Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Resolutions of the Senate
Live Animal Exports; Consideration of Senate Message
The following message from the Senate has been received:
The Senate transmits to the House of Representatives the following resolution which was agreed to by the Senate this day:
That the Senate calls on the Federal Government to legislate to phase out long-haul live sheep exports.
The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this resolution.
I move, as an amendment:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"the message be considered immediately".
How come in every other industry we say 'value add'? We say, 'Do everything you can to make the product as valuable as you can in Australia before export,' but not this industry. We say to the live export industry: 'It's fine, send the sheep over there. We don't care.' The 60 Minutes report left Australians aghast and disgusted, and initially the minister for agriculture was horrified, but now we have moved away. We have had eight months and people in this place think that this matter has gone away. Let me tell you, for my community this matter has not gone away. For the Australian community this matter has not gone away.
We have the opportunity here to be on the front foot, to follow the lead of New Zealand—albeit 20 years behind New Zealand—to value add and to process here and, over five years, to phase out live sheep export. We know that this is a declining industry. We know that this is an industry that the rest of the world is moving away from. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are holding on to this.
We should be processing all of our animals here onshore in Australia. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow jobs in regional Australia. My electorate has one large abattoir, being Thomas Foods International at Lobethal. They run two shifts. I have talked to Thomas foods about this. They would, obviously, like to grow their business and run a third shift.
At Murray Bridge, just outside of my electorate, Thomas foods has another abattoir. We have a disused abattoir at Normanville. Just $6 million is all that's needed to get that abattoir up and running. These are the best jobs in regional Australia, from the perspective of permanency and a good wage. We should be encouraging the production of our long-haul sheep in Australia. We should not be sending these animals, who have no say, out on to those huge, hulking vessels. We know that the mortality rates with these long-haul trips are very high. We can't control that. We know that there has been a culture within the department of fear and of not sharing information and, quite frankly, I don't think that we can trust this industry to manage itself. We need to transition away from this industry and actually look at this as an opportunity for our industry, for sheep, for farmers and for people living in regional Australia to have good quality jobs. Thank you.
I second the amendment and I will take this opportunity to say a few words. It is very important that we debate this matter this morning and as a matter of urgency, because the fact is that a great many members of the community are expecting this parliament to finally act on the cruelty in the live animal export trade and in particular the terrible cruelty being suffered by sheep in the long-haul sheep trade to the Middle East. It is an undeniable fact that the live animal export trade is systemically cruel. How many more exposes do we need to see before this place understands it is systemically cruel and shuts it down? It is also an undeniable fact that the only way to end the cruelty is to put an end to the trade. Who can forget those shocking images from the Awassi Expresssome time ago? It was a voyage on which tens of thousands of sheep suffered horrid conditions: the filth, the heat, the overcrowding and those images of lambs that were born on the vessel—when it is not even allowed for there to be pregnant sheep on such a vessel—just suffocating or drowning in the faeces and the filth, and the sheep panting. It was a voyage on which thousands of sheep died. And don't believe the nonsense from some in the industry that that was an exceptional episode—that that is not the normal situation on those sheep ships on the long haul to the Middle East—because all of the evidence is that that was a typical voyage. It was an insight into the way the industry has worked, is working now and will work into the future.
Of course, the Awassi Express was just the latest revelation. What about the images we saw of Australian sheep being buried alive in Pakistan? And it is not just sheep. What about the images that came out of the slaughterhouses in Indonesia several years ago? What about the reports of cruelty to Australian livestock in Vietnam, in Malaysia and in any number of countries throughout the Middle East, including countries that you would think would know better—countries like Israel and Turkey? The fact is that the evidence is in. It's been in for ages. It is a systemically cruel trade, and the only way to end the cruelty is to end the trade, starting with getting rid of the long-haul export of live sheep to the Middle East.
And do you know what? That will be in this country's best interests, in at least three obvious ways. For a start—
If the member for Denison could resume his seat for a second—and this is to be helpful to the House—I need to remind members that the question before the House is whether we consider the matter immediately; it is not the substantive question. Just to remind members, and for those who have just come in, the Leader of the House moved that the message be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member for Mayo has moved an amendment to the effect that all those words be removed and the matter be considered immediately. So, until that is dealt with, there can be no consideration, either later or today, of the matter of substance. I just want to remind members of that. The member for Denison.
Thank you, Speaker. The reason I'm going into such detail during this debate is to impress upon the House how dire the situation is and how urgent the need is to act on this. We can't wait until sometime early next year in the hope that it will be debated then. There are ships afloat as we speak. There are vessels around this country, right now, being readied for the next voyage. It would be a shockingly irresponsible act for this House to put off this matter until next year, in the full knowledge that putting it off will result directly in cruelty continuing and more Australian cattle and sheep dying.
That's why we really must deal with this today. The community expects us to deal with it today. Surely all the members in this House—certainly we are on the crossbench—are being inundated with written letters, phone calls, emails and petitions. The country is demanding urgent action. The country is demanding that we deal with this today—not in February or March or sometime. That's too late. Too much cruelty will occur between now and then. Too many animals will suffer shocking experiences and death between now and then. That's why we must deal with this today. And it's not just the cruelty; there's also the impact on this country in so many other ways between now and next year—the fact that this trade costs thousands of Australian jobs, the fact that this trade greatly diminishes this country's reputation as an ethical food producer and the fact that this country has lost faith in governance and our democratic institutions and is losing faith, or has lost faith, in this place and us and what we do. We're just going to throw fuel on the fire. We're going to provide further proof to the community that we're letting them down if we put this off.
We can't put it off. We must deal with it immediately. If the government are sure of their position and their numbers, they should be happy to have the debate, to have the battle of ideas, for the government to stand up here today and try to defend this vile trade. And, sure enough, a lot of us will stand here and put the government in their place and remind the government today of those shocking scenes of cruelty on the Awassi Express, remind the government today of those Australian sheep that were buried alive in Pakistan—and probably no-one's been held to account—and remind the government of the scenes we've seen of Australian sheep being shoved into boots in illegal marketplaces in any number of countries. How on earth the government could think it would be appropriate to not deal with this today beggars belief; it absolutely beggars belief. The government cannot put this off today and argue that the Moss review has solved the problem, that there's no need to debate this today—because that wonderful Moss review has addressed the issue!
But of course the Moss review was a whitewash. It is no reason for us to put this debate off today. All the Moss review did was make some interesting observations, make some recommendations about some safeguards, some tougher penalties. But at the end of the day the Moss review came down fairly and squarely in support of the trade and in support of the trade continuing. So it is no defence for the government today to say that we do not need to debate this motion from the Senate today, because the matter has been dealt with. That would be grossly misleading by the government. So I make the point in the strongest possible terms: we have a moral responsibility—and I would say a professional responsibility—to represent the Australian community and to debate this today, because the Australian community hates the live animal export trade. It hates it with a passion, is sick of all the exposes on the TV, is sick of the inaction and the half-measures, is sick of the whitewashes, is sick of the excuses, is sick of the myths and the lies that surround this and of claims that the Middle East won't buy frozen or chilled meat, when they're already buying three times the value of live exports from Australia in sheepmeat.
We have to address this today. This parliament has to start representing the community. This parliament has to stand up for animal welfare. This parliament has to take positive steps to stop the cruelty by shutting down the trade. So, in the strongest possible terms, I urge the government: step back from your intention to put this off to next year, and understand that the public interest will be served by debating this motion from the Senate today. If you're confident of your position, then stand up at the despatch box and make your case, and we'll stand up here and we'll respond to it. And let's have a battle of ideas, because you've lost the argument. The community hates it with a passion, hates that we would continue this cruelty to prop up several thousand workers, a couple of hundred farmers and a few dodgy exporters. Why don't we start thinking about the 25 million Australians in this country and not the few thousand in the live animal export trade? Why don't we start representing them? Why don't we do that? Then, come the next election, maybe people won't be so cynical about politicians. You might even improve your stocks. I say to the minister: if you're wondering why your stocks are at rock bottom, why you're bumbling along at 45 per cent, it is because you don't represent the community. This is another example. But you will be representing the community, if only by allowing this motion from the Senate to be debated and letting the people's voices be heard through the members of the crossbench and the other sensible people who oppose the live trade. (Time expired)
With the member for Denison, we got to the point right at the end where he said, 'For these few thousand in the export trade, why do we worry about them?' We worry about them because it is their livelihood. They are actually the ones who are going to become poorer if this motion goes forward and if this motion succeeds. There seems to be little regard for the people in Western Australia or in the western districts of New South Wales who have underpinned their price of sheep, on a substantial basis, on the live export trade.
The member for Denison also mentioned myths and lies. Let's deal with a few of those myths and lies. The last ship had 0.16 mortality; I think it was about 50. That means that well in excess of 99.8 per cent walked off the ship. That's the truth. The truth is that it is a successful trade. Let's also go to the Awassi Express. We've been doing some digging around here. Who did take that footage on the Awassi Express? Who was the person who took that footage? Where was that person? The information I have is that it was the person who was actually responsible for looking after the sheep. That is the person who took the footage. He is now residing in Pakistan, after receiving about $200,000. The person who was responsible for looking after them is the one who has made the profit from that going out. If that person had been doing their job, we wouldn't have the footage. These are the sorts of issues, myths and lies that you are dealing with.
This is how this nefarious process of the activist industry works. Are we going to reward that even further? Why was it that, on that ship, they said, 'In the other areas, we didn't have this problem'? I listened with respect to the member for Denison; that's exactly how the debate works around here. They yell and scream, and they don't listen with respect.
Mr Wilkie interjecting—
There it is, right there in front of you. That's who they are. Why was it that on other levels of that ship we didn't have the same problems? These are the questions that people are asking. Why was it? Where was the person who was responsible for looking after them? Well, he was the person who took the footage. He has now sold the footage, he has been paid and he is living happily in Pakistan. I think he has got in excess of $200,000 for it. Is this what we are going to premise this motion on? How about we dispense with the myths and lies and deal with the truth? When are we going to stop rewarding a person for their malfeasance by saying, 'Not only is he going to get $200,000 but we are going to shut the whole trade down'?
I will also go to the point in the member for Denison's speech where he said: 'Australians hate the trade. All of us hate the trade.' We know that is completely incorrect. I can tell you that, for one, I don't. People in North Queensland don't, people in Western Australian don't and people in the South West of Western Australia, who rely on this to get a better return back through the farm gate, don't. I know the green-shirt brigade, who are out there trying to make sure that we maintain agricultural industries, don't. I know that we have been fighting for them, just like when they closed down the live cattle trade. People went broke and people committed suicide because the value of their place was absolutely destroyed by the reckless actions of those who did not live on their farms, who did not work in their industries and who did not have the to deal with the consequences of the actions of this chamber.
We are not going to let that happen again. We are going to stand up for these people and make sure that we respect their rights. The member for Denison doesn't believe in the live sheep trade. The member for Denison—
Mr Wilkie interjecting—
There he is. The member for Denison doesn't believe in the live cattle trade. I can tell you where it is going, because I have heard it from the member of Bendigo. This will go into the transport trade and into the movement of cattle and the movement of sheep. It will then go back to the farm and further impose the caveats of the government on how people run their farms. This, of course, is the movement of the government into the private commerce of rural industry. We must stand up on behalf of the people of rural industry, because we know the member for Denison won't and we know the Greens won't.
I will deal with this matter. I did raise this with the member for Denison. I did that gently in the interests of the debate. The member for Denison did then say why he thought the matter was urgent, but I don't think that the member for Denison in all good conscience can now look back at his speech and say that it did not cover precisely the same sorts of issues that the member for New England is covering. If members want me to strictly enforce all of these sorts of things, I'll essentially censor the debate, but I think that the member for Mayo and the member for Denison spoke very broadly. That was their choice. That means we are now debating the question very broadly, and the member for New England may proceed.
The reason that this should not have urgency is that, with the evidence I have just given to the House then, you don't have all the facts. Something as important as the question asked with the Awassi Express, which was the inflammatory proposition that was put forward to drive this agenda, as the activist industry always do—remembering that they don't believe in closing the live sheep trade; they believe in closing the live cattle trade and they believe in following up—
I say to the member for Hunter: it was the member for Denison himself, the seconder of this amendment motion, who, prior to my speaking, said that it would also involve the live cattle trade, yet the member for Hunter is going to support the member for Denison and thereby, in so doing, concur with his views that the live cattle trade should be shut down. That is exactly where they are going.
The Australian people have been down this path before. I remember that, when I was the shadow minister for water, I was the first minister out on the doorstep, after they closed down the live cattle trade, saying, 'This is absolutely the wrong thing to do and is going to cause massive problems, especially with our relationship with Indonesia, as we are the supplier of protein to the city of Jakarta.' And it was. Now everybody looks back and says, 'That was a terrible idea,' yet the member for Denison has said, 'It's about the live cattle as well.' He is not refuting it, and the member for Hunter is now going to concur with his views and support it, thereby, in so doing, supporting the closure of the live cattle trade. They are back at it again. It didn't take them long. They're back in that place again.
I say: get all the evidence; don't give us a script. Do not give us a somehow conjured-up form of selected facts. Find all the facts. Find the person who took that footage on the Awassi Express. I tell you what: the people have come to my office, so you can give me their names. Find it, so you can have a proper discussion about how this issue was constructed—and I say constructed—for the purpose of creating massive damage to the live sheep export industry in such a way as to shut it down, to inflame views and to create myths and lies about the mortality rates on ships and about exactly where that footage came from. It was not done surreptitiously by someone who sneaked onto the ship; it was done by an employee whose job it was to look after the sheep. That was their job. They made more money out of not doing their job than out of doing it and, by so doing, created massive damage and a massive problem for the live sheep industry.
I tell you what: I'm going to be supporting the live sheep industry, because I am sick of being part of a process of making people on the land poorer. That was always what was happening here. Every move was about taking more rights away from people on the land and taking more income from people on the land. We have to stand up for people on the land and make sure a better return goes through the farm gate. We have to make sure that we maintain the profit that they have, the first in a long time—for some of them, basically over the last decade. They have the right to renovate their kitchens. They have the right to go on holidays. People who work on the land have the same right as other people to make money. What the member for Denison and his supporters want to do is make them poorer once again.
There is the issue of time: whether we do it straight away or whether we don't. I think the government should be given a couple more months to do this—and then there is a very strong case that the people behind me are putting up if they haven't moved to do so. This is pretty simple, really. The overseers on the boats—some people call them cowboys, but I don't like to denigrate cowboys so I won't call them that—have no qualifications and have no responsibilities placed upon them. No-one oversights what they are doing or not doing. I have spoken to a number of these 'ship stock overseers' and they say it is fine if you are doing your job properly. That bloke on that boat was not doing his job at all.
The government has been absolutely remiss here. Surely it is not complicated to set up an authorisation process so that, if you want to be a ship stock overseer, you would do a course and be subject to continuous scrutiny. Frankly, I can't see why cameras can't be put on these boats permanently. I think every Australian would agree that we don't like seeing cruelty to animals—though it is rather fascinating that in Queensland, where I come from, we are not worried about people being torn to pieces by crocodiles every six months. We are not worried about little children being murdered before they are born. We are not worried about farmworkers and suppliers and contractors to the industry who commit suicide at the rate of one a week. We are not worried about people. The lily pad leftie club, the perpetually shocked and horrified brigade, are shocked and horrified over the killing of whales but it doesn't matter how many people get killed or torn to pieces. Being killed by a crocodile is the most cruel death you can have. They are not worried about that.
Let's have a look at the live sheep trade. We have the model because you people were successful with the live cattle trade. I'll tell you what you achieved. You halved the price of cattle in this country. I would say that half the cattlemen in my electorate would have under 100 head of cattle; they are little fellows, and they probably have a job in the council. They immediately went into a loss situation. I said there was one suicide a fortnight, but it turned out that I was wrong; there was a suicide every week. Did that help the workers in the meatworks? You people say that Australians should be getting jobs. Did it help them? No, because our cattle numbers drop dramatically. In fact, meatworks closed as a result. They couldn't make a quid out of the cattle and they couldn't look after them. In northern Australia, where nearly half our cattle are, they die if you don't supplementary feed them late in the year. There was no money to supplementary feed them late in the year, so they simply died and the numbers fell. So the meat works were at a loss.
Let's talk about the people we sell to, the Indonesians. About 20 million people go to bed hungry every night in Indonesia. You say they can't afford to buy beef. Tiny little bits of beef provide a balanced diet with their rice, as does fish. Now, you cut off their food supply—an essential food supply. There is no way that they could afford to buy Australian product processed through our meatworks, with the enormous burdens placed upon our meatworks to meet all of the requirements with respect to health, hygiene and pay and conditions for our workers, but I particularly emphasise pay and conditions. The people in the Liberal Party always say, 'The problem is that wages are too high.' I have always believed that the great thing about my country is that we have the highest wages in the world. My objective is that our workers will be the highest paid workers in the world. But is it helping them? No, it isn't, because the meatworks are closing. We had nine meatworks in North Queensland; now we have one. I'm not saying all of that was attributable to this situation.
You must judge a decision by its outcomes. We know the outcomes that are going to occur. We saw what happened in the cattle industry. The prices dropped clean in half. These poor people! And don't think about the farmers. If I pick the midwestern gulf towns, there are only about 300 farmers and there are about a thousand workers supporting the industry. They are mailmen. They are shearers. They are musterers. They are helicopter flyers and technicians. So you have 300 people there. What happened with the other 2,000 people was that we went to a suicide every fortnight in the cattle industry as a result of the live cattle decision.
So you want to go and cry about animals, but the lily-pad Left never cry about people. They seem to have no concern about people whatsoever. That's the score in Queensland. That's the score for everybody to see in Queensland. Here is the lily-pad Left government—or here is their concern for human beings. It doesn't matter how many of them get torn to pieces every six months by a crocodile or how many of them commit suicide, which is going on and on and on, or how many are murdered before they're born. There's absolutely no caring about any of these things. The diabetes issue hasn't been raised by one of the lily-pad Left in this place ever. They say of our First Australians, 'Oh, we want recognition for them.' Well, get in quick because there'll be none of us left by the time we get to recognition in the Constitution. There'll be none of us left alive at the present rate. And I'll quote the figures yet again. Out of our 67,000 people, 150 die from diabetes and closely related diseases. There are probably about 300 dying from malnutrition really, but I'll just say 150 because those numbers are what I can prove. No-one here has raised the issue—not ever—yet you'll cry and howl about sheep.
I'll conclude on this note: the government knew about the situation of live cattle for four years. The minister, the department and Meat and Livestock Australia knew for four years, and they did absolutely nothing about it. Quite frankly, there is nothing in process and, with all due respect to the minister, there's nothing in process that I see that is going to change this. I listen to my colleagues here, and they have a point to make, and it's a point I agree with: we don't want to see animal cruelty. I desperately don't want to go to the other extreme and see cruelty to human beings, which, there is no doubt, they are imposing. You've got a choice of whether you want cruelty to animals or cruelty to human beings.
Well, there's a third choice: you can have cruelty to neither. It is simple: like you get a licence to drive a car, so the ship stock overseer has a licence. He is trained and he has a licence, and he makes a good income, as they do, from this job. If he does not do his job, he loses his licence; he can no longer drive the car—or, in this case, drive the ship. This is not rocket science. In the case of the live cattle industry, the government's performance was absolutely appalling. After two months, they had not sent one single knocking gun, knocking box or video screen, nor had they made any effort to authorise the proper killing of the animals in Indonesia. (Time expired)
I also rise to speak on the motion on live sheep exports. The MP for New England is quite correct when he says to dispense with the myths and the lies. What we hear from the member for Denison is a whole lot of emotive speech, a whole lot of myths and a whole lot of mistruths in many ways. The first thing he says is that we are not representing 25 million people. The member for Denison in no way represents 25 million people, although he makes out that he knows what 25 million people think. The member for Denison is probably lucky to have 70,000 voters in his electorate. He might represent 100,000 voters. There are 150 MPs in this place, Member for Denison. I heard the member for Mayo raise this. I couldn't help but come in here from my office and speak on this motion, given the mistruths that the member for Denison has just raised.
In 2011, I was holidaying with my family around Australia. I took six months off to spend time with my kids. When I was in Western Australia, one of the things that struck me was that the Labor government had just shut down the cattle industry. It was one of the things that prompted me to run for parliament, because when I was in Western Australia I saw the pain and the hurt that was being inflicted on Western Australian farmers at that time. They were crying out to get income in through their gates. They were asking people like me, who were travelling with their family in a small caravan, to stay on their property, because they had no income because the Labor government had shut down the industry overnight on a whim.
The member for New England is also right when he says to the opposition shadow minister that the goal of the member for Denison is to shut down the cattle industry as well. He wants all live exports shut down. That's what he said. That's what he said a few moments ago. I've visited the live cattle ships in Darwin. I've been up there and had a look at the holding yards. I did a speech in this parliament a few years ago about it, despite the fact that, outside of fishing, I don't have farming in my own electorate. People are interested in this topic and they want to hear the truth. They don't want to hear the emotion from the member for Denison and others. They look forward to hearing the truth, and we'll hear that from the minister, the member for Maranoa, shortly. I look forward to listening to him.
The fact is that the Australian government has acted. It has been acting. We are one of the only countries in the world that sets high standards when it comes to exporting animals. We have the ASEL transport system and then ESCAS at the other end, where our customers take possession of the sheep or the cattle. Certain standards have to be maintained once that product is sold. No other country does that. We have Independents, like the member for Denison, saying, 'Well, get out of it altogether.' The demand will still be there for animals if we get out of it altogether. What will that mean? It will mean that the industry overall will go down further. So you will see a decline in the welfare of animals if Australia exits the market. That's what you will see. Are the member for Denison and others saying, 'We're only concerned about Australian animals,' or is he concerned about other animals overseas? I love animals. I have a pet Doberman and guinea pigs. I have even got a reptile licence. I've got a pet turtle as well. I love animals and I like to see them treated well. If you are concerned about animals, like I am, then Australia being in this industry with our high standards is important. It's very important.
We want to be really careful in this space. When we were debating the Modern Slavery Bill the other day, which I supported—and I'm sure the Independents on the cross bench supported it—I heard the story of a fisherman who had been enslaved on a fishing boat in our region, in Asia. Do you know how long he had been enslaved on a fishing boat? Seventeen years. Those opposite are quick to want to shut down the Australian commercial fishing industry as well, but I say that we want to be careful because when you exit an industry, it goes to other countries that don't have the same high standards that we have. Our Australian commercial fishing men and women have standards, get paid award wages and are not enslaved on fishing boats for 17 years. If we get out of this live animal export industry, we will see other countries take it up and the high standards fall. So we want to be really careful.
I've said to the people in my electorate and to the minister that I intend to go and look at live sheep exports from Western Australia to see how the ships are operating, how the sheep are being handled and what is in place, because I very much care about animal welfare. All 25 million Australians need to know that the Australian government has acted. We have high standards. The fact is that a lot is being done. If we get out of this area, not only will the market share be taken up by other countries that don't have the high standards that we have but we will also see an impact on a few thousand farmers. The member for Denison quickly flicked that away and said: 'Don't worry about them. There are a few thousand farmers and a few exporters. Stuff them. Don't worry about that'—I withdraw that; the language wasn't appropriate. That's what the member for Denison said—'Forget about their jobs. They're not important.' Every Australian job is important, Member for Denison. Our government wants to see jobs continue to grow.
As the member for Kennedy said a few minutes ago, we can't compete in the chilled boxed market. Our abattoirs are much more expensive—and rightly so—because we have high award wages. So we'd be exiting that market and we'd lose market share at a time when our farmers are already struggling under drought conditions. What is much more important is that Australia remains in this industry and that the high standard the minister for agriculture has put in place is policed. That would be the way to go.
There is a reason we are having this debate today—the member for New England, who was sitting just over there and is about to return to his seat. The sad part is that, when the member for New England took a wrecking ball to this sector by giving it a free leave pass—encouraging it to not only ignore the rules but show contempt for the rules—he did so with the full support and authority of Prime Minister Abbott and later Prime Minister Turnbull. If they hadn't allowed the member for New England to give a free leave pass to the exporters, we might not be having this debate today. That is the truth of it.
We have a new minister, and I give credit to him. When the Awassi Express incident was exposed on the ABC, he acted. He might not have acted to the extent we would have liked, but he acted. The irony is that I suspect that he hasn't acted to the extent we would like and to the extent which the majority of the Australian community would like because the current Prime Minister won't allow it. They have a brake on the minister. He expressed his anger at the Awassi incident and associated events. He told us that he was going to increase penalties and he told us that he was going to put new rules in place, but he's not allowed to move at 100 per cent, because he has a big brake on him, and that brake is the Prime Minister of this nation.
The House should today be allowed to express its will. The Senate has done so by majority. It's expressed the view that the live sheep export trade should be phased out. It's now asking the House of Representatives to concur with it, and the House of Representatives should be given the opportunity to do so. Ministers on the other side and those on the backbench are speaking on behalf of the government—that is the government position. But I remind those opposite that this is a minority government. The people's house should be allowed to have its say, and it should be allowed to have its say this morning, because there is no doubt in my mind—I'm happy to be proven wrong by a vote—that the majority of members in this House are in support of this motion. I think that has been reinforced by the contribution of the crossbench this morning.
The House now has four propositions before it on the live sheep export trade: the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018, sponsored by the members for Farrer and Corangamite; the Live Sheep Long Haul Export Prohibition Bill 2018 (No. 2), sponsored by the member for Mayo and other members of the crossbench; my own amendments to the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018 to increase penalties for breaches of animal welfare standards; and now this Senate resolution. I will just go through a couple of them.
The members for Corangamite and Farrer have made it clear: they oppose the ongoing operation of the live sheep export trade. They made commitments in this place that they would oppose the live sheep export trade in this House. They should be given the opportunity to come good on those commitments, and they should be given that opportunity this morning.
When introducing the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018 to increase penalties for animal welfare standards, the minister said it was the centrepiece of their response to the McCarthy review. It was important and urgent. It had to be done straightaway. We couldn't allow the trade to go on without these increased penalties for individuals in breach of animal welfare standards. But here we are, months on, and the bill is still parked, the minister unprepared to bring the bill to the parliament. Why? Because I proposed an amendment to phase out the live sheep trade. I've given a guarantee that, if my amendments fail, we'll allow the bill passage through the House. So there can only be one conclusion: the minister, or more likely his Prime Minister, knows that, if my amendment goes before the House seeking a simple majority, it will pass this House. That's the only conclusion you can come to. So now we have a proposition which tells us: not only do I believe the majority of this House is in support of the orderly phase-out of the live sheep export trade but also the Prime Minister—through his unwillingness to bring that bill back to the House; that urgent bill, as it was—now believes the majority of people in this House believe this motion should pass. Why is this government—this minority government—spitting in the face of the broader Australian community? Why won't it allow them, through us in this place, to express their will on this issue? It's for the Prime Minister to explain; maybe when he gets to his feet the minister will attempt to explain it.
I was somewhat amused to hear the member for Petrie making his contribution, and I was sitting there asking myself, 'Well, I wonder what his constituents think about his contribution this morning?' And I wonder what his constituents think about this issue—what is the majority view in his electorate? And I ask the same thing of the member for La Trobe, the member for Brisbane, the member for Forde and, indeed, the member for Sturt. I've no doubt that they know that the majority of people in their electorates believe this motion should not only be considered by the parliament this morning but should be voted upon by the parliament this morning.
The Awassi incident occurred in August 2017 and was exposed in a 60 Minutes report in April 2018—six months ago. Yet we are still waiting. The member for Kennedy says we should wait. Well, I think the Australian community has waited long enough. The member for New England completely misses the point—quite deliberately, of course. He's no fool, the member for New England; he's a smart guy. This is not what he really believes. He's blaming the whistleblower: it's all the whistleblower's fault! We need another inquiry. We've had the Moss review and the McCarthy review, the ASEL review is still going, and now we need an inquiry into the whistleblower! What a ridiculous proposition. He's missed the key point. The science is very clear. Yesterday the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, no less, concurred. They imposed upon themselves a moratorium on the northern summer trade.
Mr Rick Wilson interjecting—
I appreciate the intervention from the member for O'Connor—for three months. And why? Because they accept that the standards aren't good enough. They accept that the science is true and that at this point animal welfare standards and the summer live trade are incompatible. They're hoping that within three months—by some miracle, I must say—they might be able to find something that fixes that. I doubt they will. But I give full credit to ALEC for acknowledging that the science says that, with current technology, animal welfare standards and the live sheep trade in the northern summer are incompatible; it just can't be done. That's the live exporters council. And the member for New England stands up and says: 'There's nothing to see. It's only the whistleblower. It was a plant by someone with an economic interest who's now living in the Philippines'—or something like that, he told us—
Pakistan—living the life of Reilly, I'm sure! Well, some people are living on a different planet. The next thing you know, the member for New England will be denying the moon landing—seriously! The science is clear. The majority of the House recognises it. The Senate recognises it. The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council recognise it. The only Neanderthals left are the member for New England and those who are supporting him on this motion—
I rise to point out that this issue—to legislate to phase out long-haul live sheep exports—isn't urgent and shouldn't be debated today. But the substantive issue behind it—of whether a live sheep export trade should continue—is a surrogate for trying to shut down all live exports. The other reason they're trying to bring it on as a matter of urgency is that they realise that by the reform of the governance and the procedures in the live export trade, enforced by the minister after the McCarthy review and the Moss review, they are losing the argument. No-one supported what was shown on TV—not even the industry itself. People who are producing sheep around the country were distressed to see those images. So we're not making excuses for that. But Australia does have a very rigorous set of regulations in place now, and the standards have improved.
People depend on this trade. Some of the arguments that have been put up have been quite fallacious—that we should export just processed, chilled mutton and lamb to the world. But there is a market, particularly in the Middle East and in Indonesia, and in other countries around the world, where the people who import chilled meats also want the live product. There is a demand for that, and we would be blowing up our export market for chilled processed lamb and mutton if we didn't supply those same people who demand live sheep. That means places like Indonesia, as well as Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and many other places in the Middle East that rely on Australian lamb and mutton. It wouldn't happen. And what has happened during the period in which we haven't been exporting, while the processes and standards have been corrected and improved? They have been buying from elsewhere. So it's not going to get rid of the trade. As the member for Petrie pointed out, we have the best standards in the world. No other exporter of live animals enforces an ESCAS procedure on the receiving end, but Australia does. We have improved the standards and the governance. That was the issue. The trade itself is a defensible thing. How can we say that what people want in Indonesia and the Middle East, which can't produce animals for protein and for their nutrition, is not allowed?
We also have a duty to our producers. We saw what happened with the live cattle trade. Summarily blocking the live cattle trade meant cattle prices across the whole nation plummeted, including for people in my electorate who produce cattle. I even saw it in my small enterprise producing cattle for export. The prices plummeted because all the product that was going out in live trade all of a sudden washed into the onshore trade, and that depressed prices. Those people have debts and need an income. Would the member for Denison be advocating this if half the people who worked in his electorate all of a sudden couldn't pay their mortgages because regulatory change here in Canberra meant their businesses collapsed? No. They'd be marching in the streets. But that will be the effect.
We need to respect the right of primary producers to produce good product and export it to markets around the world, and there is a portion of that that demands live export. We have put the governance and standards in place. What was shown on the ABC wasn't defensible or acceptable, but things have changed. As the minister, the member for Maranoa, has pointed out, we have accepted all of the recommendations and we are enforcing them. Just yesterday the Livestock Exporters' Council put on a voluntary moratorium during the hot months. The demand can cope without supply for the three months. After that, the standards we have set will mean that there won't be animal cruelty. A self-imposed limit of one per cent mortality on the export trade is seen as a reasonable standard. I'm informed that the last shipment—which just recommenced—had a 0.24 per cent mortality. I put it to many of the members here that some of the sheep walking around the paddock wouldn't have that mortality rate. Over hot summer periods, with water issues and feed in the drought, out in the paddock you would have a greater mortality than that, particularly given that on a boat they would be supervised by a vet and fed and watered.
As we all understand, this is a surrogate for a broader shutdown of the live animal trade. We all support good standards. This will empower members in this parliament who want to shut down the boat trade. They'll see this as a win. This is not urgent, because the changes in the governance and the processes in the live export trade have been improved as a result of the two inquiries—the governance, the supervision, the monitoring, the vets on board, making sure they are well nourished, and lowering the stocking densities so you don't have the heat stress and humidity stress problem. The self-imposed moratorium over the hot, humid periods addresses that even further. So I don't support this amendment. It is not urgent.
We need to look after Australian producers, whose livelihoods, families and businesses all depend on it, whether they are just around Canberra, in Yass, or out at Hay, or over in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania or Queensland. It is all part of the one trade. If we do what the members who propose this amendment motion are asking for, we will collapse the market and we will collapse the livelihoods of many families in Australia, not just in WA but around the nation.
We have two days left this year of this power sharing parliament, and in those two days we should use it to debate the issues that matter to the Australian people and not things like what the government has on the agenda for the rest of the day: putting up fees for universities and making costs to students even higher. We should be debating an issue that this government has tried to skirt for too long, which is the cruelty of live exports. The Australian people are saying loudly that they want these ships of shame stopped. We've got an opportunity now in this short window, which is why we should be debating it immediately, to have the strongest expression from both houses of this parliament—from the Senate and now from the House—before parliament rises for the end of the year, to say, 'This cruel trade must stop.'
It's no surprise that the government comes in here and says: 'No, we can find another time to debate it. Let's kick it off into the long grass.' They are running and hiding, just like they tried to run and hide earlier this sitting from the will of the parliament being expressed to say, 'We want a federal anticorruption commission'. Now they are trying to run and hide from the will of the parliament being expressed to say, 'It is time to move out of live exports of sheep.'
I am someone who has brought bills to this place over many, many years to say, 'Australia needs to get out of the live export trade full stop.' These ship loads of cruelty must be brought to an end.
The member for Petrie was saying he went on a holiday in Western Australia. He was there for a little period of time and that made him have his view. I grew up, over 20 years ago, living in Fremantle and you could tell when these ships of death were in town because the stench ran across the whole city when it was one of those hot days, as it often gets in Western Australia. When it was one of those hot days in the 30s or 40s and you had the ships full of sheep parked there waiting to depart, animals were dying before they even left port.
What we also know is that, as they travelled across the other side of the world, more and more of them would die because they were in conditions that were being hidden from the people, and now those conditions have been exposed. They have been exposed and successive governments have told us: 'It is okay. We can fix it. We have this standard or we have that standard, or we'll have this review or we'll have that review.' But, time and time again, what has been made apparent is that you cannot regulate what happens on a ship thousands of kilometres from Australia from behind a desk in Canberra. You just can't do it. The government has asked us to take on face value: 'It's okay, we have put in new rules. We have put in new rules to fix it and they are science based.' Let's have a debate that is based on facts rather than based on emotions.
What is clear from the facts, what the Veterinary Association tells us, is that sheep need at least double the areas that they have been given so far, and they need to not be sent through during these hot summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, to have any chance of survival. And what does the government do? Well, the government hears that advice and comes back with rules so weak that they don't meet that standard to the point where a couple of days ago the industry body said, 'We're going to impose a voluntary moratorium.'
The government comes in here and talks about taking a big stick to other industries. The stick that it has taken to this industry is so weak that even the industry itself is now standing up saying, 'We will do something stronger than what the government is proposing.' When the industry itself says, 'The government rules are so weak that we are going to do more,' that tells you everything you need to know about this government and whose pockets it is in. It is so intent on propping up a dying industry—an industry that is based on death and that is also itself dying—that it is prepared to undercut what the industry itself is saying that it will do on a voluntary basis. That is why we need stronger standards and the beginning of the end of this industry.
There is talk about jobs; jobs have been raised. This government has sold out sheep farmers by giving them false hope and allowing an industry that's based on exploitation and cruelty to continue. I have met with some of those sheep farmers. They have said to me, 'We didn't know that this was happening and the government told us that it was all fixed.' That's what those sheep farmers have said. What is crystal clear is that this government has no intention of fixing it. The government will continue to turn a blind eye. This government can no longer be trusted. When the government comes back and says, 'Here are some new standards,' and those standards didn't even last a couple of months before the industry says that they are even weaker than the ones that it is prepared to impose voluntarily for a short period of time—the industry knows that this is on its way out—then the government has been found wanting.
What we could do, if we had the wit in this country, is put in place a transition package so that those farmers and the small number of people who rely on this trade have the capacity to transition out. If we also, together with that, put in place a package to increase and support processing here, we are going to create new markets for our meat. When you have the Greens and the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union together on the same page, saying, 'We need a plan to transition out of this industry and instead put in place a job-rich future where we are processing our meat here and then sending it offshore,' it tells you everything you need to know about where the Australian public are at and where public sentiment is at. This government is being forced, being dragged kicking and screaming, to where the Australian public are at on so many issues, such as on an independent commission against corruption, on not bankrolling coal-fired power stations and instead backing renewable energy, and on this as well.
One of the most prevalent things my office is contacted about is the cruelty that the Australian government is currently allowing to be perpetrated against animals that are being exported, such as sheep and cattle. It is one of those issues that really matter to people. They think, 'If a government is prepared to allow this to happen to animals that don't have a voice, what are they prepared to do with everyone else?' They know that a litmus test of what we are as a society and how civilised we are as a society is how we treat the voiceless. The animals are reliant on our protection. They can't speak for themselves. We have to put in place standards that make sure they are protected.
It's no good to come in here and say, 'I have pets; I have a dog; I have a turtle,' or, as one government member said, 'Trust me; we like animals.' I bet you wouldn't put your dog on a ship and send it on a voyage for several months without any control over how it was going to be treated. I bet you wouldn't put your dog on a ship together with thousands of others, where they cannot move, where when they get hot they cannot breathe and where they don't have space to lie down. You wouldn't do that to your own pet, so we shouldn't be doing it to other animals as well. If you want to run that spurious argument, take it to its logical conclusion.
It is up to this place to set the standards for how we are going to treat the animals that we are responsible for. If the government is right when it comes in here and says that no-one wants to see cruelty to animals, the only logical conclusion is to phase out this trade that is based on cruelty. It is clear now that this cannot be regulated from behind a desk in Canberra. It is clear now that this is a trade that is based on misery. It is clear now that this government is continuing to hold out false hope to the farmers if it continues to say, 'We can prop this up forever.' This trade no longer has a social licence. I urge this House to debate this motion immediately, to pass it and to begin to end this trade.
I rise today to speak strongly in support of the live export trade, which underpins a massive number of businesses in my electorate of O'Connor. The electorate of O'Connor provides around 60 per cent of the 1.5 million sheep that are exported out of Western Australia, worth about $150 million per annum. As I say, the trade underpins a whole range of businesses: truck drivers, feedlot workers, pellet mill operators. These are labouring-level jobs that good, hardworking people in my electorate rely on for their living.
I say to the member for Melbourne, who claims to speak behalf of sheep growers, and I say to the member for Wentworth, the member for Mayo and the member for Denison, who just walked out of this place: come to the Katanning sheep sale in my home town next Wednesday—the minister was there a couple of weeks ago—and speak to the several hundred farmers, the truck drivers, the stock agents and the associated industries that rely on that trade and you will hear a different story to what we just heard from the member from Melbourne. They know that the live export trade unpins the market. It underpins the whole sheep market in Western Australia.
We know there is at least a $30 premium for live export sheep over what the domestic market will pay. But what you probably don't know is that, of the 3.8 million sheep turned off in Western Australia, 1.5 million go overseas. If you dump that extra 1.5 million into the current processing trade, you will crash the market. We saw that in 2011, when the previous Labor government pulled the plug on the live export trade completely and caused chaos, just absolute disaster, for the agricultural industries across Australia. And we're seeing it unfold again. They talk about sheep—that's just a Trojan Horse, isn't it, Member for Melbourne? Are you saying that you support the live cattle trade? Are you saying that as well?
So this is the first step in closing down the live export trade.
I've only recently heard of this allegation that a whistleblower was paid US$200,000. I've only just heard that it came from an animal rights group. I'm not a lawyer—I think there are far too many lawyers in this place—but I would think that, in a court of law, that would rule that evidence out. Think about somebody who is being paid a pretty low wage, admittedly, on these boats and is offered US$200,000 to get some footage of some animals suffering. Does that not give that person a motivation?
Maybe they did. Maybe on seven decks of sheep, 60,000 sheep, there were a few pens: 'We won't clean them out; we won't look after them because there's $200,000 at stake. I can retire to Pakistan on $200,000.' But let's for the moment accept that the Awassi Express voyage last August was unacceptable. I think that's been widely agreed in this place. The footage that we saw that was gathered by the whistleblower getting his $200,000 to retire in Pakistan was completely unacceptable.
But the government has reacted very strongly. I've got to say the minister and I haven't always agreed. I've thought that the minister has gone too hard. He went too hard on the industry. We saw six months where there were no boats leaving Australia, because the reduction in stocking rates has made those voyages unviable. That's why we didn't see boats leaving for six months, Member for Melbourne. So the government did react very strongly. I will concede to the minister that some very strict new standards were applied to the industry, and, as the boats are going again, we are now seeing the results of that. The Al Shuwaikh recently arrived and unloaded in the gulf with a mortality rate of 0.24. That's a little over 100 sheep out of 60,000. I've been a farmer for all of my life, someone who grew with up that offensive smell of sheep manure in their nostrils. I know the member for Fremantle will probably raise how offensive that is to the people on the latte strip in his electorate as those trucks go by. I grew up with that smell in my nostrils, and it's not that bad, believe me—once you get used to it, it's not that bad.
Let me tell you that the people of O'Connor, who also grew up with the smell of sheep manure in their nose, are prepared to fight for this industry. In July, at very short notice, we had 1,000 people turn up to a meeting at Katanning. I was very proud to stand alongside the member for New England, who travelled over to support the industry in my state, to support those hardworking rural and regional agricultural people in my state. The member for Hunter asked why the member for Petrie would stand up to support those hardworking working-class people in my electorate. It is because he is a decent fellow who actually supports working-class people. I say to the member for Hunter: I'll support the coal workers in your electorate. You won't, but I will, because I support working-class people too. The divide in this country is no longer between the working class and capital; it is between the inner city elites and those people who live and work in electorates like my electorate of O'Connor, who produce the billions of dollars of wealth in this country that allow the social programs we all enjoy—in your electorate, member for Fremantle, and in your electorate, member for Melbourne. They are paid for by the people who work their backsides off and sweat every day in my electorate. The $250 million live sheep trade and the $1.6 billion live cattle trade pay for a lot of the bills that come out of your electorate. What about the $9 billion of mineral exports that come out of my electorate? They pay the bills for the people in Fremantle.
That's right. If I had my way, they'd all be living in my electorate and the member for Durack's electorate—and we'll do something about that. Come to the Katanning sheep sale next week, or any Wednesday you'd like to name, and I'll meet you there. When you come to my electorate you'll meet truckies like little Benny Poett, who is a great mate of mine. His family have been carting stock for my family for three generations. When he stood up at that meeting in July, he said 'I'm working one week out of four weeks in a month now, and I'm struggling to meet the payments on my truck.' He's one of those 'evil small business people' who work 60, 70 or sometimes 80 hours a week. There is no sympathy on that side of the House for Benny Poett, but there is a lot of sympathy from me because I know him, I know his family and I know his kids. I want to make sure he's got a future and a living.
Chloe McDougall is a young farmer's wife who is actively involved in their business, just like all the farm wives I know in my electorate and my region. With her young son on her hip, she says: 'What's the future for my son?' When I look at the people across the chamber here, they've got no sympathy whatsoever for Chloe McDougall and her family; they could not care less about those people.
Let me tell you about one of the most profound contributions that I've seen at the myriad public meetings I've held in my electorate. At one or two days notice, 160 people turned up in Brookton and 120 in Boyup Brook. A young lady stood up. She had a baby with her. She is married to a local farmer. She told her story, which I thought was very profound. She said she was currently a vegetarian. She had been a radical vegan. She had been a Green all her life. Three years ago, she married a farmer. She had always been opposed to the live export trade, because that's what Greens do. That's because Greens don't understand the industry, they don't know what it is about, and it's an easy target for signalling your virtue: 'I oppose the live export trade.' This young lady, Amy Dyer—and she has been on ABC Radio, so anyone who wants to check this is welcome to go and look it up—said: 'When I married a farmer and I started to understand how the industry work, I changed my mind.' She said that what really changed her mind and flipped her from being a strong opponent of the live export trade to being a strong supporter was that Australia imposes the ESCAS on the rest of the world. Our standards, enforced under the ESCAS, have lifted the standards for the live sheep trade across the world. But it is not only the sheep that are shipped in boats; the domestic processing industries in the countries that we deliver to have massively lifted their standards. If Australia vacates that space, there is nobody who is going to set a standard for the rest of the world. Let me tell you: there are 10 million sheep that are going to be traded whether Australia is in the game are not, and that will be no-one— (Time expired)
I support this motion. It is long past time that we saw change in this space and long past time that we saw the end of the long-haul live sheep export industry. What I'm not going to do, in speaking in support of this motion, is continue what we have seen too much of in this place, which is a kind of rush to push out false divisions, false conflict and false dichotomies, a rush to caricature one another. For the member for O'Connor to suggest that somehow the people in Fremantle and the people in Denmark and Albany are living on different planets; to suggest that he cares for small-business owners and farmers and truck drivers and that I don't, that I don't know people who do that work, that I'm not connected to those communities, that I don't care about Western Australians; or to suggest that it is only people in communities like Fremantle and inner-city areas, and not people in his community, who care about animal welfare—that's the problem with this place. The problem with this place is that we are playing games when everyone here knows that there is majority support for the change that needs to be made. This industry is coming to an end. It is a doomed industry, it's a deeply flawed industry and it is coming to an end. The responsible thing to do for farmers and truck drivers and people on the land is to manage that transition and support those people.
I will always speak up for those people. It's ridiculous to come in here and shout at each other across the benches as if somehow people who live in Fremantle have no sympathy for or no understanding of the circumstances of people who live on the land. It is utterly ridiculous. There are people who live in Fremantle who spent most of their lives growing up in your part of the world, Member for O'Connor—
and there are people who live in Albany and Denmark who spent part of their lives growing up in my part of the world. They are Australians and they care about their families and they care about animal welfare, so the idea that somehow, 'You are from Venus and we are from Mars,' is complete rubbish.
What we do know is that this industry is rotten to the core. The long-haul live export of sheep to the Middle East in terrible, rusty old second-rate vessels at the hottest time of the year is a recipe for animal cruelty and animal suffering. It doesn't matter whether the sheep die or not. We've had veterinarians, since this whole review process began, come out and say quite clearly that, whether they die or not, it doesn't mean that they haven't suffered terrible pain on that journey.
Member for O'Connor, I have asked you twice not to interject. You can leave under 94(a). I've continually asked you not to and you have kept going and going. Well done! You're the first person I have ever had to do that to.
The member for O'Connor then left the chamber.
The reality is that the long-haul export of live sheep is inherently cruel and it is long past time for it to come to an end. We have had countless evidence of the atrocities that are inherent in this trade. They occur time and time again. There is literally a parade of atrocities, and we come to know of them only because of the work of animal welfare activists and people in that space. We haven't learned of them because of the regulatory framework, we haven't learned of them because of the actions of government; we have learned of them because of animal welfare experts who, for a long time, in my community particularly and elsewhere, have belled the cat on this industry and have said that this cannot go on.
The government has to acknowledge that it has been complicit in the failures of this industry, has enabled the failures of this industry and has been an apologist for those failures. It both has put its head in the sand about the fact that animals have been subject to torture, time and time again, as a matter of customary industry practice and has actively removed the kinds of mechanisms that militate against that treatment, that cruelty to animals.
So it is utterly false for anyone on that side of the House to claim that we have the best system in the world and that the system works well and that there's nothing to see here, and the minister himself has acknowledged that multiple times this year. He is a member of a government that, both in this term of parliament and in the previous term of parliament, actively removed—
An honourable member interjecting—
No, he wasn't in this last term of parliament, but he's a member of the government that has been in control through both of those terms of parliament and that has actively removed protections when it comes to animal welfare, and his government has been complicit in those failures.
It is time for us to make the change. The industry itself has only just voluntarily decided that there will be no summer trade next year. This is the same industry, this is the same exporters' council, which said that that kind of moratorium wasn't possible, that that moratorium would mean the industry would fall over. Well, we've seen that this summer the trade didn't occur, and we're now told that the trade won't occur next summer. So the claim that the trade depends on these summer shipments has been done away with, and we know from that that further transition is possible if this parliament is prepared to take responsible action.
That is what this motion is about. It's about giving us the opportunity to do what people send us here to do, which is to consider issues carefully on the evidence and make decisions that lead change and deliver the kinds of reform that people around this country know about. That's the disconnect that we've seen on this issue, on energy, on climate change and on so many things. The broader community know that there's a problem. The broader community know that there's a solution. They can't understand why people in this place can't get on and make it happen. That is really what Labor has been calling for since the beginning of this year and what this bill and the motion to bring this bill on call for and what Independent members of this place are calling for: a sensible transition—an end to the summer trade and, over a period of time, an end to the long-haul live export of sheep altogether. As part of that, of course, there would be assistance to those who are involved in the farming of sheep.
As a Western Australian, I say that we have made it through this summer and the recent cessation of live export of sheep. Farmers in Western Australia and their representatives and the live export council are now preparing for the fact that it will not occur next year. I talk to Tony York. He comes and sits with me. I caught up with him not that long ago, and I was very glad to hear that the farmers in Western Australia have got through this season comparatively well. There are a very small number of farmers who have made business decisions to be heavily involved in live export, and they, of course, are feeling some effect. The vast majority of farmers—wheat-sheep farmers and sheep farmers—in Western Australia have very small exposure to the live export trade, and they've been able to deal with this change.
But, at the end of the day, what are the things we have to hold on to? We have to hold on to the fact that the long-haul live export of sheep is inherently cruel. We have to hold on to the fact that there is not a sliding scale that makes animal cruelty acceptable as some kind of price. All economic arguments aside, there is not a sliding scale that makes the torture of animals acceptable as some kind of price, and that's why the long-haul live export of sheep to the hottest part of the world at the hottest time of the year has to come to an end. People in my community have known that for a long time. They don't care about the smell. They don't care about seeing trucks. They're glad that there are people driving trucks and earning money driving trucks. They're glad that there are farmers who produce sheep and help put food on our tables and help explore export markets. They're glad that the export markets in chilled carcasses and frozen meat are expanding. They're glad that Bahrain, when they decided they weren't taking live exports anymore, got 70 per cent of all their sheepmeat from Australia. They know that that's the future. They know that New Zealand, a country where the agricultural economy is much more significant than it is in Australia, has got out of live sheep altogether. They know that nowhere other than in Western Australia and South Australia does live sheep export happen anyway.
I've heard from farmers across the nation and from people in Victoria and New South Wales who've contacted me to say, 'Mate, I would never put one of my animals, a sheep, on a vessel like that.' This industry is cruel. It's dominated by a few big business operators who've got into export and make money off it. It can change. It should change. It needs to change. We can make that change. It's what the community wants. They can't understand why we can't do it. This is an opportunity now to do something half sensible before we pack up for the year, before the government puts us into mothballs for the better part of six months. This is an opportunity to do something sensible that the community wants and that we can deliver.
We have been asked to debate on the urgency of a motion to phase out the live sheep trade. There are a number of principles involved here. First of all, we are in a minority government and it's important that the voice of the people is heard. Certainly, the message that came through loud and clear during the Wentworth by-election was that the people wanted their voice to be heard. The Senate has asked us to consider this motion. This message has come from the Senate, and we are being asked now whether we should respect that request from the Senate. I believe it's something that we should respect.
The other thing that the people of Wentworth said during the by-election campaign was that they care deeply about animal welfare. Indeed, over 70 per cent of people in Wentworth said that they wanted to see a phasing-out of the live sheep trade. They want this cruel and inhumane trade phased out. We have heard today criticisms about the whistleblower who alerted us to the shocking imagery of the treatment of these animals on board these ships. We should be congratulating this whistleblower, not criticising this whistleblower, for exposing the conditions for these animals.
The other question about immediacy is: how much longer can we tolerate these animals suffering in these appalling conditions? The industry itself has accepted that the trade is incompatible with animal welfare. It has itself imposed a three-month ban over the hottest months. This is an admission by the industry that the animals cannot be protected. But the reality is that the hot months are not just three months of the year. There are six hot months of the year in the part of the world which is the destination for these animals.
The government should be working on a transition plan, not on a plan to continue to protect this industry. They should be conducting a transitional plan in order to protect the primary producers who depend on this trade so that the government is ahead of the game and so that the primary producers can be ahead of the game, because the reality is that this is an unsustainable industry. The reality is that this industry has had an opportunity to reform itself and it is, in my view, beyond redemption. And the reality is that Australians want this trade phased out. I support the motion to immediately debate this motion.
I'm particularly concerned to follow the member for Fremantle, who was one of the previous speakers, and hear a Western Australian representative happy to shut down a $250 million industry in Western Australia—that's what it's worth directly. It's just appalling that any representative from Western Australia would choose to rip this sort of money out of our state.
There is a very personal face to this issue that's often ignored, and that's the face of the farmers and the small regional communities. I've lived through something which was another very tough experience, and that was the deregulation of the dairy industry. It had a significant impact on very small towns and communities right throughout the South West at the time. Overnight, we lost over $30 million out of my Harvey shire alone. Can you imagine what losing $250 million would mean to those small communities in the electorates of the member for O'Connor and the member for Durack, most particularly?
These ideas of transition just don't bear thinking about. I was talking to a sheep producer on the plane. He had decided that he would take, as he put it, the '$50-a-head hit' and send his sheep to the abattoir instead of sending them on a live export ship, because of timing. He arranged it with an abattoir, but when he got back in touch with them, when the sheep were due to be accepted, they didn't have the capacity to process them. So what on earth was he meant to do with those animals? Of course, a wether is an entirely different animal from a lamb or from the sheep that you would export. They are entirely different beasts. What is it going to do to the flocks of sheep in Western Australia? We know what's going to happen and we're already starting to see some of the impacts.
As one of the few farmers in this place I am particularly frustrated and hurt to hear the comments made about cruelty. We as farmers are so passionate about our animals. We love our animals and what they produce. As a dairy farmer I rely on my beautiful cows to do what they do. I know that our sheep farmers are the same. We actually understand animals better than most and we have to deal with the harsh realities of what life is like on a farm. Equally, we're the people who keep the small communities operating.
There is talk of transition. It all sounds very easy. If we were ever to have a Labor government and they shut down the trade as they plan to, the impact would be immediate. There wouldn't be the nice, simple transition that's being talked about. You would see what happened in the market flow straight back to the farmer and, equally, flow directly back to all the small businesses that support the industry. I'm talking about everyone—those who cart the animals, the mechanics who service those vehicles and everyone who is part of that small community. Even the local fuel supplier is part of the supply chain. The impact would flow to the farmers and small businesses in those communities.
If you have never lived in a small community—and many opposite have not—then you wouldn't understand how it works. We need the income from all of those small businesses just to keep our communities operating. We need those people buying their inputs from other local small retailers to keep them operating as well. They're the same people who support our local community service organisations, our local sporting organisations and our emergency services. They are often one and the same people. Farmers contribute at that level. The small businesses, the fuel suppliers, the mechanics, the people in transport and the people in earthmoving are all part of the supply chain and contribute to small communities.
It's very easy for those who live in city electorates to dictate to those of us who live and work in small regional communities and say: 'We're going to shut down your industry. We're going to shut you down.' There is no care, no responsibility and no real interest in the hardship that that no doubt will create. The small communities are going to continue to fade away in the electorates of O'Connor and Durack, but there's no concern from those opposite for the people. How about you walk a mile in the shoes of those of us who live and work in rural and regional Australia? For a change, how about you walk a mile in our shoes and live in the real world?
On my farm there are times when we have to put down animals for different reasons. We hate that, but it is a necessity at times. It's a place that you don't understand or know. You don't care about what we as farmers deal with on a daily basis. Even worse, you have no respect for what we do and what we contribute not only to our families but to the rural and regional sector and exports. What happened during the global financial crisis when Labor, who are on the other side, made some dreadful decisions? What industry underpinned our economy during that time and kept exports up? Agriculture. Yet they turned around and shut down live cattle exports. Now you're looking at shutting down sheep and cattle exports. It's a double whammy this time—not just one; both. There is no care at all for those of us who live and work in rural and regional Australia. There's not one skerrick of thought.
When you go to the countries where this meat actually arrives, as I did when I spent time there with the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, there is no cold chain. You talk about packaged meat. It will rot, because people don't have electricity; they have to buy their meat fresh from a market. The animal actually has to be slaughtered overnight so that it's fresh to the market itself and they can buy it in the small amounts that they can actually consume on a daily basis. That is actually how it works. We are taking away the options for those people as well. In Australia, the standards we have, as we know, lead the world in this space. There will continue to be live exports, but they won't have the extraordinary conditions and the standards that Australia has to get those cattle to those nations. That market will still exist. It's not going to disappear overnight. Those cattle will come from countries that don't have the standards that we have.
In this place, I've repeatedly said that I'm always proud to be a farmer in Australia. There are people on the other side who I know have absolutely no respect for what Australian farmers do and the enormous contribution they make to the small rural and regional communities to keep them viable. Every time you take a dollar out of a rural and regional community, it hurts every one of us. That's because we are interdependent. If we don't do the work, if we don't support our community service organisations and if we aren't the ones helping with emergency services—it is our dollars that help to keep these organisations alive, thriving and able to look after our people—then no-one else does. We rely on each other. That's how rural and regional Australia works. That's how we operate.
I am really proud to be an Australian farmer, but those opposite try to make me feel as though I should be ashamed. Well, I am not. I am proud of every Australian farmer. I really am appalled at and ashamed of those opposite, particularly the Western Australians who will stand in this place and say, 'We support cutting $250 million worth of value out of the pockets of not only our farmers and our producers but all the small businesses and those associated communities.' You know that value will not come back to those communities. It doesn't matter what you think you will do; the value will not come back. Suffering and problems will exist in rural and regional Australia as a result. I'm proud every day to be a farmer.
I will say at the outset that I am deeply, personally offended at the remarks of the member for Forrest. That she would come into this place and accuse other Western Australians of not caring is a disgrace. The member for Forrest is leaving the chamber—that's wise. It's not fair, it's ridiculous and it's wrong. We have always worked for regional Australia. In my electorate, I have the CBH Group, Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd. That is the largest export industry in the state agriculturally, putting wheat out of Kwinana. We always care for the farmers. We have to have their industry because it supports our towns, our towns that we created. Sure, Rockingham and Kwinana came after Brookton and Corrigin, but they were still a very important part of the development of Western Australia.
If we reflect on that footage, we saw how everyone in Australia—quite rightly—was shocked and just disgusted at the cruelty done to sheep that mainly came out of Western Australia and were exported out through Fremantle. On the way to Fremantle, those sheep stop in my electorate. They rest for a time at Baldivis before they are packed tightly onto trucks and sent through the streets of Fremantle to get on these second-rate, overcrowded and underventilated ships that then spend many, many months in the hot summer going up to the Middle East. With that footage we saw, it's important to note that these incidents are not uncommon. That disgrace that we saw and that animal cruelty that we saw did not constitute a breach of the current regulations. What does that mean? It's disgraceful.
Where were the member for O'Connor, the member for Durack and the member for Forrest when the former minister for agriculture, the member for New England, was dismantling the regulation that sought to keep this industry alive?
There is a culture of complacency that the former minister put in place, and disregard for government regulation—this regulation was needed to keep this industry alive. Where were they? Why weren't they talking to the then minister about what should be done to protect the industry? The industry itself came out a long time ago and said there was a problem. Local WA operators saw the writing on the wall. Wellard in my electorate, who operate in Baldivis, do some of the exporting, and Wellard senior executive Fred Troncone has said:
The reputation of our industry rests on how well the industry is regulated.
That's the industry itself calling on you as a government to help them. And what did you do? You did nothing. What did the member for Forrest do then? She would have seen that letter. If she's so tight-knit with that industry, why didn't she do something about it? Why wasn't she listening? It is the same with the members for O'Connor and Durack. They have been caught sitting on their hands, doing nothing. It's just ridiculous. It's a disgrace that they would come into this place and have the gall to have a go at every other Western Australian member in this place—because of their own inaction, and their own wilful blindness to the disgrace that became the regulation of the live sheep export trade in this country. To conflate this industry with the cattle export industry is ridiculous. We know they are different export markets. That's the truth.
To say that Labor is doing that is ridiculous and untrue. It is not true. Cattle are different to sheep; the voyage is different; animals sweat differently—it's called science, but we know where you stand on that.
The industry themselves, as we know, have now self-imposed a break in this trade because they know they don't have the social licence to operate it during those hot summer months. They warned this government earlier—before 2½ thousand sheep perished on the Emanuel Exports transport ship—that is, people and businesses doing the right thing warned this government that many exporters were doing the wrong thing and causing unending cruelty to Australian sheep going to the Middle East. It is a large industry .There's no doubt about it: no-one wants to see an industry collapse. Of course we don't. How could we? But the industry have called on themselves to take this break, while they have to wait for the government to regulate it properly.
I mean, what are you people doing? How many things can you put off to the never-never? Do you want to put this off to next year and let the industry just, you know, run itself? It doesn't want to run itself; it needs leadership from government—and you're out to lunch. You're just waiting for, I don't know, Christmas drinks and a bit of fruitcake. It's obscene; it's not fair on the livestock themselves; and it's certainly not fair on the people that work in the industry. The inaction and negligence of this government is what has led to this export trade coming to an end. The government has no plan. The only plan is to put any debate on this off to the never-never. Well, that's not good enough for agriculturists in this country, and it's not good enough for the agriculture industry in Western Australia. You desert them because of your laziness and your ignorance. Through your own fault, you're dismissing the importance of regulation which the industry itself has called for.
I really hope the members for Forrest, Durack and O'Connor have a bit of a think about what they have failed to do over the past five years. If they're now the protectors of agriculture in this country and in Western Australia, they have failed, and failed miserably. I have to back up the member for Fremantle: I've driven the streets of Fremantle where we see those sheep; the sheep go from Baldivis up to Freo. People are appalled—and these sheep haven't even reached the ships yet! These are sheep that are packed tightly into trucks. This is cruelty: they're packed in, their hoofs or their heads are caught, they're in cages, and they're caught in the traffic of a hot Perth summer. It's a disgraceful state of affairs that you are overseeing, and you are not listening to people in your communities.
We have people from the agricultural regions of Western Australia also calling for an end to this, not just the industry associations. The farmers themselves know how disgraceful this has become. I genuinely feel a bit sorry for the current minister for agriculture. Agriculture in this country is a magnificent thing. We know this country is built on it; Western Australia certainly is. We know the importance of agricultural science to Western Australia. He's been left with a great big steaming one, because the former minister for agriculture left him with a depleted department and has failed to regulate. When we see those thousands of sheep get thrown into the ocean, under this current regulation that's not a breach? No wonder the Australian people are shocked and appalled. No wonder they're flooding email boxes and our electorate offices with phone calls. It's just no wonder. This government is a disgrace.
Lock the doors. The question is the question moved by the honourable member for Watson, and that is that the question be put, and that is on the amendment moved by the member for Mayo. Members need to take their seats.
Opposition members interjecting—
Well, I asked that the doors be locked. Can I actually read the question before the House? Do you want me to proceed with the question, or not? The member for Watson.
Mr Speaker, what we're drawing to your attention is that the rule that people cannot move within the chamber once the doors are locked has been defied, and ordinarily there would be an opportunity to take action against a member who does that.
What I'm putting, which I'm asking for you to clarify with the member himself—I have no doubt that the member for McMillan will provide accurate information in response—is whether, when you said, 'Lock the doors', he was seated; he was not able to then move across the room. I don't know whether that happened or not, but we are not allowed to leave our seats during divisions once we've taken them.
I understand the point the member for Watson is making. We can spend a lot of time on this, but, if you look at the standing orders, it is after I've appointed the tellers that the member can't move, and I haven't appointed the tellers—I haven't been able to get a word in! So, I'm going to go through it again. The question is that the motion moved by the Manager of Opposition Business, that the question be put, be agreed to, and he's seeking that the question be put on the amendment moved by the member for Mayo.
I am required to exercise my casting vote according to the principles, which we've done a few times, and one of those principles is that the Speaker should vote to allow further discussion where this is possible. So my vote is with the noes. I know that a member was on their feet seeking the call when the Manager of Opposition Business put the procedural motion. The question is that the amendment be agreed to, and the member for Hinkler has the call.
Firstly, I will say that all Australians, when they saw those horrifying images, were simply horrified. That is a statement of fact. But what I put to those members of the House is this: there are an awful lot of horrifying images in Australian agriculture, if you are actually a producer, if you are actually out there producing cattle, producing sheep, producing pork for export markets, for domestic markets. There is a process that our farmers go through that can be very difficult and trying. And I would say to all Australians: where were the Greens—where are the Greens right now? Where have they been for the last decade? Where have the Labor Party been for the past 10 years, when wild dogs have been destroying herds right around Australia? I don't see them out in the back blocks of Winton. I don't see them out there helping to put these animals down after they've walked around for five days with broken legs, half shredded. These are horrifying images that happen every single day, but I don't see any support from those opposite to deal with these feral pests. But they're very happy to pick up an issue that they think will help them politically.
There are more feral pigs in this country than there are people. We don't see a thing from the Greens about that—the damage that it's doing to the environment, to all of Australia's animals. It is horrifying. Feral cats are just as bad. But we don't see any noise; we don't see any email activity. We certainly don't see a big social media campaign about helping the animals of Australia or farmers around Australia who are trying to produce their product. They do not want to lose stock in any circumstance: they don't want to lose stock in a drought, they don't want to lose stock through starvation, they don't want to lose stock if they are being transported to another country after they have been sold and they don't want to lose stock because they are sick. They simply know that that is a loss. This idea that Australian farmers are intentionally causing harm to their animals is an absolute mistruth put forth by those opposite. It is not true.
We've heard from the member for Forrest, a passionate farmer, one of the few farmers in this place who actually goes out there and does this every single week. I congratulate the member for Forrest for still being in the dairy industry. We all know that it's tough, but this debate should be about facts, and I think we should put a few facts on the table. For those who are squeamish, for those who don't like the images: I didn't like them either and I don't like the fact that it occurred, but, in abattoirs right around the country, if we have a look at the process that happens there, we see that we go in with live animals and we come out with hamburgers. It is a pretty straightforward process: they start at the front, they get knocked, if they are cattle they get their hide stripped, they're gutted, they go down to the offal room, they are split, they are dehooved, they're beheaded, they're cut up and they end up on plates of Australians and people right around the world. We need to have a factual debate.
If there are people in this room who think that you can produce animals and stock in this country without any loss whatsoever, they are being misled, because that is not how it works in the real world. In the real world it is an unfortunate fact of production that you lose stock: they get sick, they get attacked by dogs and they get injured. On lots of occasions, particularly when there is drought, there is pure loss and it is horrifying, most of all for the producers who have put everything into those efforts. I think that we should stand on their side. Certainly in this corner of the House we stand with our producers. They are producing the best livestock in the world. Right around the world, people want our product. It is clean, it is green, it is lean, it is what they want and we've been building the agriculture product for Australia for a long time: $61 billion worth of exports with a target of $100 billion. That's not going to happen if those opposite get their way and shut down a $250 million industry.
I've looked at a bit of equivalency, because, quite simply, my people are not affected whatsoever. In my electorate I have no sheep producers that I'm aware of, apart from a few hobby producers, but I know that if a $250 million part of the sector in my economy was destroyed, this is what would happen: I would lose the Bundaberg mills of Millaquin and Bingera, the Isis mill at Childers, the Maryborough sugar mill in the neighbouring electorate of Wide Bay and we still wouldn't be there—$250 million and thousands of jobs.
What we know about those opposite is that they no longer support working people. They do not support those that get up, put on their steel capped boots, put on their high-vis clothes and their hat, go to work and make a contribution to this country. It is very easy to sit in Melbourne and Sydney and have an idealistic view about anything, because, firstly, it doesn't affect you and, secondly, you can afford it. The people who are doing this put their hard-earned on the table. As someone who has built up a couple of businesses from absolutely nothing I can tell you that it takes (a) a lot of work, (b) a lot of risk and (c) a lot of commitment. You need to have a good arrangement with your bank and good product that you can sell, and it takes time. There is nothing more devastating than losing your industry because of the intervention of something over which you have no control.
Right now there is a move from those opposite for that intervention to take away these people's houses and their livelihoods to be by the federal government. We know exactly what will happen here. The banks will foreclose because it's a pretty easy question: can they service the debts that they have if they have nowhere for their stock to go? If the answer is no, they will foreclose on their farms, they will have a huge loss and it will have been forced by those opposite. There are those of us in this place who stand with our producers, who stand with our farmers and who absolutely intentionally want them to be successful in their chosen trade, because they're having a go. They are not looking for government handouts, they are not standing around asking for someone else to pay their way; they are Australian producers and we should be proud of the work they are doing.
Can you imagine if this were to move to cattle, another huge, huge export industry for Australia? We are doing something which no other country in the world is doing with the ESCAS system—there is no-one else—which is applying Australia's animal welfare system on another country. Can you imagine if we were to go off to another nation—whether it be Britain, somewhere in Europe or any other exporter—and say, 'Yes, we're happy to take your product, but, by the way, you'll need to ensure that we meet the British standard for whatever that system may well be,' and it were enforced on us, a sovereign nation? Those are the arrangements that we have when we are exporting cattle right around the world. We have in place a system to ensure animal welfare.
As I said earlier, if there is an expectation from those in this place that there will be no loss in the production of animals, well, they are mistaken, because it cannot be done. There are losses on Australian farms every single day through misadventure, through disease, through no choice of the producers. They want every single animal on deck because, if they are not, it is a loss for them. This is a pretty simple business. They produce stock, they have a buyer, they get paid and they sell it. We are doing everything we can to ensure animal welfare standards are met at an appropriate level. But you cannot ship anything around this country, whether it's by truck—I notice the contribution earlier, where there were complaints about the fact that sheep were being moved in a truck. Can you believe it—the gall of a producer to put stock in a truck! Can I tell you: they cannot fly. There is no magic means to move stock around this country. This is the way that it's done, and it has been for decades. As I've said over and over and over again, there is no-one in this country that produces livestock that wants loss. They do everything they can to prevent it. I have spoken many times with Senator John 'Wacka' Williams in the other place. John is a practical guy. He tells me that every single year he loses stock. It's not something that he wants to do, but that is what happens.
Back to this debate: what an absolute nonsense. This is a $250 million industry, built by the industry, on the backs of their hard work, on top of their risk, on top of what they have done, and the people in this place want to take away their livelihood. Well, that is an absolute disgrace. You should take a good, hard, long look at yourself. We will do everything we can to ensure animal welfare standards. But, if you are sitting on that side of the House and you are saying to the Australian people that you can have this happen and have no stock losses in Australia, what an absolute nonsense that is. Get yourself out to regional Australia and go and talk to the people that do this work, because that can't be done. Once again, I'd call on the Greens: how about you do something for Australian producers and start to work on feral dogs, feral pigs and feral cats, which are destroying livestock around this country. Shame on you for supporting this. Shame on you for not supporting Australian producers and a $250 million industry.
The issue of the live export of sheep dates right back to the early 1980s, when this parliament considered it and a Senate committee, chaired by Senator George Georges, came back with a recommendation that made it absolutely clear that the future viability of this industry was under question. Indeed, from my interpretation of their recommendation, the committee said it was an industry that, on moral grounds, should not continue. Yet, some 35 years later, we are still debating whether it should or should not continue. What's interesting is that there's no doubt that the industry reached a peak a few years after that committee report, but since then it has been in continuous decline.
Today in this parliament, we are effectively debating the same issues that were being debated in the early 1980s—whether it is reasonable to export sheep, particularly during the hot summer months, on journeys to the Middle East that take two, three or four weeks, because of the losses of those sheep and the cruelty that is inflicted upon them. Those losses are very clearly documented by the department after each journey. If one wants to look at the number of losses, if we go right back to the start of this industry, they must run into millions—millions of sheep that have died in a very cruel and horrific way.
We know that even under a coalition government, the Howard government, the industry had to be suspended because of the cruelty imposed on the sheep during those export journeys. I believe it was because of the very heavy losses incurred on a voyage to Egypt that the Howard government suspended the trade. Again, it highlights that it wasn't just this side of the House who had concerns about the safety and the welfare of the sheep that were being exported; it was also members of the coalition parties themselves. I wonder whether any of the members who sit in here today ever allude to or refer to the Howard government's suspension of the trade at that time. That wasn't done by this side of the House; it was done by their very own government in recognition that the trade needed to be better managed.
We've seen in more recent times—after this side of the House brought in the ESCAS conditions, which we thought would put an end to the suffering if they were complied with—that it is clear that, even with the ESCAS conditions brought in by this parliament, the trade still imposes horrific cruelty on the animals when they are on these long voyages. We saw that again with respect to the Awassi Express losses of 2017. Those losses caused a huge backlash from the community. There was a very widespread backlash, including from, I believe, the farming community itself. Those losses brought this issue to a head once again. Indeed, the coalition government, as a result, reviewed the industry on several fronts. We had the Moss review, the McCarthy review and a departmental review of its own operations. As a result of all of those reviews, we now have a situation where several things have arisen. Firstly, the government itself brought legislation into the parliament which imposed additional fees on exporters who didn't comply with the ESCAS conditions. That was in response to the death rate. If we need increased penalties, it clearly says that the industry is not living up to the expectations of it. I remind members opposite that this industry has had 35 years or so to get its act in order. Unfortunately, the government has put that legislation in limbo. So, albeit the minister came in and said, 'Look, we will impose heavier penalties on those people who do not comply and who do not provide safe transport conditions,' the reality is that the legislation is in limbo and does not take effect.
We also saw, as a result of those inquiries, that the exporter at the time had their licence suspended. Again, this was an exporter who had been exporting sheep to the Middle East for years and years. It was only because of public pressure and pressure from this parliament that those reviews took place, which caused the government to act and the licence of that exporter to be suspended. I understand that there's an appeal against that suspension. Nevertheless, the critical issue that arose from all of those reports, and in particular from the McCarthy review, was that there should not be the export of Australian sheep during the hot summer months. That was a critical finding, because, regardless of the stocking ratios, the temperatures on those ships reach a point where the sheep cannot survive. With respect to that, it doesn't make any difference whether we reduce the stocking ratios or not. It's the hot temperatures that really matter.
What was also interesting was that, at the time that the debate on increased penalties and the suspension of the export licence to the exporter took place in the House, this side of the House made it clear that, if the summer trade were halted, that in itself would effectively make the industry unviable. The government, by not adopting Labor's position at the time, was simply leaving farmers stranded, not knowing what the future of their industry would be.
Yesterday, we had the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, the industry body itself, come out with a statement that the summer trade would be stopped—that there would be no summer trade of live sheep as a result of the findings of past inquiries. If the industry itself is prepared to come out and say that it is not appropriate to export sheep in the hot summer months, why are the government and the department not imposing the same standard? It's disappointing to think that the industry is prepared to act when the government isn't.
I made the point earlier that this is an industry in decline. Currently, it's worth about $250 million a year in a sheep industry that, across Australia, is worth about $5 billion a year. The difference between today and years gone by is that there are now many other options for sheep farmers to sell their product. There are also other options for Australia with respect to export. Ten, 20 and 30 years after it was first raised, the countries that at the time might not have had refrigeration probably do have it. We've also had government ministers come into this chamber, week in and week out, talking about the new markets that have been opened up by the trade agreements that have been signed by this government with other countries. Surely, if they are true to their word that those trade agreements are going to help the farmers of this country, you would think that there would be enough opportunities to find markets for processed sheep, rather than having to send them as live sheep to destination countries. Surely, if those agreements stack up and are worth what the ministers are saying they are worth, we should be able to support our farmers by processing the sheep here in Australia and then sending them to one of those new markets that the government claims have been opened up.
I will finish on this point, because it is one of the rebuttals often used by members opposite: if Australia does not export sheep overseas, some other country will, and therefore we are not stopping the suffering of the sheep. The reality is that New Zealand has stopped sending its live sheep overseas. But, more importantly, it is very unlikely that the other countries that might send live sheep to the Middle East will have to send them on ships that are on the water for two, three or four weeks. They will have much shorter journeys in most cases. Therefore, the argument that we're not in any way acting to stop sheep from suffering is simply not true.
The community has spoken out on this issue time and time again. Public opinion has shifted. Public opinion makes it absolutely clear that today, when we do have options to support our farmers—and certainly we should be doing that—we should be using those options, rather than continuing a trade that has been shown, time and time again, to be cruel and unnecessary.
It gives me good pleasure to talk about the Australian red meat industry, because I am a red meat producer. I have a farm of my own, which I bought at 22, and I've been involved in livestock for a very long time. I actually got the deposit for my farm by working in shearing sheds. So it does surprise me that people are willing to make decisions in this place without taking the time to go out and learn and to actually gain a greater understanding. I would argue that better decisions are made in this place when people take the time to do their research before forming an opinion based on a Four Corners program or an email campaign. I extend an opportunity to any member in this place to come to my farm, have a look at the animal welfare standards that the red meat industry has taken part in, and gain an understanding. Come and see that sometimes when you've got livestock, particularly when tough seasonal conditions are around, you also have dead stock, and that, when you transport sheep in trucks, sometimes they do get down and sometimes you do have fatalities.
I might point out, when they talk about long-haul sheep exports, that I once purchased sheep from Tasmania, and the losses on that journey, travelling across from Tasmania to Victoria, were four per cent. There would be no-one in this House—particularly on the Labor side, considering they hold all but one of the lower house seats in Tasmania—who would argue that we should shut down our national highway there, across water, to live sheep.
If you care about animals then you care about all animals—whether that animal is born in Australia, whether that animal is born in South Africa, whether that animal is born in Argentina or whether that animal is born in New Zealand. If you care about animals, it stands to reason that you should want to lift the animal welfare standards of all animals. I have been very fortunate to have travelled and looked at the live export industry from start to finish, and I can tell you that Australia's involvement in the live export industry actually lifts the standard of animal welfare globally. It doesn't just lift welfare standards for Australian animals; it lifts them globally. The reason for that is that Australia produces very good quality livestock, and that means purchasers want our stock and are prepared to jump whatever hurdles we put in front of them in order to get our stock. When I was in Indonesia I was looking at a live cattle receival site and was looking at what they were doing around Indonesian cattle. They said the Indonesians had adopted the Australian principles for their own cattle because it was lifting their animal welfare standards.
I say that those who are passionate about shutting down the industry should be careful what they wish for. If you take Australia out of the live export industry, you will play a key role in diminishing around the world the welfare outcomes of animals used for human consumption. We want to be very careful. You could feel good about yourself and say: 'Yes, we've shut down the Australian industry. Yes, we've put Australians out of work. Yes, we've made truckies go broke. Yes, we've made farmers make less money. We feel good at night because we've shut it down.' But what you've actually done is deliver worse welfare outcomes for animals around the world. You feel good, but you've had a counterproductive outcome.
The live sheep export industry is predominantly out of Western Australia. I was over there a number of weeks ago. Whilst I was there I physically went on and inspected a live sheep boat that was going to get loaded. I saw it with my own eyes. I didn't look at it through the eyes of a lobbyist. I didn't look at it through the eyes of someone who didn't know what they were looking at. I looked at it through the eyes of someone who has had 20 years experience in the livestock industry and someone who has eight generations of farmers on both sides of his family. I knew what I was looking at and I could see whether the animal welfare standards were good or bad. I have to say that I was impressed with what I saw.
If you create uncertainty in any industry, you stifle investment in that industry and as a result you fail to see better outcomes for that industry. What the Labor opposition have been trying to do creates uncertainty in the live export industry, and that has the perverse outcome of stifling investment. A number of years ago when I was at a feedlot in Indonesia that had 10,000 cattle that had been exported from Australia, the lady in charge of the feedlot said: 'Can you guarantee that, if a Labor government is elected, the live cattle industry won't be shut down? If you can guarantee that, we will spend millions of dollars on new facilities and make sure that they are at an even higher standard than those we have got now.' I couldn't give her that guarantee. I could not give her a guarantee that a future Labor government would not shut down the Australian industry, that a future Labor government would not shut down Australian jobs and that a future Labor government would not shut down the live cattle export industry, particularly to Indonesia. Because of that lack of certainty we are seeing the perverse outcome of there being less incentive to invest.
If you want to get the best outcome for live sheep that are exported, you do so by creating certainty so that new boats are built to higher standards than they currently are. That's a very pertinent point. You can put dehumidification on sheep export ships. You can have better airflow. You can have better access to water. You can have better access to feed. If you are carting a valuable product—and sheep are very expensive—you will make it very clear that you will invest in that product.
Our government has form of standing by industry to open up industry and opportunity. This is for Australian jobs, and that's what we're all about. That's what we're going to stand by. That's why we believe there continues to be a long future for the live animal export industry in Australia.
Can I firstly acknowledge that I understand the emotiveness of this issue—quite rightly. What we saw in that vision on 60 Minutes several months ago was abhorrent. It was abhorrent to all of us. But it is important that we are calm and decisive through this, and that we predicate our decisions on science and not emotion. That is why the decisions that I have made as the agriculture minister have been predicated on science. Let me just help the member for Hunter, who says in his speech that the science is in. Let me educate him on the process and where we are. One of the reviews that I asked for was the McCarthy review. Within that, Dr McCarthy created a heat-stress model, a new model that needed to be tested—and, in fact, we are only a matter of weeks away from getting that science back. It is groundbreaking, in the sense that we are changing the science from being mortality based to being animal welfare based. That is a key plug in terms of making sure we can reset this industry and do it right, but we haven't got that science.
Speaking to this motion around the urgency of bringing this on today: it would be premature. It would be premature for this House to debate such a motion when the science is, in fact, incomplete. It will be very close to being complete for the first draft report, for more consultation—because the veterinary science that is involved in this is very complex. It is important that we allow that process to take place. Couple that with the opportunity to invest in new technology—for example, new technology around dehumidifiers that will reduce the hot bulb temperature, which is the big killer in those voyages that we saw in that footage. The reality is that we have taken a number of steps.
Can I address one of the comments that the member for Denison made, about the urgency of this motion because there are boats out there at the moment where there is no regulation. One of the key initiatives that I took, apart from any review, was to put independent observers on sheep boats from the very get-go. Independent government observers have been on those boats since that incident with Awassi. I undertook that initiative of my own volition, not with the review, and we are now getting truth and proof on those boats. In fact, the first reports have been issued, and I have advised the department that they need to be shared publicly—and not only those reports; I have asked the department to share the vision so that there is transparency and we build trust in the industry. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from being transparent. That is the initiative that we've taken, and we're going to continue to do that. So for the member for Denison to say this motion is urgent because there are boats out there at the moment that are unregulated is totally false. It is important that we don't have mistruths and that we don't let emotion run away with us. It is important that we use science and fact. I've been clear and concise around that.
I've also been clear and concise around the Moss review and the recommendations that have been put in place there. We've already started an animal welfare branch and, in fact, for the first time, as I said earlier, we're going away from mortality to animal welfare standards. This is reshaping the industry and resetting the industry to make sure that the very best standards—which the OIE already acknowledge to be the best in the world—are improved. We can always do better; make no mistake. We need to have a regulatory framework that calls out the bad behaviour. It's important we do that. It's important we put that framework around this industry. And I'll make sure that the regulator, moving forward, has an oversight through an inspector-general of animal export. That is an important move, to make sure they are reporting not to the department but, in fact, to the minister and the public. Transparency is so important in making sure we move towards that.
We need to let the science continue. We made sure from the start with the McCarthy review to ensure that we were not only going to work through the heat-stress model but also going to make sure the allometric model had safety built into it, and to reduce the capacity on those boats so that we could make sure that the animal welfare standards were at their utmost.
I say to the member for Kennedy, who talked about the stockmen on board: I can assure the member for Kennedy that, in fact, they do already undertake a training course, an accreditation, to make sure they have the appropriate standard of skills that we would expect them to have to be able to manage livestock on those boats. It's important to articulate that, because it's one of the concerns that the member for Kennedy had—and quite appropriately—in wanting to ensure that the best animal standards were met on any boat, whether it be sheep or cattle.
The reality is that this government has been calm and decisive. We believe in this industry. I also point to what the member for Denison said about our moral responsibility. Let me say that our moral responsibility goes beyond this nation. It goes beyond the sheep and cattle within this nation. It goes around the world because, if it's not our sheep and cattle, it will be the sheep and cattle of another nation. So I ask the member for Denison about his moral compass. Does he value the sheep and cattle of this nation above those of any other nation?
We have a responsibility to stay and get it right. This government will continue to do it, because the market is not dying, despite those who say it is. I have sat with government officials in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. This is an important part of not only our agricultural trade but our total trade into the Middle East. So it's important that we respect our trading partners, treat them with the dignity they deserve and give them the clarity that they deserve. We need to do that with science and technology, not with emotion. That's what I say to this parliament. This motion is premature. You need to allow the Australian government to work with industry and our farming sector to get it right. We're Australians. We do it better than anyone else, and we'll continue to get this right as we move into the future.