates, and indeed trying to give a few statistics in relation to the whole of the trade. But what we have found is that when you look at the number of non-compliances, LSS—and I am not condoning non-compliances; our whole objective is to try and make sure that we have completely compliant supply chains—is not the only exporter that has recorded a significant number of non-compliances, as Ms Irwin was going through. If I could compare LSS with its 15; and Emanuel Exports, 14; Wellard Rural Exports, 32; International Livestock Exports, 29; and North Australian Cattle Company, 81. The vast majority of those are minor non-compliances, which often relate to overdue paperwork and the like. I think what we are trying to say is that LSS is not alone in having had a series of non-compliances, and we work with each of the exporters to try and make sure that we have compliant supply chains. Ms Irwin ran through the sort of actions that we can take to try and make sure that those supply chains are increasingly compliant. There has been quite a focus on LSS, but we try to look at the all of the industry and take action proportionate to the activities, proportionate to the extent of noncompliance. We have a range of tools that we are working through to try and make sure that we do get the compliance we are after.

Senator STERLE: Would it assist the committee if we could have the incidents tabled?

Senator RHIANNON: I did ask that. Thank you.

Senator STERLE: In the cool light of day we can sit down and see how many transgressions there are, compared to how much they earn. It might help senators.

Mr Glyde : I more than happy to do that. Indeed, I think the track record of the noncompliances is on our website. But that would be handy. Ms Irwin's handwriting is worse than mine, so we will have to do a little bit of typing in order to do that, but we would certainly be happy to provide that as soon as we finish here.

Senator STERLE: Is it possible to have information as to how many head of animals are exported, what they are to wear so we can put apples—I hate using that term; it is real crappy—so that we can compare the amount of shipments they have to the amount of infringements?

Mr Glyde : We can provide that.

Senator STERLE: I am turning into a politician! My God, sorry!

Ms Irwin : Probably one of the key comparisons is to give the number of consignments. Our regulatory regime works by consignment—it is a consignment by consignment approval process, so we can give you the number of consignments and the number of head per consignment, because that is the context in which you need to look at it.

Senator STERLE: I think that would help us all. Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: And also, can you fit in with that table the criminal actions? I must have been mistaken, Mr Glyde, but I thought you had said previously that it was not possible to charge them with criminal acts, but I gather I was wrong on that assumption?

Mr Glyde : No, that is not the case. As Ms Irwin said—

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, I have heard that set out. Could that be in the table as well. I was also interested in how you have described these different points of entry that you can come in, because you are looking at it from the farm to the point of slaughter at what point are you taking action and if action has been taken.

I was particularly interested in Gaza. I want to show you this very disturbing photograph. It is a cow with a steel rod being stuck into its eye. That is in Gaza at the moment. This one is one with blood all over the ground, also in Gaza. The cattle have been shipped in from Israel and then with a small knife the man is going for the throat. Could you tell us where the Gaza—

ACTING CHAIR: Just a point of order, Senator Rhiannon. Are you tabling those?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, happy to.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you mind, through you, Chair, if I asked Senator Rhiannon a question? How are we able to validate the source of this material? If we are going to form a view as this examination occurs, I would like validation.

Senator RHIANNON: I am happy to give that. I don't think I am actually being questioned, but I'm happy to cooperate.

Mr Glyde : Just in relation to Senator O'Sullivan's question. One of the key tasks that we have when we receive a complaint is to establish the bona fides of the evidence to be able to see whether or not—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So you are able to validate the statements made by the senator with those photographs?

Mr Glyde : We do our best. I might ask Ms Irwin or Dr Clegg, who runs our investigations, just to run through the sorts of things—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I do not want to break Senator Rhiannon's rhythm here, but I am particularly interested in those two photographs connected to the incidents alleged, so that as I listen to an examination that subsequently occurs we have had the right reference point to start.

Mr Glyde : We obviously have to behave as model regulators, so we have to make sure that, when a company or a particular exporter is accused, we are sure of the information on the basis on which that accusation has been made. We do that as part of our process of doing investigation, writing the report and taking the action.

ACTING CHAIR: I would like to clarify: Senator Rhiannon, are you going to be asking questions about the photographs?

Senator RHIANNON: I have asked my questions on that. I am moving on. I am still on LSS, but I am not asking—

ACTING CHAIR: Are you asking any questions in relation to these two photographs which you would want to table? Because, if you don't ask any questions about them, there is no point.

Senator RHIANNON: My question was about those incidents in the context of what I understand is the investigation into the Gaza cruelty incidents.

ACTING CHAIR: Okay, so they do not relate to these photographs?

Senator RHIANNON: No, they are just one of many incidents.

ACTING CHAIR: Okay, we will not table them.

Senator RHIANNON: I will stay with the LSS. I want to ask about Gary Robinson, the General Manager of Livestock Shipping Services. I understand he allegedly forged documents in respect of the sheep on the Ocean Drover, which was rerouted to Pakistan from Bahrain, was employed at Emanuel Exports until around the time of the controversy of the Al Kuwait case and then at Wellard until around the time of the Bahrain-Pakistan outrage. Who is investigating the matter of Gary Robinson's alleged forging of documents, the police or the Department of Agriculture?

Mr Glyde : I might ask my colleague, Mr Hunter.

ACTING CHAIR: Is this before the courts?

Mr Glyde : Not as yet. I might ask Mr Hunter to explain this because Mr Hunter is responsible for our compliance division. When there are matters that might involve criminal activity or otherwise then it is over to our compliance division, and they have the responsibility for that.

ACTING CHAIR: And is everything that is going to be said public knowledge?

Mr Hunter : What I can say is public knowledge. I would not be commenting on any investigations on particular individuals or companies that may be afoot in that regard.

ACTING CHAIR: Proceed.

Senator RHIANNON: Was that the answer?

Mr Hunter : We would not comment on any active investigations in relation to matters for which we may be gathering briefs of evidence to put before the director of public prosecutions.

Senator RHIANNON: As you said 'we' there, can I assume it is the Department of Agriculture and not police?

Mr Hunter : The Department of Agriculture has en enforcement team within it. I am happy to share with you the skills and abilities of the enforcement team as well as the way they operate. There are about 21 investigators in that team. They work as investigative personnel. They work under the heads of government operational law enforcement—the HOCOLEA is our standard. They also work under the Australian government investigation standards—the AGIS standards.

Senator RHIANNON: Can they impose financial penalties?

Mr Hunter : No, they put briefs of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions. They must take into account the legislative requirements in relation to the Crimes Act and the Evidence Acts of 1914 and 1995. We do work very closely with the Australian Federal Police and the Customs Service on all matters intelligence that can be conveyed between those agencies in developing a brief of evidence for consideration by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Senator RHIANNON: To understand the process: does this mean the police need to be involved in investigations where criminal sanctions are imposed?

Mr Hunter : No.

Senator RHIANNON: So you can handle that all yourself.

Mr Hunter : We can handle that.

Senator RHIANNON: But you cannot impose financial fines.

Mr Hunter : We put those before the court for the courts to consider through the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Sorry, do you mind if I ask a question of the chair?

ACTING CHAIR: Is it on the same lines?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: It is on the same lines. I am deeply concerned about that passage of question and answer. I ask that consideration be given that the record of Hansard reflect that the answers provided by the department were in no way attached specific or by inference to any company or individual.

ACTING CHAIR: I think Mr Hunter has made it very clear that he will not be referring to any company or individual.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: He made it clear that he would not refer to any investigation that was current where a brief of evidence was being prepared, and it was in response to a question from the Senator. I just am very troubled that, where allegations are made and due process and natural justice are taking place, there be no inference made from any passage in this place to suggest that that company may be the one that is the subject of an investigation where they are preparing a brief of evidence.

Mr Hunter : Quite right. If I left the committee with that impression, it was not the case. Quite clearly I am not commenting on the specifics of investigations. I am merely outlining the process so that the committee has some understanding of the skills and competencies as well as the powers that we have under legislation to progress investigations.

ACTING CHAIR: I have picked that up, and I do not think anybody has transgressed.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Glyde, how bad does the cruelty have to be, or how egregious do the violations of the regulations have to be, before the department will impose a licence suspension or cancellation? I am asking that question in the context of LSS in particular, because the ships that they are using are now being seen as some of the worst used in the trade.

Mr Glyde : Again, I do not want to comment on specific companies and behaviour. Since about September 2012 we have issued to exporters seven 'show cause' notices, as they are called, to give us reasons for not suspending or cancelling their licences. There is a lot of action that is taken that is not made public and—

Senator RHIANNON: What happened with the seven show causes?

Mr Glyde : Some of them have been closed out; some of them are still under investigation and we are responding to the information that is being provided. What I am trying to get across is that we have a compliance strategy on our website that we are following. Our aim here is to make sure that we export animals consistent with our regulations. We are trying to facilitate the trade with high animal welfare standards. The sorts of actions that we have been taking, which are in the public domain—for example, as Ms Irwin mentioned, removing poorly-performing supply chains; removing poorly-performing parts of supply chains; restricting the degrees of freedom that the exporters might have; requiring lots more auditing; and requiring lots more supervision and reporting back to the department—are all part of the process of escalating the compliance activity to try and make sure we have compliance supply chains. There comes a point, though, when we have done all of that activity and, if the exporter is not able to provide a compliance supply chain, then we begin to question whether they have the competence or whether they are operating with integrity. That is when we issue things like show cause notices. We are moving through that process in the effort to try and make sure that the trade meets the animal welfare standards that the Australian community expects.

Senator RHIANNON: On notice, could you provide the committee with the details of those seven show causes—where they are up to, what is involved, tracking it through?

Mr Glyde : To the extent that we can without prejudicing further investigations.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, of course.

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