Monday, 3 June 2013
Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013; Second Reading
Notwithstanding the genuine intentions and concerns behind the Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013 or, in fact, some of the emotive arguments of the member for Denison just now, the government will not be supporting this bill. The Gillard government takes animal welfare seriously, contrary to the claims of the member for Denison. The government works with state and territory governments and with industry and community groups to continue to improve animal welfare outcomes both here and overseas. In the area of live animal exports, the government has undertaken the most significant reforms ever made to this industry, placing animal welfare at the core of the trade. We made these reforms because it would create a more sustainable trade for Australian industry—so important to our economy—and because it was the right thing to do.
No government has done more to improve animal welfare in this sector than the Gillard government. The government has implemented the highest animal welfare standards for exported livestock anywhere in the world. The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, known as ESCAS, puts animal welfare at the centre of the livestock export trade. It aims to ensure that Australian livestock are treated in line with international animal welfare standards. Internationally, Minister Joe Ludwig continues to actively engage within overseas forums to promote Australia's leadership in animal welfare standards. We have been a driving force in strong international animal welfare standards through the World Organisation for Animal Health. These standards cover land, sea and air transport and cattle production, as well as the slaughter of animals for human consumption.
Domestically, the Australian government takes a significant leadership role, including contributing to primary industry model codes and animal welfare guidelines. The government has already developed a number of policies to improve animal welfare standards, including the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines and the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. The welfare strategy, for example, outlines possible future directions in animal welfare in Australia. The Australian government has committed funding to this strategy through to 2014 and appointed a new advisory committee to assist the implementation of the strategy. The strategy is a national blueprint for sustainable improvements in animal welfare across all key animal use sectors, all key stakeholders and the broader community.
The Australian Labor Party national conference passed a resolution to establish an office of animal welfare. To begin that work, a special Labor caucus working group prepared a report on a model for an office. The working group considered what role an office would play in developing and reviewing domestic animal welfare standards, harmonising domestic laws, monitoring and reporting on surveillance and enforcement of domestic and live animal export regulation, and other appropriate activities. The report has now been finalised, and the government is now considering that report. The establishment of an independent office of animal welfare involves consideration of complex legal, constitutional and policy issues, and we make no apologies for taking the time to get our model right. Also, a final model will likely require broad public consultation, as it canvasses issues that will have wide public impact.
There are significant issues with the Greens' bill—for example, the question of the constitutional power to support the bill and, in particular, the functions of the CEO. For example, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth has no power to directly legislate for animal welfare. Some functions of the CEO, for example, reporting on the Commonwealth's animal welfare policy and considering academic and scientific research relevant to animal welfare, would need to be carefully considered to assess whether there was Constitutional power to support those functions, short of a referral power from state governments.
Under issue surrounds the departmental review of the functions of the CEO. The Greens bill before us is silent on any provisions as to how a review of department decisions would happen. There are no provisions explaining how the CEO and the office would be able to, for instance, receive information from the department, whether the CEO and office could compel the department or departmental officers to produce documents, invite submission from other parties, have power to enter and search premises and so on.
And, again, another question: what is the relationship of proposed review mechanisms in this bill to existing review mechanisms? For instance, this bill is silent on how the new review functions of the department would fit within existing review mechanisms. Decision of the department can already be reviewed by the Ombudsman and the ANAO. Decisions of the department are also subject to freedom of information applications and so on. There are numerous issues with the bill before the House, and until we can resolve these issues the government is unable to support this bill.