House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018; Second Reading

6:01 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Ending live export is an issue that is important to my community of Mayo. Since the 60 Minutes report that highlighted the atrocious conditions that sheep endure while on export ships aired in April, I have been contacted by thousands of constituents—and I really mean thousands—who want to see an end to the industry. There is no future for long-haul sheep export from Australia. Time and again we have seen that exporters are unable or unwilling to comply with Australian animal welfare standards, and that the regulator is simply powerless to enforce the regulations.

The sheepmeat industry is worth $5.23 billion yet live exports only account for $250 million of this value, and it is diminishing. At present, the live sheep trade exists primarily to three countries—Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey—who, between them, take over 75 per cent of all sheep exported from Australia. As the member for Farrer noted, the reality is that demand for live sheep in the Middle East comes in no small part from its cheap retail price due to government subsidies. Opponents of this bill, the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018, point to the Middle Eastern countries requiring live animals for religious reasons, yet Australia exports halal accredited boxed meat to all relevant countries to which we export live sheep.

This bill takes a measured approach to phasing out the industry. It is not prudent to implement an immediate blanket ban on live exports, and nobody here in this place is suggesting that. A phase-out over five years with an immediate ban on exports to the Middle East during the northern summer is an appropriate balance. It would allow farmers and the government to put the pillars in place for a transition away from live exports and would be a great opportunity to grow our chilled meat processing industry.

I also want to comment on the suggestion that farmers are opposed to ending the live export trade. The farmers I know take great care of their livestock. I have spoken to several farmers in my electorate who were disgusted in the way the animals were being treated on export ships and some of them said, ' Rebekha, we need to end this industry.' I believe that, if the government works with Australian farmers, the transition from live export to expanded meat processing will be positive and will lead to greater competition and better farmgate prices. It has always been my preference for meat to be processed onshore and then exported.

The passage of this bill and the phasing-out of live sheep experts will create an exciting opportunity for Australia's meat processing industry. The industry directly employs 35,000 people and another 100,000 directly. I want to keep those jobs in Australia and I want to see that industry grow. My electorate of Mayo has numerous examples of the opportunities to be gained by transitioning away from live exports and towards onshore processing. The Thomas Foods facility in Lobethal provides employment for more than 700 people. It now has two shifts. In Normanville there's a disused abattoir that the local council has approved for upgrade so it can commence production. Reopening the abattoir will see around 70 jobs for the region, but it needs some state and federal government support to improve roads and water access. On Kangaroo Island there's a desire to get a small abattoir up and running. I met with the project managers just last week. A meat-processing facility on the island would provide a huge economic boost to our community and allow us to brand KI lamb. Kangaroo Island is a small place, with just 4,700 people living there.

The phasing out of the live sheep trade, as well as proper planning and support from government, would create an opportunity for these examples from my community to be replicated across the country. It would mean real jobs—real regional jobs. Let's pause and look at New Zealand's example. It shows you don't need live sheep long-haul export to have a thriving industry. New Zealand lamb is prized around the world because they control their product right the way through the supply chain.

I support the bill of the member for Farrer, and I commend the member for Farrer for bringing this bill to the parliament. It takes a great deal of courage to come from a regional area and do that. I urge the government to allow a vote on this legislation. The live sheep industry is already a dying trade. The Australian public expect us to show leadership on this issue, and they expect us to take action to end this trade.

6:06 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018, which restricts the long-haul exports of live sheep and for related purposes. I would also like to congratulate the member for Farrer for bringing this bill forward. Just a few months ago, I, and many Australians, saw the footage from the 60 Minutes program which showed Australian sheep that were dead, dying and suffering from overcrowding and heat stress, unable to move in a thick bog of their own waste or to access food and water. They were simply shocking and disgusting conditions.

This wasn't one bad journey, one bad exporter or a few animals that had slipped outside the system. It is what happens to animals routinely under Australian standards under live export companies and in the live export industry. This is in regard to live sheep exports from Australia. Over the years I have been a member of parliament, since 2004, I have met with the live animal sheep export industry and warned them time and time again that Australian people do not want to see sheep and animals suffer. So many times I have been given reassurances that I wouldn't see it again.

A voyage to the Middle East takes an average of 21 days. That is 500 consecutive hours in which sheep travel in hot and cramped conditions by sea and road transport. The conditions are unavoidable, stressful and dangerous. Lengthy voyages can be a death sentence. Sheep risk a slow death from starvation, illness and injury. After weeks on ships, they can emerge caked in so much excrement that they are barely recognisable.

New evidence reveals not only that the live sheep export trade is breaking the law but that animals are being denied the most basic needs: proper access to food, water, rest and veterinary care. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, for his efforts in calling out the industry and acting immediately. The government announced sweeping changes on 17 May 2018. The space allocated to sheep on live-export ships to the Middle East will be increased by up to 39 per cent, and directors of live-export companies who flout the rules will face up to 10 years jail. However, after meeting with Dr Portia Reading, a veterinary surgeon resident of Dewhurst in La Trobe, I have the following recommendations—I have said this personally to the minister before. We must have independent vets on boats so at each time there is a thorough and proper investigation and call out immediately those who are doing the wrong thing. We must stop long-haul live exports between May and October, from Australia's winter into the Middle Eastern summer. In Kuwait, the biggest market for Australia's sheep, the average temperature in May is 34.3; in June, 34.7; in July, 36; in August, 35.6; and in September, 32.6. This is combined with humidity across these months that ranges between 40 per cent and 60 per cent. Sheep suffer severe heat stress as they travel from cooler months in Australia to these very hot conditions. In addition to the air temperature, the water in the gulf can reach 41 degrees Celsius. The ship's engine and constant lighting create additional heat, while ventilation merely recirculates the hot air. The impact of extreme heat causes the vast majority of deaths in live sheep exports.

I've met sheep producers and the live animal export groups. They need to have in place a future for the farmers—and I absolutely support our farmers—but they do need to be aware that, eventually, this industry will stop, and they need to have transitions in place to make sure our farmers get the full support. I know that farmers in the electorate of La Trobe and farmers right across the country—in particular, those in New South Wales and Queensland—are really struggling. We heard the speech the other day the deputy chair made. We want to support our farmers. I know the farmers care about the sheep. However, we do need to call this industry out because it's causing ongoing suffering for animals. It is simply wrong, and they don't deserve it.

6:11 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Port Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Rarely has an issue so appalled and mobilised my community to action as has the live sheep export trade. It's mobilised people across the political spectrum from the youngest members of my community to the oldest members. Since the shocking and appalling footage of sheep cooking alive and wallowing in their own filth emerged from ships bound for the Middle East a little while ago, more than 2,000 of my constituents have called, emailed, written and dropped into my office to express their disgust, their dismay and their desperate pleas for action from me and from this national parliament. That's on top of the many thousands of constituents who've made the same pleas over recent years.

This government has dodged this argument time and time again. They're simply waiting for it to drop out of the public's mind—out of sight, out of mind—and hopefully, for them, out of the national papers. But in my electorate of Port Adelaide it hasn't left the public's mind—nor will it. The docks of Port Adelaide are a stone's throw from my electorate office, and every time a live sheep export ship is in port, the anger, the sadness and the disgust that this government is sitting idly by is palpable. Locals and people from across Adelaide gather at the wharves and their faces are full of horror at what they're witnessing and anger at the continuation of this undeniable cruelty.

The government have tried to say that they're acting in accordance with the science. Well, they're not. They've dodged the science and they've dodged responsibility. The Australian Veterinary Association and the RSPCA have said that, no matter what regulations are put in place and no matter the penalties for breaching those regulations, this voyage is simply untenable. It's unsafe. No animal should endure the long voyage to the northern summer from Australia ever again. The summer trade must be halted immediately.

Australian produce is lauded the world over for its quality, and part of that quality is borne of the care and the attention that Australian farmers give to their livestock. It's the Australian law and the Australian government that are currently failing the standards expected of and by all Australians. For too long this debate has been framed as animals or farmers. That's not the question. It's not a question of saving one with the betrayal of another. Farmers raise their animals with care and attention to their wellbeing and their quality.

At the moment, farmers across the nation are battling a devastating drought. They're facing the prospect of watching their livestock suffer thirst and hunger, unable to help them. We've seen so many distressing stories of farmers choosing to kill their livestock rather than watch them continue to suffer. This difficult decision, this tragic decision, clearly shows that the live export trade is not in line with the values of either our farming community or our broader community. The hard work and the effort put into each and every Australian-raised sheep is destroyed as they're packed onto ships with barely room to stand and spend weeks in sweltering temperatures, slowly dying of thirst and heat. It's the antitheses of the farming trade, not the tools of it.

I commend the member for Farrer for having the courage to stand up and cease waiting for the government to act on this issue. It's notable, obviously, that she comes from a regional electorate with a long background in this area, representing many farmers from across her big constituency. Clearly, this is not just a matter of inner-city people out of touch with the realities of farming. It's a matter, instead, of corporate interests out of touch with the values of the broader Australian community, whether they're from metropolitan or regional areas. Australians expect better. The evidence in this matter is clear: the northern summer trade must be stopped. It can't be done safely, it can't be done humanely and it shouldn't be done at all.

6:15 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In contributing to the debate on the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018, I will begin by saying this issue has generated a great deal of interest within my electorate, with a significant volume of correspondence received over the past few months. Like all Australians, I was appalled at the evidence of the mistreatment of sheep and the high mortality rate aboard a shipment to the Middle East. My approach and response has been to ascertain the facts in as objective a manner as possible before making a considered and informed decision regarding an important agricultural industry which is vital to the economy of Western Australia.

At the time the member for Farrer first proposed this private member's bill, I said publicly, on the record, that the legislation had merit and the industry had a narrow window of opportunity to self-regulate to ensure that instances of cruelty did not recur, because the consequences of a repeat occurrence would be a groundswell of public support for parliament to legislate to phase out the industry. Since then, the McCarthy review has taken place and has resulted in a series of recommendations to protect animal welfare, based on the principles of veterinary science, and reduce stocking densities. I held meetings with the stakeholders from the Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association in my Canberra office, as well as with representatives from Emanuel Exports, to better inform myself of the details and facts surrounding the issue. I accepted an invitation to go on board a live export vessel, the Al Shuwaikh, which was moored in the port of Fremantle, in order to view firsthand the condition of a typical livestock export vessel. On the day I visited, the vessel was being loaded with sheep from semitrailers. I viewed the lower decks and observed the stocking densities and conditions. I must admit that, although it was not the most pleasant of experiences, I found the conditions and animal welfare standards to be not dissimilar to a typical agricultural feedlot setting.

In 2017, of the 1.7 million live sheep exported by sea, 99.29 per cent were delivered in good health into suitable facilities approved under the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme. We need a sustainable live export trade which has good animal welfare outcomes. The trade provides for an estimated 10,000 rural Australian jobs and was worth over $1.4 billion in 2016-17. The report of the McCarthy review into the Middle Eastern summer sheep trade was released on 17 May, along with the department's response. All of the 23 recommendations were accepted, subject to further testing and consultation on the heat stress risk assessment recommendations. In response to other McCarthy recommendations, the regulator has reduced the allowable stocking densities, which means sheep are getting up to 39 per cent more space, with stocking densities reduced by up to 28 per cent; established mandatory investigations of any voyage on which more than one per cent of sheep perish; ensured that all vessels carrying sheep to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer are equipped with automated watering systems; and placed on all voyages independent observers who are to report back to the regulator.

The government's Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018, currently before the House of Representatives, contains proposed amendments to increase criminal penalties, introduce offences for directors of companies, and introduce new regulatory options. Under the current legislation, penalties for wrongdoing in live export are five to eight years imprisonment and/or fines ranging up to $100,800 for individuals. For a company, the maximum fine is $315,000.

For the reasons which I have just outlined, I am supporting the government's legislative position in the first instance. As legislators, we have a duty to make balanced and informed decisions. In this case it involves balancing animal welfare with the livelihoods of farmers in the agricultural industry, ensuring that the rural economy can operate whilst maintaining acceptable animal welfare standards. We must not make irrational decisions that will cause significant financial hardship and economic loss for rural communities, as was the case during the live cattle export bans in 2011, but, at the same time, we must be firm in upholding animal welfare standards that prevent cruelty.

6:20 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since the media again highlighted the awful conditions under which Australian sheep are exported from this country, my office has been inundated with inquiries and concerns. Months after these horrific stories aired, constituents that I represent still regularly contact my office by email, letter and phone to express their horror at what they saw and subsequently what they have learnt about the live export trade. What seems clear to them and to me is that the current licence holders have not been able to transport sheep humanely, especially during the hot northern summer. Advice provided to the government by the RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association clearly shows that the transport of live sheep is not in the best interests of the animals.

Since my election, there have been very few issues that have elicited more responses to my office. Not only has this issue seen the most responses but, most surprising of all, it has been almost all one-way traffic. An overwhelmingly majority of the responses are that the live sheep trade should stop. This is surprising. As other members would be well aware, with any other issue that your constituents might comment on, there are normally responses from all sides of the argument. This has definitely not been the case with the live sheep trade. Furthermore, many constituents have emailed me on multiple occasions to express their concerns.

There are times where, despite opposition, we must lead the debate in our communities, but there are also times when we grow with the overwhelming view of our constituents. It is clear to me and clear to my community that the trade should stop. I recognise, though, that any ceasing of the trade must be done carefully and in a planned way. The last thing our farmers need are further pressures on their farms and businesses. I note that the worsening drought is causing so many problems and distress. With all of New South Wales drought declared, any changes should be done with the consultation of farmers and exporters, with a plan to introduce markets that value-add to our sheep and red meat export products.

A Shorten government announced it would, at the first opportunity, put an end to the northern summer live sheep trade and would phase out the balance of the trade in a period of no longer than five years. The science is clear—the live summer trade and animal welfare standards are not reconcilable. A five-year transition period would allow the government to work with farmers, the unions and the industry on a plan to do more value-adding here in Australia. More processing here is good for our farmers, good for animal welfare standards, and good for the Australian economy with jobs for Australian workers. Labor is also trying to achieve the phase-out plan quicker, with its amendments to the government's penalties bills currently before the parliament. That is why it is important that this bill be brought forward for a vote. It is time that we provided certainty for our farmers but, more importantly, for the human dealing of livestock. I acknowledge the member for Farrer for moving this bill and I acknowledge all speakers, and particularly those concerned members of my electorate who have taken the time to contact me.

6:24 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Right at the outset of this debate, we need to make sure that everybody is well aware that this is not about the lamb trade. This is not about the lamb that we eat here in Australia; this is about the wool flock—the sheep that have been growing wool for six years or seven years and are then being offloaded at the end of their lives as wool-producing sheep. They are classified as mutton. Australians don't eat mutton, or they eat very little of it. Therefore, to take away this live export business, this live export opportunity, is really a dagger in the heart of farmers who are currently doing it very tough under the drought that we are experiencing. The people who are in support of this ban on live sheep being traded would have you believe that the industry is in serious decline, but that's not necessarily the case. One of Australia's major competitors, Romania, has increased its live exports by 36 per cent each year—year upon year—from 2010 right through to 2016, with over 2.5 million sheep from Romania exported in 2016.

Live sheep will remain vital for food security and religious reasons, with more than one million sheep imported into the Middle East for the annual Festival of Sacrifice alone. Qatar and Kuwait are our two largest markets, but Turkey has also emerged as the third major market in the last 12 months. Trade to Israel, Jordan, UAE and Oman remains important, while there are prospects of exports to Saudi Arabia and other markets such as Iran which are going to see this market diversify further.

Those who say that a ban on live sheep will in no way impact on the export of cattle are also very incorrect. More than half a million cattle have been exported from Australia to Israel alone in the last 10 years. In the 12 months to the end of April 2018, more than 100,000 cattle were exported via the Red Sea, predominantly to Israel and Turkey. Cattle exported to the Middle East are typically shipped with sheep. So a long-haul sheep ban is going to have a decimating effect on the opportunity for us to export cattle, as it will seriously impact the commerciality of our ability to do that.

In 2017, of the 1.7 million live sheep that were exported by sea, 99.29 per cent were delivered in good health. They were delivered into suitable facilities approved under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme. The trade in live sheep and the export markets in the Middle East are still open, and they must remain so under this government. We need a sustainable live export trade which has good animal welfare outcomes. This trade provides for 100,000 rural Australian jobs and is worth well over $1.4 billion. A ban or a phase-out of this entire industry would unfairly punish those exporters and farmers who have done no wrong. The calls to ban live exports disregard the value of this trade to our farmers and others in rural and regional Australia, especially in this time of worsening drought.

It would be a kneejerk reaction along similar lines to what the Labor Party did when they were previously exposed to issues in relation to cattle going to Indonesia. They made an immediate decision to ban the live export of cattle into Indonesia, and then, within a few months, realised they had made a mistake. Within six months they reversed their decision and then they were wondering why Indonesia was no longer interested in Australia's cattle. Farmers have never been able to recover from that knee jerk reaction that the Labor Party made when they saw the television images of those cattle being killed in an incorrect manner. Yes, they should have acted. But they overreacted with a ban in exactly the same way that they are now wanting to fix this issue with a ban.

Minister Littleproud has brought in place a whole range of regulatory changes. He has reduced the allowable stock densities and made that a serious issue, and he has increased penalties for poor husbandry on the way over to the Middle East. We need to stick by Minister Littleproud as he attempts to fix this industry.

6:29 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very proud to be joining with other colleagues in this place to support this private member's bill, the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018. As I've said in this place many times, for too long we've been witnessing the mistreatment of our animals through the live export trade. It's not just and it's not necessary, and it should never be acceptable. In a nation like Australia, where we're proud of the treatment of our animals, to see the images that we've seen on our TVs—in all sorts of documentaries and in current affairs—and in newspaper reports is unacceptable. The cruelty to these animals should not be happening.

Opposing live exports has not always been the popular thing in this place. Nevertheless, like other members here, I've stuck by my values. I've spoken many times on the issues for many, many years. I've advocated for a ban for over a decade on this particular topic. I've attended rallies and made many speeches in this place—and private members' bills and private members' motions. This atrocity has always had the potential, though, to become a success story for our animals and our Australian workers. I have to say, when we talk about decimating industries, at the Gepps Cross meatworks throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s there were nearly 2,000 workers working within an industry just on the outskirts of Adelaide—let alone all around Australia. We decimated that industry and put people out of work by exporting live animals.

As a representative of a community, I've led this fight for a change for many years. Labor is committed to seeing a transition out of the trade and ending the live sheep exports. We've listened to the Australian public and to calls from concerned Australians and live exporters. Even farmers have called my office and spoken with me and told me that they do not want to see the inhumane treatment of their animals. As I said, I'm proud to have opposed live animal exports and have been part of this movement for well over a decade. I'll continue to do so and I'll continue to advocate for this important change to happen as quickly as possible—ending the atrocities and cruelty to these poor animals.

We all saw the footage on TV of those sheep trampled, dying of thirst and dying of diseases. It is just not right. It's clear that the northern summer sheep trade and animal welfare expectations cannot be reconciled. No matter what the standards or stocking densities, sheep will continue to suffer in that searing heat. We didn't need a review to tell us this. All you have to do is look at that footage on TV and it tells you right there and then, and we seen plenty of that sort of footage. No doubt, if we don't stop this cruel trade, we'll see more images on our TVs.

We know there are large parts of the industry that support the transition away. Labor will stop the summer trade at the first opportunity. We have to be able to phase out the balance of the trade over time and impose the high standards recommended during the transition period. When we look at nations across the world, we see, for example, that New Zealand has been able to phase out its live export, and New Zealand exports far more meat around the world than we do. It manages to have a market, and it does so in a humane way. It does so in a way that treats animals properly, and in a way that doesn't lower its standards by being inhumane to animals. It does so in a way which value-adds to the industry, which we could do here as well. It value-adds to its workforce—creating jobs and creating other industries and businesses here onshore. It ensures that it has control over the meat that does leave the country, and it's doing quite well out of it. New Zealand is doing quite well out of it. And in the last couple of months we saw other nations in South America planning to go exactly that same way.

We had a great industry. As I said, in South Australia, in Gepps Cross, many, many people worked in the abattoirs. That's all decimated not just in South Australia but across the country, costing thousands of jobs. We could re-create that. We could do that again, and we could do it in a way that ensures that we stop the trade, stop the cruelty, stop the inhumane practice, and we create jobs here for people who are looking for work—workers who will work in these places—and create an industry right here onshore. This is an industry that we could absolutely value-add to.

Opposing live exports, as I said, has not always been a popular choice but, nevertheless, many members, like the member for Farrer and others on my side, have stuck with our values and the decision that it is cruel and inhumane.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 18:35