Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Bills

Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:31 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Australia is already recognised as the world leader in animal welfare provisions for live export, and now this government is going even further. Australia is third in the world, behind Canada and France, for live exports by value, and our live export standards are the most stringent in the world. It would be terrific if we had those on the other side putting as much effort into asking our competitors to come up to our standard as they do into berating what is already world's best practice. For instance, Australia is the only country that requires specific animal welfare outcomes for all livestock exports.

The Morrison government's move to further enhance the welfare of live animal exports should be welcomed by all Australians as a positive step towards ensuring the prosperity of cattle producers, improving animal welfare and enhancing the industry's reputation. Adding another layer of regulation is not a good outcome—but it is the only tool in the opposition's toolbox. Instead of encouraging best practice, instead of encouraging an industry that is working hard at every turn to improve its own practices and the practices of other partners in the industry, all we have is an opposition that was ready at a moment's notice to shut down an industry, to make those animals worthless and to have very poor animal welfare outcomes across the far north of Australia, where the vast majority of these animals come from—not to mention the human impact on small businesses, graziers and farmers who were all brought to the edge of mental illness by the overnight shutdown of an industry that is very important to our nation.

This legislation is the sort of practical solution that people have come to expect from the coalition, as opposed to those disastrous actions of Labor, who only do what sounds good rather than what works. I have spoken to graziers who nearly lost everything when live exports were summarily stopped on Labor's watch, and I can assure you the bitterness is still there and will be around for a long time. Unlike Labor and the Greens, the coalition wants regional areas to not just survive but thrive, and exporting our meat animals gives remote and rural Australians the best chance of achieving this. It also gives the importing countries a chance to thrive by ensuring that their people have access to fresh meat and enough protein to satisfy their needs. The damage that we did to our relationships with our trading partners through that overnight shutdown is immeasurable.

But it is not just any meat that our trading partners want. They want Australian meat, because we have the best produce in the world that continually has international industry representatives saying: teach us how you do it. The Beef Australia expo held triennially in Rockhampton, which is the beef capital of Australia, has participants from many countries coming to do business and learn from our best practice. The live export trade was valued at over $1.7 billion in 2017-18 and supports the livelihoods of thousands of people in rural and regional Australia. It is crucial to Australia's economic performance and the ability of graziers to continue making a living that this trade continues.

But let's be clear: no-one, especially the farmers and the graziers, is happy to see footage of animals being mistreated, and anyone who says otherwise merely displays their ignorance of what goes into producing meat for human consumption. The cash-for-footage scandal highlights the incentive that has now been provided for people to mistreat and then film animals. I've seen graziers put themselves at great personal peril and great personal expense to save stock from floods, drought and now fires. I've seen hard men of the land reduced to inconsolable tears at the sight of livestock they've lost. The welfare of the animals that rely on them for food, water and safety is paramount.

That's another reason the Morrison government is investing in the Northern Australia Beef Roads Program—$100 million. But all over Australia the meat industry is investing in animal welfare initiatives. The red meat beef sustainability framework is an example of that. More specific examples are Roma saleyards in South West Queensland, holding itself to the very high standards of low-impact methods to move and weigh cattle, and Dalby saleyards putting the entire saleyard under cover at great expense.

There is a huge amount of research being done on other ways to increase animal welfare, all the way from the moment they're born. But this is not being driven by government; it is being driven by industry. It was the industry, not the government, that made the decision to halt exports during the summer months, and this government's added animal welfare checks are merely improving what is already being done in the meat producing sector. The Australian government does not tolerate cruelty towards animals and is constantly working to improve animal welfare conditions in importing countries. It's working with industry and our trading partners to improve the transportation, handling and slaughter of livestock in overseas markets.

However, our farmers and the Australian public need the assurance that the government is serious about the welfare of livestock exports. This bill will establish an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. It will build confidence in this country's animal welfare checks by providing an extra independent layer of accountability. This is a practical measure that balances the needs of animals, the concerns of citizens and the viability of meat processors. It keeps live exports going, it keeps farming families on the land and able to make a decent living and it shows the world that we're serious about leading the way, in partnership with industry, in farming innovation and quality control and that we're serious about the health of our livestock.

But I have to say that I was surprised that a senator from Western Australia would speak to the amendments being proposed by the ALP that are purely cheap political point scoring, looking back, as Labor does, into the past and not into the future. And, of course, the amendments proposed by the Greens are, as usual, not just useless but not practical.

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