The ‘Minister For Cruelty’ Could Be Australia’s Next Deputy Prime Minister


Barnaby Joyce is still trying to climb the greasy pole… while he ignores animal suffering in his own portfolio. Jordan Sosnowski explains.

Looking at qualities we want most in a leader, we think of things like foresight, integrity and courage. Unsurprisingly, cruelty and stupidity aren’t all that high on the list.

That’s why I was disappointed to find out that Australia’s resident Minister for Cruelty and all round “goose”, Barnaby Joyce might very well become our next Deputy PM.

Yep, you read right – a man who, as former opposition finance spokesman, got his millions and trillions confused, a man who believes human contribution to global warming has been “overstated” – is set to become the second most senior officer in government.

It is the new year and hope does spring eternal, but even Tony Robbins would have trouble putting a positive spin on this impending disaster.

And this isn’t just bad news for the people of Australia. It’s catastrophic for animals too.

Australia is currently the largest exporter of animals in the world. Throughout his time as Agriculture Minister, Joyce has attempted to characterise the continuing live export problem as “progress”.

Since 2011, breaches of Australia’s so-called “assurance” supply chain system have been found repeatedly in Kuwait and Jordan, not to mention Israel, Gaza, Qatar, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Malaysia, Mauritius, Pakistan and Vietnam.

But instead of viewing these continuing animal welfare problems as inherent, Minister Joyce has been busy unveiling plans to increase live exports into China.

In an effort to provide more transparency around live export, one animal welfare group even offered to pay the huge cost of installing surveillance cameras on ships and in overseas abattoirs. But this proposal has been ignored.

Meanwhile, Australia’s live export industry is one of the worst in the world. Literally millions of animals travel enormous distances with huge risks involved.

Think of the worst long haul plane trip you’ve ever had. Now times that by 25. Then, instead of a seat on a plane, picture yourself crammed onboard a ship. The place where you stand is also your toilet. This is starting to resemble the 504 consecutive hours most animals experience on a live export voyage.

Two percent of sheep are expected to die on the voyage as part of the “shipboard mortality rate”. And it’s entirely legal for cattle to be deprived of water for up to 48 hours.

Despite these standards suddenly making Tiger Air’s customer service seem first class, the Australian government is still convinced we’re leading the world in animal welfare.

And while we’re stuck on Groundhog Day waiting for Joyce to realise there’s even a problem, there are animals stuck on a stinking hot ship.

Just last week, a vessel owned by Australia’s largest export company, Wellard, stranded off the coast of WA with thousands of animals onboard. What’s worse is, this isn’t unusual for a live export ship – there’s been five breakdowns in the last two years. And breakdowns don’t just mean delays, they can spell death.

In 2012, a mechanical failure on the Pearl of Para (renamed by Wellard as the Ocean Ute), caused 400 pregnant cows to die horrific deaths, suffocating on ammonia fumes after the ship’s ventilation system failed. In 1996, another Wellard ship, the Uniceb, caught fire at sea and over 65,000 sheep died.

Wellard recently celebrated a milestone when it exported its one millionth head of cattle on its flagship the Ocean Drover. The Drover’s design was used as a blueprint to build the Ocean Swagman and Ocean Outback. But the Outback is the ship that recently stranded with thousands of Australian sheep and cattle on board, so it’s likely their mechanical problems are far from over.

The MV Ocean Swagman, MV Ocean Drover, and MV Ocean Outback.
The MV Ocean Swagman, MV Ocean Drover, and MV Ocean Outback.

The stranded Outback finally off-loaded 7,500 sheep over the weekend, but only because the Israeli government cancelled Wellard’s import permit. The cattle weren’t so lucky. They’re currently on their way to Vietnam, where previous investigations demonstrated huge breaches of export regulations.

In response to yet another live export scandal late last year, Wellard’s CEO Mauro Belzarini said, “If you don’t comply with the rules I think you should not be operating in the industry.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But despite numerous breaches of the law, no penalties at all have been brought to bear against Australian live export companies. What possible incentive do export companies have for improving when the government clearly doesn’t care about compliance?

Joyce recently welcomed the news that Indonesia is expected to import over 600,000 cattle this year. So far, he’s said nothing of the 13,000 animals stranded in high temperatures for more than a week. But that’s no surprise. Until something really goes wrong, he’s unlikely to.

Perhaps that’s the style of reactive leadership we’ll just have to get used to in the not-so-distant future.

An ambitious man, Joyce clearly has his eye on the golden egg. But if he continues to ignore the ever-growing issue of live export, he’s even more of a goose than I first thought.

Jordan is the Advocacy Director at Melbourne-based organisation Australia for Dolphins. She graduated from Monash University with a Master of Laws, Juris Doctor. Jordan was admitted as a lawyer in NSW in 2013 and is an Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.