House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013


Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:01 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

To ensure that as many as others as possible can contribute to this debate, I refer to the comments made during my introductory speech.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second that motion and will take this opportunity to briefly explain my support. There is an urgent need for someone or something to oversee animal welfare in Commonwealth regulated activities because, as sure as hell, the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig and, regrettably, his department do not seem to be up to the job. How else to explain the repeated revelations of animal cruelty in Australia's live animal export industry since the ABC Four Corners program blew the whistle two years ago on the shocking animal abuse in Indonesian slaughter houses? Revelations are as widespread as at least in Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan and Turkey and probably in more places given the practical limitations on Animal Australia's investigations and the likelihood of much more abuse going on undiscovered and unreported. Revelations are as diverse as the cutting of tendons to immobilise animals, the butchering of animals still alive because of haste and incompetence, the burying of animals alive because that is one way of disposing of unwanted animals—so long as you do not give a toss about extreme cruelty—and the stabbing of eyes seemingly for fun.

Yes, I know the government reckons all is well now it has implemented that Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. The trouble is all of the cruelty in recent times has occurred despite ESCAS being up and running—the implication being that the system does not guarantee anything or in fact do much other than produce theatre for the government to hide behind.

Bizarrely, the more ESCAS is found to be an entirely inadequate animal welfare safeguard, the more the government trumpets the system's success on the basis that any breaches highlight the effectiveness of the oversight brought to bear by the system. The trouble is, the breaches are not being picked up by ESCAS but in almost every case by the brave souls in Animals Australia.

The current system does not work and there is genuinely an urgent need to put in place something that does. To that end, I feel that an independent office of animal welfare would be a good solution, not least because it would have an unambiguous mandate to ensure appropriate animal welfare standards are maintained. In other words, the office would not be conflicted like the department and its minister, who juggle what they see as the competing demands of industry profits and animal welfare—and invariably juggle them badly.

This matter does not reflect well on the Liberal and Labor parties because the live animal export industry went unchecked during the 11 years of the Howard government and next to nothing has been done to clean it up during the six years of the Rudd and Gillard governments. In recent years there has been a concerted effort by some in the Labor Party to establish an independent office of animal welfare, which is obviously good thing. But apparently it is a move going nowhere fast, and that reflects very poorly on the Labor Party more broadly. I simply do not understand why the government and the alternative government are so weak on animal welfare. Surely there are enough men and women of good heart populating those parties to ensure animal welfare has a higher priority. But they are largely silenced, in another demonstration of how the party system in this country quashed independent thought at the expense of the public interest and, in this case, animal welfare. It is also another demonstration of the power of big business in this country and its ability to corrupt the development and implementation of good public policy.

Frankly, I believe strongly that the live animal export trade must be stopped and am heartened to know that one day it will be, the only question being when. But, so long as it does continue, at least this bill would provide some protection for the animals. I am proud to second this bill and I congratulate the Greens on progressing it. I can only hope that enough members in this place have the heart and backbone to support it. Those who do not either do not care much about animal welfare or care more about their political self-interest.

11:05 am

Photo of Sid SidebottomSid Sidebottom (Braddon, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

11:11 am

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I give my thanks to my learned friend opposite, the member for Braddon, for announcing the government's very intelligent view in opposing this bill, the Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013. We in this place have to ask ourselves what the motivation is behind this particular bill being introduced. I am firmly of the view that the single reason for the introduction of this bill is, as they confess in part, to stamp out live export. But the stamping out of live export has serious ramifications. Anyone in this nation who has any awareness about the Northern aspects of this country understands that, with pastoral land, there is only one product that can be produced these days under the pastoral regulation act, and that is Bos indicus cattle for live export.

There are fanciful individuals who believe that we can install an abattoir, or a number of, across Northern Australia and slaughter, box and export boxed beef to places like the Middle East and Indonesia, but it is pure fantasy. We have a tiny proportion of those end customers, those end consumers, of those product that have refrigeration in their homes. Anyone who has seen frozen beef thawed out in a tropical situation without refrigeration would realise that the product becomes almost inedible in a very short period of time and that wet markets and local slaughter is the only solution.

So let's get away from this fanciful idea that the motivation might be for humane slaughter in Australian abattoirs. Let's get away from the idea that we can convince somebody that they ought to change their culture or their eating habits or suddenly install refrigeration across the Middle East and Indonesia. It is not going to happen. So, unless we want to certify the shutting down of a third of Australia's land mass and prevent the production of cattle, we need to put both feet on the ground and think with level heads about the future of a third of Australia.

The reality is that we have right now a combination of two dreadful situations. We have the disastrous decision two years ago that our relationship with Indonesia would be trashed, that we would take a political move that said to our Indonesian neighbours, 'We hold you to siege because we are offended by what has occurred in two of your abattoirs.' There was no logic to that kneejerk reaction of shutting down the export. If the motivation was to prevent cruelty to animals, what of the thousands of head of cattle that were in yards with no feed? If the idea of shutting down live export is to improve the living rate and reduce the death rate of animals, why would you not put them on a boat with feed and water and shelter rather than have them starve in paddocks?

That is what is happening today. We have the situation where the return on a beast in a market in Queensland is currently worth less than the freight to get the beast to market—therefore they are being left on country. The country is being stripped of available feed. We have a drought situation where we have no hope in the very near future of rain and subsequent feed. We have a second year's drop of calves now that ought to be viewing sale within eight to 10 months to those middle-eastern markets. That market has been trashed by the unmitigated circumstances that we have presented to Indonesia. The market has no hope of recovering in the short term—and yet we still have propositions being put forward that say we need another nail in the coffin of beef producers. It is inexcusable.

There is no rational thought behind this except of winning votes in metropolitan areas with a green view and appealing to green voters. They are people who probably believe that animals should not be eaten in the first place and that somehow, if they are to be eaten, maybe they voluntarily anaesthetise themselves and suicide to give us meats for consideration. (Time expired)

11:16 am

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The purpose of this bill is to establish an independent office of animal welfare. In doing so it seeks to implement ALP policy adopted at the 2011 ALP National Conference under the guise that the government has failed to do it. I therefore welcome the member for Melbourne's support of ALP policy. It is encouraging that the Greens are doing that. I note, however, that in his remarks he at no point stated whether this matter was debated within the Greens party and whether it was formal Greens policy, although I can only assume it must be.

It begs the question whether the motion before the House is little more than an attempt to capital on extensive work ALP members in this place have carried out in driving the establishment of an independent office of animal welfare. The member for Melbourne quite rightly points out that the committee of Labor members of parliament, of which I have been a part, has done extensive work on this issue. The ALP caucus has now endorsed the proposal for the government to establish an independent office of animal welfare and I welcome the comments of the parliamentary secretary earlier on in this debate.

As is well known, Australian animal welfare is as much a matter for state governments as it is for the federal government. There is also in place a complex structure, between the federal and state governments, in overseeing animal welfare across Australia. Unravelling those existing arrangements is not simply a matter for the federal government. Any proposal by the federal government, if it is to act in isolation, is likely to cause overlap or conflict with arrangements and laws that are currently in place. Nor should the role of an independent office of animal welfare simply be confined to the export of live animals, albeit that is an area for which the federal government does have sole responsibility. However, appropriate standards in the welfare of live animals begins while they are still under state jurisdiction and before the animals are loaded onto ships for export.

Recently I was contacted by a group in Adelaide who have taken an interest in the live-export trade. The group, who refer to themselves as the Port Adelaide Monitors, have been closely monitoring the loading and exportation of live sheep from Port Adelaide. In a letter to me, the group raised several concerns about the cruel treatment of sheep prior to them leaving Australia, whilst they are at the loading docks and still under the jurisdiction of the state government. Those concerns clearly relate to matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the state government and yet they are part and parcel of the live-export trade.

It is clear that if an independent office of animal welfare is to be established, it needs to have appropriate authority to be effective. If it is going to have appropriate authority then we need to engage in discussions with the states and seek their cooperation. Having said that, it is important that this matter be progressed as quickly as possible because, as we have seen, cases of cruelty to live animals for export continue to be exposed. What is more, all of those cases and all of that cruelty is both unnecessary and avoidable.

I have previously made the point that once animals leave Australia we lose control of their fate. The government's implementation of the export supply chain assurance system, which ensures animals are tracked and monitored, is making a difference to export animal welfare because it places responsibility for the care of those animals onto the exporter. But it is not foolproof and never will be, as we saw with the sheep that were redirected from Bahrain to Pakistan. I note with interest that, whilst the industry claims that the exports are important to the livestock industry, the fact is that export numbers of live animals and values have been declining over the last decade while simultaneously the export of chilled meats from Australia has been increasing. Cattle and sheep growers know that the future lies in the export of chilled meat. It is less risky and easier to manage because the processing is all carried out in Australia. Importantly, processing in Australia eliminates the cruelty associated with the live export trade. That is what we should be encouraging growers to focus on.

With respect to this legislation, as the parliamentary secretary has quite rightly pointed out, if it is going to be effective we need to get it right. The legislation does not tell me which minister the new office will answer to, nor does it tell me specifically what powers it will have to ensure that animal cruelty is in fact stamped out. There is a whole range of matters that I know the minister is looking at. It is important that we do that and it is important that we get the office right if it is to be effective. (Time expired)

11:21 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This policy is typical of the Greens, who love red tape. Moreover, they love the green tape. They love bureaucracy, they love regulation, but they do not love farmers. It is designed to make farming more costly, and haven't we seen how much more expensive farming is with the carbon tax that the Greens also supported. It is designed to shut down the industry of live cattle exports, live animal exports, but it does nothing to improve animal welfare.

With me in the chamber is the shadow minister for agriculture and perhaps more importantly food security. North of Australia is Indonesia, 240 or so million people who are going to lack protein, going to lack Australian meat, if you shut down our live cattle exports. The shadow minister knows that. I have heard him talking ad nauseam about the importance of the live cattle export industry. He and I were in Rockhampton just recently where one cattle farmer bemoaned the fact that steers were selling for just $20 a head in Longreach, and that is shameful. It is because of the ban brought about by a knee-jerk reaction by Prime Minister more intent on just keeping her job than on good public policy. The Four Corners program shut down the entire live cattle export industry, and what did we see? We saw so many Aboriginal stockman put out of work. They walked off from their jobs. Who knows whether they will ever get their jobs back again? We saw cattle which were then too old and too heavy to be exported and in some cases were being shot. Talk about animal welfare. That goes against the whole meaning of any sort of animal welfare. Farmers do not want to have to shoot their animals but they want to survive. They need livelihoods. The shadow minister knows that. He knows how important it is to keep our live cattle export industry going.

Nobody likes animal cruelty, least of all the shadow minister, least of all the Nationals, but we do care for regional Australia. We want our farmers to get a fair price for their livestock. We also want to see those livestock treated properly. We do not want them to be sent to abattoirs which are going to treat them inhumanely, and that is why we have provisions in place. That is why the cattle industry's Alison Penfold, a person who is absolutely mindful of the importance of making sure that our exports remain viable, told me only on Friday of the importance of Australia making sure that we have good welfare standards. But this bill does nothing for that. As John Cobb said to me, this bill is an affront to our live exporters and to our beef industry, which is the only industry out of 109 countries which support live exports which invests in animal welfare in destination countries. We need to build to provide our meat to those countries, whether it is Indonesia, whether it is the Middle East—wherever it is we need to make sure that we keep those markets open. The situation we have at the moment is that the price for cattle has gone down right throughout the country, certainly in the Riverina where one of the businesses, Byrne Trailers, has lost a lot of money, tens of thousands of dollars, because the orders have stopped for their stock crates. This is an affront to farmers.

I notice that the member for Page was on the speaking list, but I cannot see her in the chamber. She wanted to phase out, stop, the live cattle export trade. I am just glad that the Nationals have a candidate in Page, Kevin Hogan, who understands the cattle industry—indeed, he is a cattle farmer himself. I am sure that if he is lucky enough to be elected as the next member for Page, and I hope that is the case, he will bring common sense and reason to this debate.

This bill is about supporting the extremist element, the people who want to shut down animal production. We had a party who failed to ban live exports because it was bad public policy. I heard the member for Melbourne last week, in an adjournment debate, talk about the number of helicopters flying over his electorate at night and during the day. Talk about a first world problem! We have people in the electorates of Calare and Riverina who do not know where their next profit is going to come from, who do not know where their next pay packet is going to come from, because the live cattle trade export ban—that absolute fiasco—has caused them much financial stress and caused their farm profitability much harm.

I do not recommend this bill, and I hope it gets rejected as it should.

11:26 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013 introduced by the member for Melbourne. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear all of the debate prior to rising to speak, apart from hearing the last bit of the member for Riverina's contribution. I would not have thought there would be many cattle exported live overseas from Riverina electorate, but I hope to stand corrected. I would have thought they would not be viable at all. I know, as a Queenslander and someone connected with this topic, that there is only a certain market.

I want to go on the record early and say that, if I had my way, I would like all cattle from production in Australia to be slaughtered in Australian abattoirs. That would be my wish because that would be value-adding and protecting Australian jobs, and we would have control over the standards. I recognise the contribution of the meat industry, employees and the cattle industry through having great standards. The reality is that it is not economically viable for cattle in north-west Australia to be slaughtered in a Melbourne abattoirs or in a Queensland abattoirs. Even if there were sufficient labour in north-west Australia there would not be a viable industry. If I had my wish, all cattle produced in Australia would be slaughtered in Australia, but the economic reality is that that is not viable.

This bill put forward by the member for Melbourne seeks to establish the Independent Office of Animal Welfare with the appointment of a CEO by the minister, and sets out a range of reporting and monitoring functions around Commonwealth legislation and standard-setting principally associated with the export of livestock. This is a classic opportunity of putting attention on the member for Melbourne's concerns through an issue that is already taking place.

I have a prop here, which I will refer to briefly, Deputy Speaker, and it is the Constitution. The reality is that the Constitution does not provide for Minister Ludwig to make such a decision. In terms of authority over what is exported we do have a head of power where the minister can have some say. In terms of an Independent Office of Animal Welfare, in terms of looking at what goes on in Australia, the reality is that we are a Federation and we need the state ministers, the state premiers, to come together to refer powers to any federal department. I commend the member for Melbourne for some aspects of this legislation, but it is ignoring the fact that we are a Federation and it is also ignoring the economic reality of cattle in north-west Australia, even cattle in some northern parts of Queensland and certainly in the Northern Territory. As well, I should particularly mention the significant Indigenous population who rely on jobs in this industry. It will never be economically viable to put those cattle on a truck and send them to Dinmore, in Brisbane. I am sorry; I wish that were not the case. Those days are gone. I know that we are taking steps to establish abattoirs in the Northern Territory, which might facilitate more cattle being slaughtered in Australian abattoirs, but even then we will never be able to slaughter in Australia all the cattle being turned off.

I understand the complex legal, constitutional and policy issues associated with an independent office of animal welfare. I think we will soon have an announcement from the Labor government about something that will go some way to that. But it would always have to be a cooperative arrangement. The sort of knee-jerk populism of saying, 'This should be banned,' whenever one animal is shown to be slaughtered is not realistic. One of my first jobs was working in a butcher shop, and we had a little abattoir in my hometown. I have always known that occasionally things go wrong, even in abattoirs with the best standards. But this banning would not work in the long run at all, because the reality is that cattle in north-west Australia will always need to be exported. (Time expired)

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.