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

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 20 Oct 2015

Lee questions Meat and Livestock Australia Limited (MLA) about their knowledge of ESCAS breaches, after there being 6 complaints in 3 years. Mr Norton is the Managing Director of MLA. Wellard Rural Exports has gone on record saying that competitors' non-compliance with ESCAS standards has led to a higher profit margin, which disincentivises compliance with standards in place to stop animal cruelty. 

Senator RHIANNON: How many times have MLA personnel visited the Al Rai market in Kuwait over the past month for September?

Mr Norton: I do not have exact details. I can give you names of all MLA people that are employed under the live exporters program and contractors that visit the facility if required.

Senator RHIANNON: So, you could give us that detail?

Mr Norton: We would have movement of all personnel.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you give September and up to now?

Mr Norton: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: When would that be available?

Mr Norton: I can have that quite quickly. We would have movements of staff that are employed under the LEP program.

Senator RHIANNON: That would be the details of when they visited that marketplace?

Mr Norton: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Both contractors and employees?

Mr Norton: Yes. I am assuming that they have, so I can certainly get the detail.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand you have extensive on-the-ground knowledge in Kuwait. Do you agree that thousands of sheep could not be delivered to the Al Rai market for sale without the knowledge of the importer?

Mr Norton: Without the knowledge of the importer?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Norton: That is a matter for the importer. Again, MLA staff are engaged under the Live Exporters program within market situations. Any leakage is an issue for the importer under ESCAS, of which MLA is not the regulator.

Senator RHIANNON: Just going back to the question, you have extensive knowledge. You have these people.

Mr Norton: MLA's policy is to report any leakage of ESCAS within 24 hours to the exporter and within seven days to the Department of Agriculture.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you saying that you cannot comment on the situation with the importer but if your people had seen that there was a problem that they would have reported it?

Mr Norton: They would have reported it within 24 hours to the exporter, if the exporter could have been identified, and in seven days to the Department of Agriculture.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that the major importer into Kuwait is Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading?

Mr Norton: I believe so.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that an Emanuel Exports supplies sheep to KLTT?

Mr Norton: I believe so.

Senator RHIANNON: What is your view of the failure of the supply chain officer at the feedlot to detect the abnormal movement of thousands of sheep?

Mr Norton: Again, MLA staff on the ground are employed under the Live Exporters program. Any leakage that they see under the ESCAS program is reported within 24 hours to the exporter.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering we are talking about thousands of sheep, and I understand it was not reported, at what point do you judge that there has been a failure of one of your people on the ground?

Senator EDWARDS: Do you accept the premise of that question?

Mr Norton: No. I understand that every exporter that had leakage during the Eid, the major festival in the Middle East, self-reported. That is what I am led to believe, that they self-reported any leakage, understanding that the whole Eid Festival is 20 million plus sheep over three days, of which Australia sent 5 million sheep. My understanding is that any exporter that believed they had leakage self-reported.

Senator RHIANNON: They self-reported that there were sheep being on sold outside the supply chain system?

Mr Norton: That is what I am led to believe.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you investigate to determine if your belief is accurate?

Mr Norton: The department investigates—obviously through self-reporting under a continuous improvement program. And might I add that there has been significant improvement in these markets. I have been to see these markets. Live export is absolutely vital to Australian farming families. As I said, the whole festival is millions of sheep, 20 million plus with 5 million supplied by Australia. From what I have seen on the ground, the systems put in place to limit leakage have been outstanding and world class, understanding it is only Australian sheep that are slaughtered under international standards and understanding that major process changes have taken place in some of these markets, for which our industry should be congratulated.

Senator RHIANNON: So, you are saying that even though there is leakage it is not as bad as it used to be?

Mr Norton: I am certainly saying if you go back a decade to what you saw in these markets to what you see today; I am not saying that it is a perfect world or a perfect system but the live export industry is certainly out there to make sure that the system is under a continuous improvement, under continuous review, so that everyone is learning how we can make it better. MLA's role in that process is to support industry under the Live Exporters program.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware of Australian sheep meat from sheep killed in Kuwait being onward exported to other Middle Eastern and North African countries?

Mr Norton: I am not aware. I am not saying it is not done but if it is then I would like all the details and we can follow up. I am not aware of that. This is the first I have heard of that.

Senator RHIANNON: The first you have heard of it. How many employees did MLA have in the Middle East in the lead-up to and during the Eid al-Adha issue?

Mr Norton: I can get you the exact details. Again, we sent a lot of resources to help industry work through what is the major festival, but we have 23 staff under the LE program across six countries. A number of Australian staff were sent across to help the process of what is a major festival and a major logistics operation during that time.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you supply details of the number of staff and what their positions were?

Mr Norton: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: Also, what countries they were in and what markets they worked at?

Mr Norton: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: You may have this, otherwise it can come with that information I just asked for. I am interested in what countries MLA had representatives in for this current round of festivals?

Mr Norton: Absolutely. In Kuwait we had 11 staff during the Eid festival: six in Oman, three in Bahrain, three in Jordan, four in Qatar, and seven in UAE. That would be a mix of MLA employees who are engaged under the LEP program and contractors.

Senator RHIANNON: Again, maybe you need to come back with the numbers when the big festivals are not on.

Mr Norton: It is significantly less. Those numbers demonstrate the matter of importance and the matter of urgency we place around such a festival.

Senator RHIANNON: If you could also supply details of how you step that up and what it is at other times please?

Mr Norton: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide the dates that each representative was in each country including their location? I think we have got this. I will just see if it captures everything. Can you provide the dates that each representative was in each country, including the locations and facilities that each representative visited and the time and the date of those visits? I am asking for a little bit more information there, including the location and the dates that they went to these different sites.

Mr Norton: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you right to come back to me on that?

Mr Norton: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: I just want to understand. You have an MLA person or a contractor. Are they assigned to one market for this festival period or do you move them around?

Mr Norton: My understanding—and I am happy to be corrected by our international staff—is that during various times through the year we will move them around but during a festival like Eid, and as you can imagine, the large logistics process that is in place, they will go to one facility and help the process and help the entity that they are working with through the Eid festival,

Senator RHIANNON: These representatives, the contractors or direct employees, how do they report to you? Is it a daily written report?

Mr Norton: At my level I will get a written report around Eid which I will give to the board for the international business manager. The global international business manager is an executive of MLA. He will go and then get his report from people directly involved under the LE program.

Senator RHIANNON: Do they report daily and do those people on the ground put in a written report?

Mr Norton: I suspect that during Eid it would be quite difficult to report daily but there would certainly be a wrap-up of the festival, what happened and what could happen differently, understanding that, even going back two to three years, what processes keep evolving year by year have been significant to reduce any leakage.

Senator RHIANNON: If you have not got the details now could you come back to us about how frequently the reports are made by people on the ground?

Mr Norton: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide the daily reports that you receive?

Mr Norton: In any reporting systems that we receive, that the department or industry would allow us to distribute, then I am more than happy to distribute, so whatever reports are available. We obviously track staff. We track what they are doing. We have their reports and I am more than happy to share those reports.

Senator RHIANNON: How many breaches of ESCAS did MLA notify the department of over the past two months?

Mr Norton: Again, I will take that on notice because they are detailed. MLA, again, has taken the view that within 24 hours all leakages are reported to the exporter and then reported to the department. We obviously run a log of what those breaches are under the ESCAS system.

Senator RHIANNON: When you supply that information can you include the time and date when those breaches were observed and what time and date the department was notified?

Mr Norton: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it the case that these MLA workers, your direct employees and contractors, carry cameras with them as part of their work?

Mr Norton: Every phone is a camera.

Senator RHIANNON: So, they do not have a dedicated camera on them as some police officers do now?

Mr Norton: They may well do but to my understanding most of them would have cameras within their phones.

Senator RHIANNON: I will just clarify. I am trying to understand. Do some have a camera as part of their uniform that would be on all the time where you would be collecting data? Is that something that has happened?

Mr Norton: My understanding is that it is not a tool of trade of a person working under the LEP program but certainly photos would help to do a final report on a festival. I quite often see photos of success stories within markets.

Senator RHIANNON: So, you understand that some of them are collecting photographs as part of their reporting?

Mr Norton: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What happens to the photos and vision that the MLA consultants have? Is that saved or just a selection taken and included in reports? You do not have a system? How is it managed?

Mr Norton: Again, it is a matter for the individual that writes the report. If they would like to submit photos in their report to substantiate their report on markets then that is what they will do. I am not aware that they are under instructions to take photos to assist in report writing.

Senator RHIANNON: Does MLA document ear tags to enable the department to trace sheep outside of the supply chains back to exporters?

Mr Norton: I missed the third word. What was that?

Senator RHIANNON: Ear tags.

Mr Norton: Under the LEP program if there is leakage and MLA witnesses leakage the ear tag is one way of tracking the exporter and then it is reported to the exporter.


Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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