The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ “contradictory” dual role as a regulator and promoter of live animal export has contributed to the industry’s failure to ensure animal welfare, according to a long-awaited review into the department.
The department faces “significant challenges” as a regulator of the live export industry and there is “a lack of compliance tools available to the department as the regulator”, the independent review conducted by Philip Moss found.
The dispersal of regulatory staff across a number of groups, divisions and branches within Agriculture “detracts from effective regulation”, Moss’s report says. Regulatory skills, resources and technology are also lacking.
Moss was commissioned in April to assess the department’s capability, powers, practices and culture as a regulator of live animal exports following the broadcast of shocking footage of sheep dying on ships to the Middle East earlier this year.
He is a former law enforcement integrity commissioner who has also conducted reviews into the Nauru detention centre, federal whistleblower legislation and a death in Canberra’s prison.
Cuts to departmental capability appear to have contributed to the problem.
This year’s scandals follow the government’s decision in 2013 to deregulate the industry, cutting the department’s Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and its Animal Welfare Branch as part of efforts to eliminate $1 billion of red tape. The branch employed 21 people charged with supporting the strategy.
“The department’s focus on trade facilitation means that it is balancing competing factors in its role as the regulator of live animal exports,” the report reads.
“Some stakeholders and department staff members told the review that the department’s trade facilitation and regulatory functions are contradictory. The focus on trade facilitation and industry deregulation appears to have had a negative impact [on] the department’s culture as a regulator.”
‘Regulation reset’, says minister
Regulation of live export will be “reset” following the report, says Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
“Australians need to be confident the independent regulator of the live export industry will hold the industry to account. It was clear we needed an independent inquiry into the culture and capability of the regulator,” he said in a statement.
“The live export industry needs a tough cop on the beat and the department must become a capable, trusted and effective regulator.”
On Wednesday, Littleproud announced he agreed to all 31 recommendations made by Moss, including the establishment of:
- An external, independent Inspector General of Live Animal Exports who will oversee the department’s regulation of live export and report to the public and the minister;
- A principal regulatory officer within the department to improve regulatory practice, compliance and its culture as regulator;
- An animal welfare branch within the department and the development of animal welfare indicators to be used as part of compliance systems.
The principal regulatory officer “will be key in driving cultural change within the department as well as improving compliance and investigations”, he added.
The department will improve systems to allow concerns raised by staff members to be addressed transparently and promptly, Littleproud says.
Paying for a service
The attitudes of some companies towards the department gives an indication of the role it has played.
Regulation is funded by fees paid by the industry, and “some parts of the industry appear to think they are paying for a service,” says the review.
“This attitude is a risk to the relationship between the department and the industry. It must be clear in the mind of the party paying for a regulatory function and the regulator itself that the former is covering the cost of regulation, not paying for a service.”
Technology is not being used effectively. Increased investment in on-board technology would enable better monitoring of the health and welfare of animals and increase transparency.
Agriculture and Water Resources’ own IT systems are a hindrance, too.
“The department uses multiple information technology systems which do not facilitate efficient regulation. These systems do not relate to each other, the information they contain is not easily compared, and the capacity for analysis is reduced,” says the report.
At present regulations apply only to exporters, which leaves other parties in the supply chain unregulated, the review notes.
The industry itself also needs to demonstrate its commitment to animal health and welfare if it is to maintain a social licence to operate, says the report.
The department said in its response that it welcomed the review and “will be working to implement its recommendations as a matter of priority”.
“The department will work to ensure that those participating in the trade understand and comply with their regulatory obligations, and that the department is able to take appropriate and proportionate action when non-compliance is suspected or detected, and provide assurance as to the ongoing integrity of the live animal export regulatory system.”