Senate debates

Thursday, 23 June 2011


Live Animal Exports

8:08 pm

Photo of Kerry O'BrienKerry O'Brien (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee has been charged with the responsibility of inquiring into certain matters relating to live exports and the situation with live exports into the Indonesian market. I have been a member of the committee and its predecessors for some time but will not be part of that inquiry. I want to take this, my last, opportunity to make some comments about the circum­stances which the Australian industry now faces and which will no doubt be the subject of examination by the committee, and perhaps others, in the coming months.

I looked at the LiveCorp website recently and at some of the media releases on that website. I noted that LiveCorp has appointed Mr Cameron McDonald as Animal Welfare Manager, effective from May 2010, based in Jakarta. There are also repeated reports on the website of LiveCorp since that time about the importance of animal welfare and the talk of encouraging better practices and the use of stunning in the process for slaughter of those animals.

I also had a look at the Meat & Livestock Australia website, which does not contain any particular information, that I could find, about their role in Indonesia other than statistics about the proportion of Australian meat which finds its way into the Indonesian market. I do note that Meat & Livestock Australia is funded by and represents red meat producers in Australia and, if one is to believe its website, has a duty of care to Australian farmers, particularly to helping them meet community and consumer expectations with regard to their industry.

I do not think it is questionable at all that those bodies know, and have known for some time, about the importance of the live export trade to Indonesia and the importance of the animal welfare outcomes in relation to that trade and the animal welfare movement's concerns and activism about that very trade, as with the trade in other parts of the country.

This country has seen some very tawdry events in relation to live exports. In 1990-91 the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia was ended. It did not resume until the year 2000. In 2003, a vessel known as the MV Cormo Express was left without a destination for its cargo of live sheep because of disease on board the ship, and there were no arrangements to offload that cargo anywhere. Those animals were in effective purgatory while a destination was found. In 2006, the live sheep trade to Egypt was banned until 2008—for almost three years. So neither the MLA nor LiveCorp could have been under any illusion that, if there were concerns about the trade into Indonesia, that trade would be anything other than in jeopardy. There was no reason for them to conclude that the trade could continue if there was evidence of significant animal welfare concern in that market.

Given the circumstances of the placement of a LiveCorp officer in Indonesia in May of last year, all the events about animal welfare activism in the trade and a detailed knowledge about the market in Indonesia, why would they have been surprised by the findings that we saw so recently in the Four Corners report? It is particularly curious when one looks at the report of the agriculture FAO, which is publicly available and which details the circumstances of meat processing in Indonesia as well as in many other places. I found this on the internet. In talking about the number of facilities, for example, it says that Indonesia tops the list of the number of slaughter facilities, with 800 officially registered slaughterhouses. The report makes particular remarks about the country of Indonesia. It says:

The former centralized government initiated the construction of a high-capacity central abattoir in Jakarta, capable of slaughtering up to 2 000 head of cattle per night in two lines, using electric stunning (locally acceptable for Halal standards) and other modern equipment. The shift to a market economy and decentralization led to the opening of many small, private slaughter facilities with poor hygienic standards but which attracted the majority of livestock due to the lower cost. Although offering much better hygienic standards, the central abattoir in Jakarta now operates only at 10 percent of its capacity. Some municipalities (Bogor and Yogyakarta) recently built good medium-sized abattoirs with line slaughter for cattle. Both have not gone operational as yet because of disputes with the local butcher communities who prefer to continue slaughtering in the traditional way.

This is FAO, a responsible and reputable organisation. It goes on in the report to say:

The free-market economy stimulated the mushrooming of many small private slaughter facilities, mostly with obsolete technical and hygienic equipment or practically none at all.

These small slaughterhouses operate more cheaply than the large abattoirs primarily because of that lack of expenditure on maintenance, hygiene measures and energy. Thus, the butchers or meat dealers are charged less and have won over a large portion of the business from the established facilities.

That is quite knowable for LiveCorp and MLA, for quite some time. So how could those organisations turn a blind eye to what was taking place in Indonesia, a market which last year took three-quarters of a million live cattle from Australia? Clearly, it is fundamentally important to cattle pro­ducers in Northern Australia and there is not one reasonable sized processing facility in the line between Geraldton and Townsville.

How could those organisations, with regard to their constituencies, not have taken action, and how can they now expect the Australian public and certainly the farming community to forgive them for their neglect of their responsibility? As I said, live exports have been closed off for years to particular markets where there has been exposure of unacceptable animal welfare circumstances. They know that.

The Australian public is not prepared to accept those sorts of circumstances, and both sides of this parliament have known that for some time. The bodies charged with the responsibility of representing the live export industry, LiveCorp, and meat producers in Australia, MLA, ought to be condemned by their membership. If the opposition in this place takes a reasoned and responsible position on this matter they will ensure that those bodies bear the opprobrium that they should bear in relation to this matter because it is those bodies who are primarily responsible for the livelihoods of Australian farmers, particularly in Northern Australia, who may for some time lose markets in Indonesia because of the unacceptable practices which have been developing for some time in that market and clearly have gone without any reasonable interruption. If you have a reasonable interruption, if you have an industry with 800 processing facilities, many operating at very basic standards, there can be no guarantee of reasonable animal welfare standards.

You only have to look at the FAO report, which is available on the web, and see pictures of what takes place in all sorts of places in South-East Asia to know that those processes are unacceptable. To see that combined with the report on Four Corners and the Animals Australia footage I think is a depiction that we have been receiving a misrepresentation from the industry representatives about what has really been going on in Indonesia. They ought to be condemned. We need to get the matter fixed. It will take action from government and some regulation to do it but we should not forget who is responsible for letting the situation get out of hand.

Senate adjourned at 20:18