Government removed whistleblower following export industry concerns

Simon Crean_1392The Federal Government removed a whistleblower vet from her duties following the presentation of evidence of cruelty on Australian live export ships.
The ABC’s 7.30 obtained evidence which they claim demonstrates that Lynn Simpson was dumped by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources after she made a highly critical report in 2012.
Simpson’s report included pictures of animals suffocating in overcrowded conditions, drowning in faeces and being forced to stand on hard surfaces for weeks on end.
The report was apparently intended to be an internal document, but it was accidentally published on the department’s website.
Simpson was relieved of her duties within weeks of publication, and claims her evidence was soon sanitised.
The then first assistant secretary of the department’s Animal Division, Karen Schneider, contacted Simpson in a letter obtained by the ABC and conceded she was removed from her role because of industry concerns.
“This is because the industry with which we engage has expressed the view they cannot work with you,” Schneider wrote.
Australian Livestock Exporters Council (ALEC) chairman Simon Crean conducted an on-camera interview with the broadcaster and apologised for any offence caused to Simpson, but ALEC CEO Alison Penfold added that the organisation did not seek her dismissal.
“The concern at the time was one of governance, specifically the conflict of interest arising from her submission to the ASEL Review at the same time as being a technical adviser to the same Review,” she said.
Penfold said that the industry is moving towards a goal of zero harm, and is considering the concerns of vets such as Simpson.
“Examples of this work includes the development of a salmonella vaccine and research to combat the threat of inanition.”
Penfold added that while ALEC cannot change the past, it will invite the AVA, Vets Against Live Export (VALE) and Simpson to a workshop to discuss the expectations of exporters and government accredited veterinarians and the development of a grievance mechanism relating to animal welfare.
VALE spokesperson Sue Foster has reacted to the invitation with scepticism, and maintains that if the industry is interested in animal welfare there should be an independent vet on each live export voyage, and that the industry should be overseen by an independent monitor.
“Without a vet on each voyage the live export industry will continue to stagger from crisis to crisis and will continue to be publicly embarrassed by these sorts of revelations,” she said.
“Meanwhile, the animal suffering continues unabated.”
Foster claims that bullying has long been a part of the industry, and highlighted the story of Lloyd Reeve Johnson who was removed from an export ship with department knowledge after reporting high mortality on a 2008 voyage.
“The censuring of Dr Lynn Simpson confirms the undeniable manipulation of the department by the live export industry in order to hide its dirty animal cruelty secrets,” she said.
Foster also takes issue with Crean’s statement to the ABC that the Simpson report was “ancient history”, claiming that very little has changed in the last 15 years.
“Most of the major exporters are the same and most of the ships are the same,” she said.
“The only thing that has changed on ships is the class of stock and a slightly increased space allowance for stock heading into a Middle East summer.
“Both decisions were about reducing mortality rates, a commercial advantage; nothing has changed to improve to suffering or animal welfare on these voyages.”
Controversy over the Simpson dismissal has been followed by an Animals Australia investigation which they claim shows extensive cruelty to Australian cattle in Vietnamese abattoirs, including slaughter by sledgehammer.
Foster described the events in Vietnam as “just the thin edge of a very fat wedge.”
“Non-compliance in all major importing countries is routine and lack of government action is equally routine,” she said.
She added that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) has never been legally enforceable, and exporters exploit this.
“Even when ESCAS works, the required standards are only those achievable in third world countries,” Foster said.
“These conditions would never be acceptable under Australian welfare laws.”
In the wake of this incident, Crean has confirmed that ALEC is having discussions with the RSPCA about how “oversight and control in the supply chain can be strengthened.”
“Specifically, the RSPCA has requested for an auditor appointed by RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia to have ongoing access to existing CCTV systems monitoring the supply chain in Vietnam,” he said.
Crean added that such reform proposals raise governance, contractual and regulatory issues that need to be explored by the department, exporters and supply chain customers.
SAM WORRAD