Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Australian Meat and Livestock Industry

6:56 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry entitled Livestock mortality for exports by sea—report for the period 1 July to 31 December 2006 is part of the federal government’s ongoing determination to ensure that live animals exported from Australia are exported in a way that is humane and that as many as possible reach their destinations alive. That is of course very important not only from the animal welfare point of view but also from the Australian industry’s point of view in that we are well regarded as a superior exporter of live animals. This means real revenue to Australia and it very substantially involves a contribution to the economies of many country towns around Australia, particularly in my home state of Queensland.

It is interesting to recall the days, a few years ago, when there was great concern about the number of cattle and sheep that died en route. The government put in place a number of measures. It was all very big news in those days. Because it has been working so well, it has gone out of the headlines, but I think it is appropriate that we look at the results of the government’s very intense concentration on the welfare of live animals being exported overseas. In the period from April 2006 to November 2006 inclusive, there was evidence to suggest that the Australian government’s new measures to reduce livestock mortalities during export by sea were working very effectively and very efficiently.

To give you some idea: in relation to 129 voyages from Australian ports in those months, some 363,084 cattle were loaded and the number that died en route was 739, or 0.2 per cent, which is a very small figure when compared to live exports in previous years. Of sheep exported live, some 2,009,872 were exported and some 20,000 were lost and that is a figure of 1.02 per cent—still too many, we would say, but certainly considerably down on the fatalities of previous years. Of these voyages, the average sailing time was just over 12 days, with many voyages taking just a week or even less.

As one of Australia’s northernmost located senators, I am pleased to report that, for the majority of live exports during those months that I mentioned, the loading ports were in northern Australia. I am delighted to see that Karumba, Mourilyan and Townsville in my state of Queensland were loading ports, as were Broome, Port Hedland and Wyndham in Western Australia and Darwin in the Northern Territory. These very important shipments continue to serve an extremely lucrative overseas market, and it is worth noting that the use of northern ports is very good for regional economies and jobs in the north, and for Australia in general. It is well recognised that a lot of the wealth of Australia comes from the northern part of our country. I often, with some pride, say that whilst northern Australia—which I class as north of the Tropic of Capricorn—has only about six or seven per cent of Australia’s population, it produces something like 30 per cent of Australia’s export earnings. These cattle exports are certainly a significant part of the economy of northern Australia.

Under the Howard government we are working harder than ever to ensure that livestock losses at sea are kept to a minimum. We are also ensuring that Australia’s economic prosperity, in particular that of our regions in the north, is not jeopardised by the complaints which follow losses of live animals. (Time expired)

7:01 pm

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

I rise to speak on the same topic, the live export trade. In his contribution, Senator Ian Macdonald spoke about public concern over live trade in animals as though it were in the past. I can certainly assure him that it is very much a current concern with many thousands of Australians. Indeed, if you look at the petitions tabled in the Senate—and, sadly, not enough senators do look at the petitions tabled here—by far and away the largest number of cumulative signatures over the last few years express concern about the live export trade. I think it is up around 130,000 signatures.

This concern is not new. Back in the days when the Senate used to give consideration to animal welfare issues and not treat them as fringe matters, the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare clearly demonstrated problems with the live export trade at that time. Indeed, it came to a finding that, if we were to take account solely of animal welfare issues, the trade should stop—recognising that economic issues trumped animal cruelty at that time.

Certainly, there have been a number of improvements and changes since the 1980s. I accept that, and the fact that we have a report like this one is some indication at least of a tiny degree of transparency. It is still quite a small degree of transparency and it does reveal significant deaths on board. Senator Macdonald gave the total figures from all the shipments, but there are specific incidents in here. For example, there was a shipment out of Portland and Fremantle in October last year, through Livestock Shipping Services Pty Ltd. It was a 30-day voyage that went through the ports of Eilat, Aqaba and Adabiya, which are in Israel, Jordan and Egypt. The percentage of cattle deaths on that voyage was 3.18 per cent, well over the benchmark for death rates. Indeed, the percentage rate of sheep deaths on that ship was 1.19 per cent—72,000 sheep were crammed onto that one single vessel.

I am not sure whether people have seen some of these vessels at the various departure points, but there are quite a number listed here that have total sheep numbers over 70,000. There is one that had 99,607 animals and a death rate of almost one per cent. Indeed, one vessel made a voyage of 34 days to four different ports—Bahrain, Kuwait, Jebel Ali, which is in Dubai, and another port—with 108,000 sheep crammed on board. Anyone who suggests that there are no animal welfare issues involved in that is kidding themselves.

We have seen screened just recently on the Today Tonight program the follow-up to evidence that was screened last year. It is not just the suffering that occurs on these voyages but the cruelty that is inflicted on animals when they get to the other end. I mentioned a vessel that had a high death rate. One of the ports it went to was the port in Egypt. The footage that has been screened on television shows the way Australian livestock are treated when they are offloaded in Egypt and transported to markets or abattoirs, and the absolutely unspeakable cruelty involved in the way they are slaughtered. When this first came to light last year the minister and industry said, ‘It is a fraud; it is not true; they are not Australian animals; it is not happening.’ But they did suspend the trade. They had an inquiry and put in place an MOU that was supposedly going to fix all this. Minister McGauran said that it was all going to be fine now. People went in there again and got more footage of the very first Australian shipment and it showed that nothing had changed. That has been the problem—20 years of continuing incidence of cruelties, government investigations, promises, recommendations, supposed changes and then we get more evidence that nothing has changed.

There are alternatives to the live export trade. Economic studies show that it exports jobs. We have alternative trade. If the government put as much energy into promoting those alternative exports, the frozen meat trade could increase significantly. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.