Court bid to stop live export of WA sheep

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Virus WA

Animals Australia is trying to stop the departure of the Al Kuwait with thousands of live sheep

The federal government is facing a legal challenge after granting approval for thousands of sheep left stranded in Western Australia to be sent to the Middle East.

Animals Australia on Monday filed an urgent application in the Federal Court seeking to overturn the ruling made by the Department of Agriculture.

Earlier this month, the department denied Rural Export and Trading WA an exemption to its northern summer live export ban on the basis of animal welfare concerns.

On Saturday the department said it had approved a fresh application to have some sheep sent to the Middle East onboard the Al Kuwait livestock vessel.

The ship docked in Fremantle on May 22 and had been due to carry 56,000 sheep to the Middle East before the June 1 live export deadline.

But its departure stalled with 21 of the ship's 48 multinational crew testing positive to COVID-19 since it arrived.

They were isolated in hotels, with one case deteriorating and requiring hospitalisation.

The final six cases recovered overnight, paving the way for the vessel to be loaded with 50,000 sheep before leaving by Wednesday at the latest.

Animals Australia is seeking to stop the voyage, claiming it was not given the opportunity to be heard.

"This decision required the deepest consideration of its animal welfare implications," Animals Australia strategy director Lyn White said in a statement.

"Had Animals Australia or the RSPCA been given the chance to make submissions in relation to this issue and others raised by the exemption application, the regulator's decision may have been different."

In approving the exemption, the department highlighted measures to protect the welfare of the sheep including unloading at one port only, not loading a hotter area of the ship near the engine room and having a vet join the voyage.

The live export ban was introduced this year in response to thousands of sheep dying from heat stress aboard the Awassi Express in 2017.

WA now has only two active COVID-19 cases, with no new infections confirmed on Monday.

Jury trials will resume in the state's Supreme and District Courts from July 20 after being suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Physical distancing and health screening measures will be enforced and potential jurors will be allowed to exclude themselves from consideration.