It says much about the Agriculture Department — the bureaucrats who have known in perfect detail about the extent of animal torture on board live sheep export vessels to the Middle East for many years — couldn’t even bring themselves to name the company whose export licence they suspended on Friday. Forced by public outrage and a public humiliation by their own minister to finally take regulatory action of the kind they have studiously avoided taking for so long, the bureaucrats wouldn’t even name the company. 

“The department takes those responsibilities very seriously,” the bureaucrats said in a short media release.

That’d be why Emanuel Exports has routinely violated the Department’s own ridiculously weak animal welfare standards and they’ve done precisely nothing. Over and over and over, Emanuel broke the rules and agriculture did nothing. That’s how “seriously” the bureaucrats in Canberra took their responsibilities, while sheep boiled to death in their own waste and vanished out of the chain of accountability, to wind up being slaughtered not in carefully supervised abattoirs but wherever the purchasers could offload them across the Middle East.

Indeed, far from properly regulating Emanuel Exports, the government lauded it as an export “success story” while live export research and propaganda outfit Livecorp gave them an award. Only in May, well after revelations of the sickening conditions on the Awassi Express, the bureaucrats allowed Emanuel to send another ship, the Al Shuwaikh, loaded with 60,000 sheep, to the Middle East — a vessel that docks from its return voyage in Western Australia today. That vessel is another of Emanuel’s ships from hell, which has lost thousands of sheep on previous voyages. As Michelle Grattan recently reported, agriculture minister David Littleproud caved to industry demands to let vessels like Al Shuwaikh continue operating longer despite failing welfare standards.

The whole sordid saga has demonstrated the Australian public service at its very worst. Bureaucrats captured by industry and so in thrall to their political masters as to be incapable of undertaking even the most pro forma regulation, then professing to be shocked when footage of the animal torture they have enabled emerges, and claiming they didn’t know what was going on. Watch for Emanuel’s export licence to be restored after a period of suspension, with blithe assurances from the same bureaucrats that everything is now fine — especially given another company, Livestock Shipping Services, has put a hold on further voyages while it reviews whether to remain in the industry. This despicable industry is tottering, but the instinct within government is to prop it up, not finish it off.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey