Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019; Second Reading
I note, on rising to speak to the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, that this is not my first speech. But this is a matter that is particularly important to farmers across Australia and to regional communities both in my home state of New South Wales and beyond, and I'm pleased to rise to speak to this bill. As has been mentioned, Australia is a world leader in animal health and welfare, and the Liberal-National coalition government is committed to maintaining our high standards and to ensuring our regulations for animal welfare are being met. This commitment is clearly reflected in this bill. On that note, I commend my Nationals colleagues the Hon. David Littleproud MP, in his former position as Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, in her capacity now as Minister for Agriculture, for working with the farmers and the industry to improve and strengthen oversight of the live export trade.
Australians were rightly appalled in 2018 when they saw footage of sheep dying on voyages to the Middle East and on the MV Awassi Express in 2017. Many members of the Australian community, particularly the farmers that breed this livestock and others employed in the agricultural industry, were absolutely horrified and sickened by what they saw. Indeed, many wondered why this had not been reported to authorities before and why footage, instead of going to the authorities who could act on it, went instead to a media outlet and an activist organisation. But that is a matter for another debate.
While the community was rightly appalled, so too was the government. Some used that as an opportunity to advocate shutting down the industry—an industry that is worth over $1.7 billion. But this government has instead taken steps to fix the problems affecting the industry and to improve the oversight of the trade. We did not immediately compromise the livelihoods of farmers and businesses throughout rural and regional Australia, as Labor did in 2010 when they shut down the live cattle exports. Instead, this government supports those farmers and exporters who do the right thing and the thousands of flow-on jobs dependent on livestock exports. And we make no apologies for penalising and throwing the book at those who do the wrong thing, like when we cancelled an export licence last year. We do this because we recognise that the live export trade must be conducted properly, sustainably and in a manner consistent with the standards of animal welfare that Australians expect.
The industry must be accountable. That is why, in April 2018, the then minister appointed public sector governance expert Mr Philip Moss AM to conduct a review of the regulatory capability and culture of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in the regulation of live animal exports. The government has accepted all recommendations from the Moss review. The position of inspector-general, which will be established by this bill, is part of the government's broader strategy to develop and maintain an effective regulatory culture for the live export sector.
This position, the position of Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, is modelled on the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, formally established under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Just as the Inspector-General of Biosecurity provides a layer of assurance over Australia's biosecurity risk management systems, so, too, will the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports provide accountability and assurance in relation to Australia's livestock export regulatory systems. They will be able to review the performance of functions and the exercise of powers not only by live export officials but also by the secretary of the department and to make recommendations for overall system improvements. They will be involved in promoting continual improvements in regulatory practice and in improving the performance and culture of the Department of Agriculture in its role as the regulator of Australia's livestock exports, and they will be fully resourced to do it. The creation of this position of inspector-general is in addition to the government's other measures in response to the Moss review.
Animal welfare is at the heart of all regulatory activities relating to animal exports, and it is what farmers expect. Indeed, as has been mentioned by my colleagues today, farmers know that animal welfare is at the forefront of their profit-making enterprises. Without good animal-health-and-welfare practices, both on farm and through the value chain to the end consumer, we will not have a sustainable industry, going forward. I know this, as I once worked for one of Australia's largest beef producers, and they were heavily involved in the live export industry. The department has formed the Animal Welfare Branch to engage with industry for this purpose and to make sure we're meeting the expectations of the public and the producers alike. The Animal Welfare Branch is driving a greater focus on animal welfare, including developing a range of indicators that are based on science and that are focused on the wellbeing of animals, rather than just mortality numbers.
This government has taken a range of actions to protect the welfare of all livestock exported from Australia, be it sheep, cattle, buffalo, camels or goats. The government is committed to continuing livestock exports, which continues to be a legitimate business option for our farmers. But our farmers, and the Australian public more broadly, need greater assurance that the government is protecting animal welfare outcomes for livestock exports and that those exports are conducted properly and sustainably. This bill goes towards providing that assurance. This bill will drive a positive change in the livestock export industry by improving regulatory practice, performance and the culture of the department as the regulator of the industry, and I commend this bill.