Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to make a contribution on the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, and I thank all senators who have spoken before me. This is an important bill for my home state of Western Australia, because it puts in place another one of the foundation stones, another one of the girders, that allow for this sustainable industry to continue and to keep on improving. As Senator Reynolds, who is in the chamber, knows only too well, this is a vital component of agriculture in our home state of Western Australia—particularly the sheep industry, although the cattle industry also have live exports of their product from Western Australia. But it is a very significant part of our sheep industry in Western Australia.
I have risen to speak on this topic a number of times in this place, and I think in every contribution I have made the point that we do not just export animals; we export animal welfare standards. When we engage with our trading partners overseas through the live trade, we export our standards to those countries. That also has a downside. It means that, when we withdraw from a market, when we are not able to fulfil a particular market opportunity, the live exports come from elsewhere—countries with standards that are not comparable. I will highlight that recently the extended northern summer ban meant that some 80,000 head of sheep from South Africa were transported into Kuwait. That's a wonderful opportunity for the South African farmers, but the fact is that South Africa do not impose on their agricultural industries the kinds of requirements that we impose on ours. They do not have the equivalent of the ESCAS, which means that, when we send our stock overseas, we are not just sending an animal; we are sending our animal welfare standards. This is something that everyone in Australia must know.
As I've said, we as a country, particularly in this area, lead the world in animal welfare standards. The ESCAS, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which is funded by Australian producers, ensures that Australian standards for animal welfare and animal treatment are adhered to right up until slaughter. That means that all animals that go through an ESCAS certified facility in a foreign country actually benefit from those improved animal welfare standards that Australia has developed and helped other countries adopt.
Can the industry get better, and has it got better? Absolutely. We have seen, since the resumption of the trade, some rather outstanding results in animal welfare, with very low rates of mortality. These are rates of mortality that farmers would be very happy to have in their paddocks. We have seen that, by the trade embracing things such as reduced stocking density, improved reporting requirements, improved standards for the vessels and the three-month self-imposed moratorium on shipments to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer, all these things are coming together and ensuring a sustainable, high-quality industry continues long into the future.
There is an economic component to this. Of course there is. The live export trade was worth around $500 million to the Western Australian economy and $1.7 billion to the national economy in 2017-18. It supports around 10,000 jobs. Around 6,000 of those are in my home state of WA. With 6,000 jobs, particularly in the rural and regional area of Western Australia, it's a very significant employer.
Now is a critical time. It is a critical time for us. It is a critical time for our trading partners. Our trading partners want to know that our industry in Western Australia and the rest of Australia can supply their needs on a regular basis to their requirements and to continue a very long-established trade. So, as I've said, this is one of the foundation stones. This is one of the building blocks upon which a highly sustainable industry can continue to exist and, in fact, can continue to improve.
The role of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports came out of the Moss review. It was a key recommendation there. It's been modelled on the existing Inspector-General of Biosecurity. The role is pretty straightforward. It's to continually review the performance, functions and exercise of powers by livestock export officials such as veterinarians, authorised officers and the secretary of the department. It's about providing accountability and assurance for the regulator and on the systems and practices that are in place. It's about continuous improvement. It's about making sure that our animal export industry continues to achieve the high standards that over the past 12 months it has clearly demonstrated it can achieve. It's an industry that deserves an opportunity to continue this good work, continue to improve itself and continue to show to the Australian people that it's a very important part of our agricultural sector.
I just want to acknowledge a couple of people. One is our good colleague from the other place Rick Wilson, the member for O'Connor. A significant proportion of live exports come out of Rick's seat of O'Connor. Rick has been tireless in advocating on behalf of the live animal export industry out of O'Connor. The seats of Melissa Price and Nola Marino are also impacted, but the vast majority of sheep production in Western Australia is in the seat of O'Connor. Obviously, there are smaller numbers that come out of the eastern states and South Australia, but this is a highly localised problem. It creates some issues, I guess, in selling the benefits of an industry when it does only come from one relatively small—I'm sure Rick would disagree with me about 'small'!—part of Australia.
I think it's also important to know that those who have held the portfolio area, Minister Littleproud and now Minister McKenzie, have played key roles in ensuring that the industry was given that opportunity to undertake some continuous improvement to get the ships moving again, to get the sheep going back to our trading partners again and to get the trade back up and running on a sustainable footing that's well geared now to last into the long term.
Finally I just wish to say that, whilst this decision is certainly well above my pay grade, I think that an ideal candidate for the first inspector-general would be a former member of this place, Chris Back. I think everyone acknowledged, when he left this place and there were many kind words spoken about former Senator Back, that he was a very fair hand. Senator Wong described him as 'dignified, even-handed, calm and fair'. She said of Chris:
Those of us on this side of the chamber have appreciated that greatly and respected your work greatly. We are going to be suggesting that we bring you back for training of chairs in the weeks to come.
Senator Siewert said:
We both have a love of agriculture and want to see agriculture succeed, particularly in our home state of Western Australia. We have a lot in common, working on the same issues, and we want to see more people make agriculture their profession, because there are very serious issues in this country in that area.
I think the very high regard that Senator Back was held in would serve him in great stead if he were considered for the role. I certainly think that would be a be a very good outcome, because of both his previous knowledge and service of this place and his great love of agriculture, and livestock in particular.
As I've said, the industry has done a lot to improve the outcomes on board those vessels. The last year of livestock transportation has seen some 714,000 sheep loaded through the port of Fremantle at a mortality rate of 0.26 per cent. This is, by any historical measure, an absolutely outstanding badge of pride for the industry. The industry can keep doing better. It knows it can. The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports will work with the industry and assist the industry in making sure it can be the best it possibly can be in the years to come, hopefully for many, many years to come.