IN THE NEWS: 'Beyond belief': Live export corruption inquiry ends in dead end


IN THE NEWS: On FEB 20, 2019

A Department of Agriculture officer suspected of falsifying at least one report of deaths on a live export ship will not be investigated after the government's review into potential corruption inside the department stalled.

Former Crime Commission boss John Lawler was appointed to investigate whistleblower allegations that staff were dissuaded from reporting the full extent of animal welfare breaches to protect exporters alluded to in Philip Moss' review of the live export trade.

Moss referred to allegations made against seven individuals during the course of his inquiry relating to the deliberate supression by departmental staff of claims of poor animal welfare.

But Mr Lawler has told the department that although a specific allegation has been made, he cannot investigate it further because of whistleblower protection laws.

In a letter to the department secretary Daryl Quinlivan, Mr Lawler said the specifics of the material uncovered during the investigation would lead to the identification of the whistleblower, known as Complainant 2 who has asked to remain anonymous.

"The outcomes...are very unsatisfactory," wrote Mr Lawler.

"At least one mortality report on my assessment is misleading."

Mortality reports are tallies of deaths of livestock in transit. If more than 2 per cent of livestock on board die an automatic review is triggered.

The Moss report found that, "On occasions, in our view, reportable mortality reports were revised or redrafted to dilute or expunge findings which adversely reflected on the regulatory framework."

Mr Lawler said those accused of wrongdoing have never been forced to explain their actions.

"Those who have allegedly required mortality investigational reports to be altered have not been required to explain their actions and if warranted be subjected to appropriate sanctions," he said.

"Coupled with lingering doubts that such a situation could occur again..." another sentence begins before being redacted.

Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi said the failed investigation showed staff with serious allegations made against them were not being disciplined.

"It is beyond belief that very serious allegations from whistleblowers about the doctoring of mortality reports and a culture of secrecy and fear within the live exports regulator still haven't been adequately addressed," Senator Faruqi told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"Potentially, you have senior staff in the department with very serious allegations against them getting off scot free," she said.

"The community should have no faith in the ability of the live exports industry to operate ethically or the regulator to oversee animal welfare. The rot is set too deep."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud commissioned the Lawler review in November as a result of Philip Moss' review into the live export trade which was triggered after shocking footage showing the mass deaths of sheep on board the Awassi Express emerged.

"On occasions, in our view, reportable mortality reports were revised or redrafted to dilute or expunge findings which adversely reflected on the regulatory framework."

Last week, it was revealed that references to corruption inside the department were removed from Philip Moss' live export review after it was provided out of procedural fairness to the department, which subsequently suggested major edits.

Mr Littleproud said he was disappointed in the outcome.

"Obviously I'm disappointed Mr Lawler's investigation was unable to be fully completed, due to the constraints of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which was understandably invoked by witnesses to protect their anonymity," he said.

"I wish the outcome were different. I take some consolation in the fact Mr Lawler said the Moss Review made it far less likely incidents like this will not occur again and that if they did, mechanisms now exist to deal with it. I believe the independent observers also make it far less likely such incidents will occur."

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