The Federal Government had no power to grant a permit for the live export of tens of thousands of sheep to the Middle East, the Federal Court has been told.
Animals Australia alleges the Department of Agriculture unlawfully gave Emanuel Exports the permit to ship 58000 sheep from Western Australia on June 6.
June is the official start of summer in the Middle East, and the risks of sheep suffering heat stress and dying on vessels during the Northern Hemisphere summer are well documented.
‘‘We believe the granting of this export permit by the Department of Agriculture was unlawful and we will be seeking an urgent Federal Court declaration to this effect,’’ Animals Australia legal counsel Shatha Hamade said.
Under Australian law, an export permit for livestock may only be granted if certain conditions are met.
Dan Star QC told Justice Debra Mortimer on June 14 the case could have ramifications for other live exports set to leave Australia during the coming months.
‘‘This was such a case where there was no power to grant the permit at all,’’ he said.
The legal action comes two months after Animals Australia released footage showing livestock in horrific conditions on an Emanuel Exports voyage to the Middle East in August 2017.
It led to a review by livestock vet Michael McCarthy of live sheep exports during the Middle East summer, which made 23 recommendations but did not call for the practice to be banned.
A key recommendation from the McCarthy Review is that the heat stress risk assessment model be changed from one that is mortality based to one that is animal welfare based.
In court on Thursday the agriculture department’s lawyer, Tom Howe QC, said the Al Messilah vessel that left Australia on June 6 was required to have a vet employed by the department on board.
But Mr Star said evidence showed the sheep would suffer heat stress if exposed to wet-bulb temperatures of 28°C or more for a day or longer, adding there was a high probability of this during the voyage.
A trial date is yet to be set, but Animals Australia wants one as soon as possible due to various other imminent live export voyages.