Australian Greens animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon questions Meat and Livestock Australia officials during Senate Estimates about their role in policing the live export regulatory system ESCAS. Watch the video or read the transcript.
Senate Estimates - Monday 11 February 2013
RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA)
Mr Scott Hansen, Managing Director
Dr Peter Barnard, General Manager Trade and Economic Services
Ms Karen Hellwig, General Manager, Industry Communication and Engagement
CHAIR: We now call Meat and Livestock Australia. While MLA are making their way to the table, it has been agreed by the committee at last Wednesday's meeting that we would have 10 minutes for MLA of which Senator Rhiannon will have half. Should there be any questions arising from some of the evidence taken, coalition or government senators may want five. If there are no questions arising, the agreement was that Senator Rhiannon can have the remaining time.
Senator RHIANNON: Has MLA been notified by any of your consultants about breaches of ESCAS in any of the market that we export to?
Mr Hansen: We have consultants working around the marketplace, and let me just reiterate what their role is: they are neither the policeman nor the auditors of supply chains onto the ESCAS program. They are there at the invite of commercial supply chains to conduct both gap analysis and training to assist those supply chains in either becoming ESCAS accredited or in enabling them to continue their improvement towards the journey in terms of animal welfare.
Our consultants whenever they see whatever they observe and witness during that training, that gap analysis, is provided in written reports back to the exporter or the supply chain that they are contracted to or working for. Not all those reports find their way back to us, but I will hand over to Dr Peter Barnard, who is our general manager for livestock exports.
Dr Barnard: Just to add to Mr Hansen's answer: MLA conducts a range of activities at the invitation of supply chains and we report on all of those activities to supply chains so they are training activities; risk-analysis activities; the risk of an ESCAS breach occurring; the possibility that it will occur; and technical advice. A comprehensive report goes back to the supply chain and a copy of that report is held by our officers.
Senator RHIANNON: So to Dr Barnard and Mr Hansen, the question was: has MLA been notified by any of your consultants or the companies that they work for about breaches of ESCAS?
Dr Barnard: As the general manager responsible, I cannot recall a single case-
Senator RHIANNON: Do you want to take it on notice?
Dr Barnard: No; I am prepared to answer it: I cannot recall a single case where a definite breach of ESCAS has been observed by our consultants.
Senator RHIANNON: I would ask if it could go on notice, because just listening to your language it sounds like it needs to be checked. I heard Mr Hansen say you are not a policeman, and I remembered that at estimates last year it was stated that you do not see your role as policing ESCAS, so that has been reiterated. After those estimates last year, Minister Ludwig stated quite clearly that he would expect MLA consultants to report ESCAS breaches. Given the minister's clear expectations, will you or have you notified your consultants about the requirement to report breaches as they see them?
Mr Hansen: We continue to play a role when we are invited into these supply chains, at their request with no regulatory power and no regulatory authority, to conduct the training and skills development we do. As we have said, any noncompliance perceived by us-remember we are not the ones to make a judgement as to whether an ESCAS noncompliance has occurred or can occur, it is purely the regulator's job to say whether the law has been broken-is reported back to the supply chain we are working for. That supply chain has a responsibility to report any breaches or perceived breaches of ESCAS to the regulator. That is one of the three planks of reporting of noncompliance to the regulator, either self-reporting the audit reports or through third-party reporting. We do report everything we see to the supply chain which in turn has an obligation and a responsibility to report to the department. If we or our contractors witness serious breaches-and I will ask Dr Barnard to outline the judgement we use for that-then we would ensure that DAFF is directly informed.
CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I will give you an opportunity to ask one more question, because time flies when you are having fun and it has flown.
Senator RHIANNON: Rather than giving Dr Barnard an opportunity to reply, I would like Dr Barnard to clarify whether the MLA has been notified by your consultants.
Dr Barnard: I would first like to add to Mr Hansen's answer. There are a number of considerations that we take into account when considering whether a serious breach has occurred and a report should be made. I will go through three things that we consider: first, whether the breach involves subjectivity. A lot of breaches or possible breaches of ESCAS involve subjective assessments. Let me give you an example: is movement of livestock carried out calmly and effectively? That is a subjective assessment. Are staff observed to be working in accordance with SOPs? That is a subjective assessment. That is one of the factors that we taken into account. A lot of these checklist items involve subjective assessments. It is not our role to make an ultimate ruling on whether that checklist item has been met.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you pass it on?
CHAIR: Dr Barnard, I ask you to make your response as brief as you can, because we only have two minutes left.
Dr Barnard: The second factor that we take into consideration is: are we are certain that an ESCAS breach has occurred? Mostly, almost invariably, we do not know whether ESCAS cattle are involved. We often do not even know if Australian livestock are involved. That is the second aspect and the third aspect is whether this is a systemic issue, whether animal cruelty is involved and whether there is significant pain and suffering. I emphasise that I cannot think of a case when we are ever in an absolute position to rule on an ESCAS breach. As Mr Hansen said, that is not our role-it is the regulator's role.
CHAIR: We have one minute to go.
Senator BACK: Dr Barnard, you would be aware of the DAFF media report on the matter Senator Rhiannon asked you about on 1 November last year, the apparent failing at the Chibanong abattoir on 28 September. The report stated that there was no cruelty on that occasion. In answer to Senator Rhiannon's question you said:
I am aware that an allegation has been made of breaches in ESCAS compliance at Cibinong. That alleged breach is under investigation by DAFF and we are assisting DAFF in those investigations.
To what extent were you able to assist DAFF, if at all, in those investigations?
Dr Barnard: We reported fully on our visit to Chibanong that evening and on what we witnessed in Chibanong. It would have been easy in November for me to say, 'I have information at hand and on the information available to me, which is substantive information, there is no doubt in my mind that a breach has not occurred.' I could have answered it in that way based on the evidence that I had before me. But I think there is a proper process here. There is a process that needs to be followed and that is the regulator conducting an investigation into these incidents and coming to a conclusion without pressure from that investigation.
Senator BACK: Thank you. That is consistent also with my inquiries into it.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen.