Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006


Trade: Live Animal Exports

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to respond in part to the speech given last night by Senator McGauran and also to expand on issues that I have raised here in the past regarding the live animal export trade. A lot has been raised in the Senate and in the other place, and also in the wider Australian community, about concerns regarding the cruelty involved in the live animal export trade; indeed, it goes back more than two decades now. Yet we seem to see the same arguments raised again and again. Just last night Senator McGauran—of course newly transferred to the Liberal Party, under the guise of saying that there was no difference between the Liberals and The Nationals—perhaps trying to demonstrate his continuing commitment to rural industries, was expounding his concerns about the potential impact of public concern about animal cruelty in the live animal export trade. One of the problems we have seen in this area has been the continuing lack of commitment to the truth, and Senator McGauran’s speech last night demonstrated that once again in a whole range of areas.

My wider concerns involve not just some of the specifics about the allegations that have been raised time and time again on this issue but also some of the attacks that are made against people who raise them. Last night Senator McGauran was basically trying to say that people who are attacking the live export trade are a bunch of extremists. He mentioned specifically Animals Australia and, to use his own words, ‘the ever publicity seeking RSPCA’. Lots of people say lots of things about the RSPCA, but it is not that common to call the RSPCA an extremist group.

With regard to Animals Australia—and I openly acknowledge that I know many of the people involved in this organisation—it is grossly misleading to describe them as an extremist group. All senators, as I understand it, have received a letter in the last week or two from Animals Australia, from a person by the name of Lyn White, who is the communications director for Animals Australia. She has simply provided them with the documentary evidence about what she has discovered by making the effort and taking the risk of going to the places where animals from Australia are exported to and filming what happens to them there.

Whilst I know all of us here in this place get many pieces of correspondence and it is possible that Senator McGauran himself might not have got this piece of correspondence, I thought it appropriate to outline some of the detail that she provides in the letter that she has given to many senators. For starters, I should say that, despite the description that Senator McGauran and many other government MPs, including other government ministers, have given, far from being an extremist, Ms White served in the South Australian police force for 20 years. It has been only in the last few years that she believed that part of her calling, if you like, was to draw more attention to the cruelty that was inflicted on animals.

Ms White first conducted an investigation in the Middle East into the treatment of Australian exported animals back in 2003 and met a shipment from Fremantle aboard the vessel Al Kuwait. Evidence documented from that investigation, in combination with full evidentiary briefs, was scrutinised by the Western Australian state solicitors office and the federal Attorney-General’s office. That legal complaint was determined to be well founded and has resulted in the Western Australian police lodging cruelty charges, alleging that what was a routine shipment, I might say, breached several sections of the Western Australian Animal Welfare Act. That matter is now before the courts in Western Australia, so I do not suggest that has been proven. But the fact that the evidence that Lyn White from Animals Australia gathered has been shown to be of sufficient value and substance to merit bringing charges before the courts in Western Australia, I hope would scotch once and for all any suggestion that this is some ratbag, extremist group—particularly Ms White, who is the key person who has gathered most of the evidence that has been brought to public attention.

One of the frustrations to many of us who have raised this issue over a number of years is, having done things like that—having gone to the source, having produced the evidence, having got the film documentaries, having provided it to the authorities, having had it screened in the media and having had the authorities bring charges about it—that we have basically come up against a brick wall from federal government authorities and the continual mantra that there is no real problem, that they have investigated this, that they have improved standards and that it is all better now and we should just let them keep going with it. Any time anybody raises any concern, they get called an extremist again. Having met with a response exactly like that, Animals Australia unfortunately had to go back to the Middle East and get more footage to demonstrate that not only did these things happen but also they are continuing to happen. Yet, even in the face of this clear-cut pictorial evidence, we have had just more of the same from the government and its apologists.

Not only are people flagged as extremists, but we also hear the continual mantra reinforcing the misleading statements from the past. Senator McGauran talked last night about thousands of Australian jobs being at risk, yet clearly the only jobs dependent specifically on the live animal export trade are those in exporters’ offices and in feedlots, which would number in the hundreds. I do not dismiss those people, but let us look at the related evidence. The figure of 9,000 jobs that is often used comes from a report, often called the Hassell report, commissioned back in 2002 by LiveCorp—the organisation that is involved in the live export trade. One of the people on the board of the group that produced that report was the then chairman of LiveCorp. By contrast, a report has been produced by agri-economists that shows that a significant number of jobs are lost as a result of the live export trade. The report of Heilbron Pty Ltd concluded that the live export trade could be costing Australia around $1.5 billion in lost gross domestic product and around 10,500 lost jobs, particularly those of meat workers.

Senator McGauran also spoke about the so-called fabulous results with regard to the mortality figures in the live export trade for 2005. Actually, the mortality rates routinely experienced on live sheep export ships, which were about one per cent in 2005, are greater than the normal death rates on farm. Senator McGauran suggested that a one per cent mortality rate is great. Perhaps it is great on farm over the course of a year, but I suggest that if you were a farmer who had a mortality rate of one per cent every two to three weeks, which is the length of time that the average live export shipment takes, then you would be extremely concerned. It is this sort of misuse of figures and statistics that is part of why this continual misinformation is provided to the public. Indeed, Senator McGauran also talked about—to use his words—‘a charade on 60 Minutes’, which ‘purported to show that cattle were Australian, were being treated roughly, were having their tendons cut and were being crudely slaughtered’. I presume and hope that Senator McGauran saw that, but I am not sure how it was purported that they were being treated cruelly, because it was quite clear-cut that that was what was happening. (Time expired)