Thursday, 16 June 2011
Live Animal Exports
) ( ): I move:
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Kennedy moving immediately—
That this House urgently agrees to bring on the motion standing in the name of the Member for Kennedy to establish an immediate inquiry into the circumstances leading up to the Minister for Agriculture's decision to suspend the live cattle trade to Indonesia.
I thank my seconder, the honourable member for Denison.
At the present moment we are informed—I cannot say reliably because in this issue there has been no reliability whatsoever—that in the abattoirs there are still tens of thousands of cattle that are going to be subject to the same cruel method of execution, if you want to use that term, that has been used previously. If we continue to do nothing then what you saw on Four Corners will continue. We are getting assurances from the government of a general nature but I have been reliably—or, again, perhaps questionably—informed that not a single stun gun has gone from Australia to Indonesia. There is no way that this matter can be fixed up unless the stun guns are up there to do the job. The most elementary thing was to send the stun guns. That has not been done. Not one single knocking gun has gone to Indonesia, not one single abattoir has been inspected and licensed. What I am saying is: whatever badness that you saw there is continuing as we talk now.
We are acting conjointly. Our opinions do not entirely agree, but we are acting conjointly today on something that all of us in this parliament agree upon, which is that what we saw on the Four Corners program should not continue for another day. At this point of talking we need an inquiry, and not an inquiry run by the government. That is not going to happen. That by definition is not an inquiry. Nobody has been punished. The country stands to lose $350 million a year. Meat and Livestock Australia has been taking $5 for every sale of an ox in Australia, which I am reliably told amounts to $70 million to $100 million. They do not have a lot of jobs to do, but one of them is to ensure that this sort of thing does not take place. I have been advised reliably that they knew about this for nine years. They have known about this for nine years and done nothing, yet they have taken off the people of Australia, specifically the meat producers of Australia, $70 million to $100 million a year. No-one has been punished—someone has been punished actually; someone has been punished very severely. No-one at MLA has been punished. No-one in the government department has been punished. No-one in any of the organisations or instrumentalities associated with this has been punished. Not a single one of them has accepted responsibility. If you are the person responsible then you accept responsibility. I do not notice many of us in Australia doing that and it does not reflect well upon us. When something goes wrong the Japanese bosses say: 'It's my fault. I tender my resignation.' I have been caught in that situation myself on a number of occasions and have had to tender my resignation. It is not very nice. No-one has accepted responsibility. No-one has been punished. It is nobody's fault. I will tell you who has been punished: the cattlemen of Australia, our frontiersmen.
Opposition members: Hear, hear!
I would not be too hasty, you blokes on my right here, because you knew about it for six years and you did not do anything about it at all. So I would not be too hasty in shooting my mouth off.
If we are to honour a group of people in Australia, we should honour that group of people who live in the northern third of Australia west of the coastal ranges, our cattlemen. They are our frontiersmen. They do it very hard indeed. If you fall off a horse or you get sick, too bad for you. There is nobody there to fix you up. You just hope like hell it is not raining so you can get the flying doctor in if he is available. My daughter had a terrible accident some years ago and the flying doctor was not available for nearly 24 hours. A friend of mine fell off a horse and broke his leg, and the flying doctor was not available for 48 hours.
I might add that I estimate that a third of our cattlemen in northern Australia are of first Australian descent—Aboriginal Australian descent, if you like. These people have been there for all of this time. They have tried to do the right thing. They have done nothing wrong. They sell a beast to a live-meat exporter who sells it into a feedlot in Indonesia. They have absolutely no way of knowing what was going on. The people who first rang me up were in fact those people. They said they were quite horrified. I have been in the yards working and I have seen men knocked down for doing a hundredth of what I saw on the television the other night. If you work with cattle, you love your cattle and you look after them. If you do not, you will not be a successful cattleman. So they were the first people to be horrified.
A lot of us are brought up in an outfit called Christianity and we are told to love our neighbour. Our neighbour happens to be Indonesia and we are supposed to love them—maybe you do not like them, but you are supposed to love them. There are other people who do not believe in this Christian business. They believe that, when you get a hit, you return the hit and return it really hard. I do not know what attitude the people in Indonesia take, but either way we do not come out this looking good. Here is a country where 80 million people out of 240 million people are going to bed hungry at night. Are we going to cold-bloodedly deprive three million people of protein? If you say, 'Well they can get it from somewhere else,' I will tell you they cannot buy meat from somewhere else. People have said, 'Why don't we process it here in Australia?' I would be the first one here to go with that solution if we could. The problem for us is that it costs us almost $200 to send a beast down to the meatworks. We cannot afford to send it down there. If you say, 'Well build some meatworks up there,' because it only rains for three months of the year and we are not allowed to have any irrigation in northern Australia, we simply cannot keep meatworks open. We have constantly opened them and they have constantly closed again soon afterwards.
Some people say, 'If we were to process them in Australia, they could buy processed meat off us.' If we sell an ox that is processed into leather, meat and chicken feed or fertiliser, it costs about $7,000 or $8,000 to buy that off Australia. If we sell an ox to the Indonesians, they pay somewhere around $650 and they can turn that beast into those three extremely valuable products for probably under $1,000. They cannot afford to buy it from us processed, but they can afford to take the live beast and turn into these very valuable products.
As a young man of 17 or 18, I was handed a rifle and I had to hand three telephone numbers in because we were at war with a country north of us, which will remain unnamed. I was fighting to keep the oil supply line to Australia open. The cynics would say we were fighting for Royal Dutch Shell. If we are fighting a war now to protect our oil supply line—many people here have said that continuously, and you probably do have to fight wars to protect your oil supply line—think about what happens if someone cuts off your food supply line. (Time expired)
I second the motion moved by my friend the member for Kennedy. There is clearly an urgent need for this parliament to become engaged in the whole issue of live animal exports as a result of the crisis that has engulfed this country and this trade in the 2½ weeks since the remarkable Four Corners program that most of us have seen, with images that I do not think any of us could possibly forget. I am tabling a bill next week and I will be able to talk in much more detail then about this issue. It is a bill that seeks to end the live animal export trade by mid-2014.
On this issue the member for Kennedy and I disagree, but we do agree very strongly, and we care just as much, about all of the people who have been affected by the moratorium that is now in place. We care just as much as each other about the tens of thousands of beasts that are now in feedlots in Indonesia, that are not going to be covered by any new initiative or controls put in place by the Australian government or the tens of thousands of beasts that continue to be slaughtered—and hundreds if not thousands will be slaughtered tonight in exactly the same circumstances and conditions that we saw on the Four Corners show 2½ weeks ago. That is unacceptable. My friend the member for Kennedy and I agree equally about the welfare of the graziers, the truckers, the shipping lines, the feed producers and everyone else who has been seriously impacted by the moratorium that has been put in place.
This motion seeks to energise the Australian government's response to this crisis in our live animal export trade. It seeks to energise the government to act as quickly as it humanly can to put in place appropriate safeguards in Indonesia so that the trade can be resumed. Yes, I do see an end to this in a few years time, for a range of very important reasons—not just ethical but also for important economic reasons. The fact is that the live animal export trade is cannibalising Australia's processing trade. No less than the Meat Industry Council of Australia reports the thousands of jobs that have been lost and the abattoirs that have been closed.
I ask my colleagues in this place, even if you disagree with me strongly on the need to ultimately wind up the live animal export trade, to please see the sense of processing these beasts in Australia, reopening the abattoirs, establishing new abattoirs and employing Australians. It is in Australia's long-term economic interests that these beasts be processed onshore. If you do not see the ethical argument, at least see the economic argument.
The motion in front of us seeks to energise the government's response to the crisis. It seeks to put in place appropriate safeguards such as Australian inspectors on the ground in Indonesia to help with training, monitoring, to enhance animal tracking and to show how to use the stunning guns—in fact, to hand over the stunning guns. This motion importantly seeks to call to account Meat and Livestock Australia, which has betrayed all of us. It has betrayed no-one more than the industry itself and the graziers who will be raising these beasts. The graziers have been handing over $5 per head in the expectation that the MLA would spend a reasonable amount of that money to make sure that Australian conditions and safeguards were put in place. What has the MLA done in response? It has gorged on a marketing budget, it has gorged on travel around the region and it has let all of us down significantly.
There is now an urgent need for the MLA to be held to account, and this motion seeks to do that. There is an urgent need for the Australian government to become energised on this issue. There is an urgent need for the motion of my friend the member for Kennedy to be debated and voted on because who can forget those scenes on the Four Corners program only 2½ weeks ago?
I thank the member for Kennedy for his contribution, although I do wish to point out that we have a matter of public importance following immediately which deals with exactly the same subject. Technically speaking, a suspension of standing orders would be completely redundant in these circumstances. Obviously, the member for Kennedy has a passionate concern for the cattlemen in his region, as we all do. This is a very difficult and complicated issue and it is understandable that emotions are running high in response to the footage that we all saw on the Four Corners report, the footage that has given rise to a great deal of concern in the community. There are many sides to this argument as well, as we understand the impact that this issue has on our farmers and graziers not only in the Northern Territory but also in the member for Kennedy's backyard. I understand the passion with which he is trying to defend his industry. It is very important that we support our farmers, but it is also essential that we come up with a solution that gives certainty about how Australian animals are being treated all through the chain of supply and all through this process.
We know that these circumstances have caused great damage to the industry, but it has gone beyond just the exporters of live animals to Indonesia; it has also had ramifications and repercussions for the rest of the meat industry in this country. We have noticed that there has been a falling-off in purchases from butchers. This footage has certainly played havoc with the entire meat market. We do not have the luxury to mess around and come up with the wrong answer to this situation. We must very carefully plot a course through this situation and come up with parameters that will make sure that we do not see a repetition of this situation. If we were to rush to a solution now and create a short-term fix that then rebounded on us later with a fault in the system, where would that leave our industry, our market and our cattlemen? We cannot afford a repetition of this incident. We must ensure that we put in place a system that has certainty for the future of the industry and consumers. Of course, we had the contribution from the member for Wide Bay this morning who thinks we can come up with a short-term fix to this problem. He thinks that we can implement an identification system in a day. I note that when he had responsibility for this issue, it took him 21 months to implement that for this country. I also note that, following the member for Wide Bay's comments on radio this morning, Mr Rob Gillam, President of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia, made nonsense of that claim that it could be done in a day. In his view, it would take many weeks just to put the identification system in place.
We have to recognise that we are dealing with another country—Indonesia—which needs capacity built to be able to deal with this situation and which needs technical solutions put in place to complement an identification system. And, of course, we have to work through that as a matter of diplomacy as well. That is something I know that the opposition do not seem to know much about when it comes to the relationship with Indonesia. We have rebuilt our relationship with Indonesia since this government came into office, and it is a relationship that certainly needed a lot of repair. I remember very well when I was an officer in the army and the Minister for Defence at the time, Mr Moore, claimed he was going to send troops across the border into West Timor, regardless of what Indonesian opinion was then. I remember the outrage that that caused in Indonesia. Over the years, we have seen some incredible damage done to our relationship with Indonesia through the opposition's ignorance and poor performance in diplomacy. So that aspect needs to be handled with care.
We have seen constructive engagement from the Indonesian authorities on this issue. They are as concerned as we are that their practices and processes are in accordance with their own welfare laws in this respect. Our engagement has been across the relevant portfolios. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have engaged with their counterparts and they have an understanding that something does need to be done. As I say, they will require technical assistance to put those procedures in place.
The member for Kennedy has rightly pointed out that an inquiry needs to happen. He also points out that nothing has happened in nine years. Of course, this government has only been in office since 2007. The member for Kennedy also pointed out that this issue goes back many, many years to the previous government, the Howard government, when this trade was also conducted. Twelve years was plenty of time for the government to go and have a look for themselves at what was going on in Indonesia. What did they do during that time? They did diddly-squat, not a thing.
In contrast to that, this government have been actively engaged in pursuing this issue. Well before it emerged on Four Corners, the minister was engaged in correspondence with the industry. On 30 May the government's veterinary services were engaged to examine the standards that were being applied in the treatment of our livestock. We are actively engaged in trying to deal with this situation. Of course, now, Mr Farmer has been appointed to conduct an inquiry on behalf of the government. Mr Farmer has had a lot of experience in dealing with Indonesia as a former ambassador. We can rely on him to the deal with this situation. He has a relationship with Indonesia. Mr Farmer will conduct an inquiry not only into this issue but into the breadth and depth of our entire live export industry, which is what is required right now. We need certainty across the board so that we can preserve the live export industry for this nation. It is so important for us. It is important for our revenue and important for our domestic agriculture industry.
There are those who want to shut this industry down and there are those who would like a permanent blanket prohibition. Those cries will continue to be made whenever there is evidence that this industry is not being conducted on a sound footing. Where images appear that allow people to make that kind of argument, this industry will suffer damage. It is important that we get this right across the live export industry and that is what Mr Farmer will do. We have not introduced a suspension into this industry mandatorily on a six-month basis; we have said we will get this industry back up and running and back exporting as soon as it is possible to do so, as soon as we have certainty.
It is not a case of just getting animals and going back into the abattoirs in Indonesia that we know meet the right standards; it is about making sure that our livestock are going to those abattoirs. You cannot just hope that they will go to those abattoirs; you need to have a tracking system that ensures that. That will deliver certainty for our growers who have inundated us with calls concerned about how their animals are being treated. They do not want this industry started up again unless they can be satisfied that their animals will be treated in a proper manner. Their concern has been directed at the way in which the Meat and Livestock Association have dealt with this issue, and the funds that have gone their way which, of course, have also received matching funding from the Commonwealth. MLA have dropped the ball. There is no question about that. And that is why the minister is demanding the MLA support farmers in this time of need. They will be required to do that. This government will make sure that they do that because we have the future of our farmers at heart. We are determined to look after them and preserve this industry. But we must have a technical system that will allow us to completely track our animals through the system so that we can be certain that they are going to the abattoirs that can deal with these animals correctly. If we do it otherwise then this industry will collapse.
We cannot afford a second instance of this kind. That is the negligence that is being demonstrated by the members on the other side, particularly the member for Wide Bay, who ought to know better. He claims he knows the primary industry and says he can get this industry going in a day. What an absurd proposition. No member of this industry would back up that claim. No-one who knows what they are talking about could in their right mind assert that you could get this going in a day. No-one who has had any contact with the cattle industry could assert that that was the case. He has been exposed as an impostor.
Order! The time allotted for the debate has concluded. The question is that the motion moved by the member for Kennedy for the suspension of standing and sessional orders be agreed to.
The House divided. [15:34]
(The Speaker—Mr Harry Jenkins)
I remind members that the use of phones for voice messages in the chamber is very disorderly. The use of phones as cameras is also considered disorderly. I have adopted the attitude that in the first instance I would give people a chance, and I have usually had the cooperation of whips to ensure that that happens. Of course the unwhipped, those on the crossbenches, are a different challenge. I would hope that they recognise that they need to be very careful about the use of their mobile phones certainly if they wish to vote on motions they have moved.
The requirements of standing order 47(c)(ii) for an absolute majority having not been satisfied, the motion was not carried.