Newly-released documents have revealed conditions aboard live export ships carrying Australian sheep to the Middle East, which the RSPCA says are unacceptable.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has defended the decision to withhold footage onboard live export ships from the RSPCA, arguing workers’ privacy needs to be respected.
Heavily redacted documents provided to the RSPCA under freedom of information laws show evidence of heat stress on ships.
Many of the observers of eight journeys during the hottest part of last year reported decent conditions for the animals, with deaths below the mortality threshold of one per cent.
But video, which the RSPCA believes will shine a light on inhumane conditions on Middle East-bound ships, was not handed over.
‘‘The reason why that vision hasn’t been totally shared is there’s privacy issues of the workers that are on there,’’ Mr Littleproud said.
He said the government was working to have the footage available to the public.
‘‘We’re making moves to make sure there is a transparent process where we can put them up online as quickly as we possibly can.’’
RSPCA senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said the conditions would horrify Australians, including farmers.
‘‘Perhaps even more alarming than the evidence of continued suffering on board these ships, are the pages and pages of redacted information, consistently where management of animals and heat stress on board are discussed,’’ Dr Goodfellow said.
The Federal Agriculture Department said publication of full reports would make business, commercial-in-confidence and personal information public.
The documents also give a rare glimpse into life onboard the export voyages.
A sheep onboard an Awassi voyage was slaughtered for the crew to eat, while a large amount of alcohol was taken on to another ship which was supposed to be dry.
In his report, the department’s veterinary officer declares he has a couple of cans of beer from a carton left by the exporter at Fremantle.
On a different ship, a black sheep selected to lead others onboard the Yangtze Fortune was named ‘Obama’.
Another report has a quote from British-Australian billionaire and UK Conservative Party donor Sir Michael Hintze on the cover.
‘‘In today’s world, the biggest challenge is that knowledge has become a commodity,’’ the live export report reads, quoting the hedge fund manager’s comments to the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine.
One observer also noted a New Zealand crew member who spoke with a ‘‘thuck’’ accent at great pace and intensity.