Senator Raff Ciccone – Estimates questions regarding live exports to Israel

Photo of Senator Raff Ciccone
February 13, 2024

Thank you. I’m sure there’ll be other questions from other senators but, to get back to the roles of responsibility, you touched on the department’s. What about the minister? What’s the minister’s role with respect to the regulation of law of animal exports?

Senator CICCONE: Thank you. I’m sure there’ll be other questions from other senators but, to get back to the roles of responsibility, you touched on the department’s. What about the minister? What’s the minister’s role with respect to the regulation of law of animal exports?

Mr Fennessy : This is where it was important for me to clarify, and I’ll repeat again: it’s the department and not the minister which is the regulator of live animal exports under the Export Control Act. So at all stages and at all times it’s the department through my delegate. And that delegate is Mr Andrew McDonald.

Senator CICCONE: Okay. And the responsibilities of exporters?

Mr Fennessy : Ultimately, the decision to export livestock is the commercial decision made by the exporter. So our role is to respond to any applications and then issue a decision in response to that. So it’s not the department’s decision regarding the livestock; It’s purely in response to any application from the commercial exporter.

Senator CICCONE: And what information must exporters provide the independent regulator when they make an application for export?

Mr Fennessy : I’ll hand to Mr McDonald at this point, because this is where the detail is. It’s very important to be clear about it. Thanks, Senator.

Mr McDonald: Thank you, Senator. As the secretary just ran through, it’s the secretary or the secretary’s delegate that has the decision-making powers under the Export Control Act. The minister responsible for that act has certain powers that relate to the ability to give directions under certain circumstances to the secretary in the exercise of their powers. And the minister can make determinations in certain circumstances as well. Further supporting the secretary’s evidence just now, exporters can—their obligations under the act are to comply with the responsibilities that the act requires of them, and that is enforced with them by the regulator, being the department. Going to your further question around what’s required from exporters when they apply, we have a process which is the notice of intention to export. It’s effectively an application process that livestock exporters make to the department. Each notice of intent application requires the type and the approximate number of livestock to be exported, where and when they will be assembled by the exporter and how they will be prepared prior to export. We require information about the types of stockpersons and veterinary officers that the exporter will be employing to oversee the preparation of the livestock in accordance with the act and the rules, and we also require the proposed dates and method of the transport, arrival information about the port of disembarkation, the relevant ESCAS arrangements et cetera. There’s a range of other requirements on exporters too, which go to their approved arrangements around how that is controlled and, in addition to that, how they would meet any additional importing country requirements. That’s a top-level sort of thing. But it’s many, many pages of evidence and documentation.

Senator CICCONE: With regard to the MV Bahijah, on what date did the exporter lodge their original notice of intention with the regulator?

Mr McDonald: That was 4 December.

Senator CICCONE: And as we know, at the beginning of January there was obviously widespread reporting of Houthi rebels attacking ships through the Red Sea. At any time was the exporter made aware by government authorities of the dangers of travelling through that route?

Mr McDonald: There are a couple of responses to this. The department itself had several interactions with Australian live exporters about the changed security situation in relation to the Red Sea, and these interactions occurred through some conversations and emails in the middle of December. There was also a further interaction with exporters in mid-January from the department. And I’d also register that there are international authorities as well that the vessels travelling to the region can acquire security information about. One of them is the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency. The EU naval forces are also, to the best of our understanding, engaging with vessels transiting the region.

Senator CICCONE: So on what date did the Australian regulator direct the exporter to return to Australia?

Mr McDonald: That was that was 19 January, as the secretary identified earlier.

Senator CICCONE: And what was the date of the exporter lodging a second NOI?

Mr McDonald: The department engaged with the exporter about the return to the vessel to Australian waters. Against their proposed plans to re-export that consignment, they needed to lodge a new notice of intent to export. And that occurred on 26 January.

Senator CICCONE: And did it meet the requirements under legislation?

Mr McDonald: In that respect, the form that it was submitted to the department, which was a variation of their former notice of intent, yes, it did meet the requirements. However, I will register that there were several updates as the exporter confirmed their plans and details that they needed to make to the notice of intent to export in the following days.

Senator CICCONE: On which date did the regulator issue a final decision?

Mr McDonald: On the 26 January notice of intent to export, I made a decision to refuse that application on 5 February.

Senator CICCONE: Did the NOI contain any contingency plans if the vessel was unable to travel safely through the Red Sea?

Mr McDonald: Yes, it did, Senator.

Senator CICCONE: What were they? Do you know?

Mr McDonald: We are requiring quite detailed contingency plans with all exporters travelling to the Red Sea. This particular exporter had two possible contingency plans for markets in the Persian Gulf of the Middle East. And we confirmed with them in writing that they were able to utilise the approved ESCAS arrangements for another exporter because they didn’t have their own ESCAS approvals for those markets.

Senator CICCONE: So were they deemed sufficient?

Mr McDonald: Yes, they were.

Senator CICCONE: So none of the contingency plans then were ultimately used? They ended up having to come back to Australia.

Mr McDonald: The exporter advised us that the Israeli importer deemed that those contingency markets in the Persian Gulf region also posed a security risk to their operations.

Senator CICCONE: So on 5 February the regulator did not approve the re-export of the livestock. Did the regulator take this decision? Is it is that what you’re saying?

Mr McDonald: Yes.

Senator CICCONE: All right. Does the regulator have any powers to direct the exporter to take particular action, for example, unloading the livestock for domestic processing?

Mr McDonald: It depends on the circumstances, Senator. In summary, the regulator needs to work with the exporter around what their plans are, what their proposals are. And only when there are unviable options or something is not practicable would the regulator look at those sorts of options.

Senator CICCONE: Who’s responsible for the management of the livestock now? I understand that some have been offloaded.

Mr McDonald: The livestock are owned by the exporter and while they’re on a vessel, or even now when part of them are in a registered establishment, they’re still in the proprietary ownership of the exporter.

Senator CICCONE: So what’s the current number that have been unloaded? Did you say, Secretary? Do we have a figure?

Mr Koval : Senator, the latest number I have, which is a couple of hours old, is that so far just over 7,100 sheep have been unloaded in the last 24 hours.

Mr Fennessy : And I think the overall consignment was your question, Senator.

Mr Koval : In terms of general numbers, in terms of cattle, there were about 2,200 head of cattle; 750 head of cattle have been offloaded last week. There were just over 14,000 head of sheep; 7,100 have been offloaded in the last 24 hours and it’s ongoing.

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