Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Live Animal Exports

3:39 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Ludwig) to a question without notice asked today.

I take this opportunity to congratulate you, Senator Parry, on your ascension to the deputy presidency. I know that on this side we consider it to be practice for the real job very shortly.

One of the questions I asked the minister was: what could Nico Botha do and what access to what programs would he have with regard to him now having to shoot 200 animals every day until 3,000 animals have been culled? As part of the answer—I am sure the minister was not being glib about it—he said, 'We've referred this to Human Services and Centrelink are going to give him a call.' He would know from my question that I have done the arithmetic for him: it is some $125,000 in losses every day. Sadly the $5,000 that would be provided to Mr Botha would only just cover his bullets. It smacks of arrogance to simply say: 'We'll just ring Centrelink. It'll be all right.' It is a completely blinkered government that cannot understand the human tragedy that is happening out there in North Australia.

We now see this coupled so closely to animal welfare issues, the terrible irony that we were trying to prevent. The motive for that prevention was good, but the way this government has gone about it means it has completely and utterly bungled it. That is one demographic—that is, property owners right across North Australia. If that is the government's response, to 'ring Centrelink', I do not think any sort of comfort in the future for the amelioration of these decisions is going to be very satisfactory.

There is another demographic right across North Australia that are very close to my heart—that is, the Aboriginal Australians who are working on so many of these cattle stations across the country. I have spoken to them in Timber Creek, in Lake Nash, in Newcastle Waters and in Beetaloo recently. There are 7,000 Aboriginal participants across North Australia in this industry. Those 7,000 support nearly 17,000 people in extended families and communities that are absolutely dependent on this, ensuring they have pride because they are part of an extended family that earns their money instead of getting it off welfare, pride because they know the alternative is Centrelink. They do not like to have anything to do with Centrelink. They have moved away from that in the pastoral industry.

It is a great irony that they now own some 55 stations in the Northern Territory, 22 in Western Australia and six in North Queensland. They own them. They started out as the backbone of this industry. It is not the Kidmans of the world that developed the cattle industry; it was the Aboriginal stockmen, the Aboriginal managers. They are the backbone of and provide the framework for an industry that they have only recently, in historical times, had the opportunity to own. They own their own land, own their own cattle stations, provide for their own employment. They have some independence and some pride. They own a stake in their own business, a very important business, a business that has brought spin-offs for people who used to expect they would go on CDEP or expect that they would be intergenerationally poor. The expectation was they did not go to work, they went to Centrelink. But that cycle has been broken. They have ownership of their land and pride in how they can provide for their people and for their country. But the great sadness is this—they have asked me: 'What will I do? Where can I go?' I have said, 'I'm sorry, it's back to Centrelink.'

Here we have a government that has made a knee-jerk decision that has not only affected the pastoral industry and the people within it in a fiscal sense, but has also emasculated our First Australians. It has taken away those vestiges of pride they have worked so long to achieve. For the past couple of decades their plans have slowly come to fruition; they are slowly getting back to where they should be. They are so proud of the work they have done. They enjoy this work so much. If you ever want to see a bloke enjoying his job, who seeks for no more than to get up every day and work on a pastoral station, talk to an Aboriginal stockman. They love their work. This government has said, 'Sorry about that.' Instead of putting people from welfare into employment, they have managed very well to take people from perfectly good jobs and stick them on welfare. (Time expired.)

3:44 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy President Parry, and congratulations on your election to that position.

I do not think farmers, cattle producers or anyone involved in this industry wants cattle to be treated in the way we saw on Four Corners in Indonesia—or any other country, for that matter. I think they want action taken to ensure that the cattle are treated and slaughtered appropriately—that they do not go through undue pain and suffering in circum­stances which I think appalled everybody that saw the footage on Four Corners. It is a terrible situation, but it is a situation where the government had to act.

It is a pretty easy target for the opposition simply to blame the government. Of course, from their point of view, the government is ultimately responsible for everything. That is what an opposition does. Often they will exaggerate things and make things up in order to make those points. That is unfortun­ate. This government is trying to work very hard with the industry and with Indonesia to ensure that we can get a resumption of the live cattle trade.

I had the opportunity to visit Egypt a number of years ago where we saw a closed-loop abattoir that took a long time to develop—four years—after the previous Howard government closed down the live trade to Egypt when there were similar concerns and public outrage about those issues. This government has acted in a very similar manner to the way the previous government acted with very similar circumstances. It took a long time to develop that. We do not believe we will take anywhere near as long as it took to reopen the trade with Egypt. They eventually got a closed-loop system, which is what we require with Indonesia.

We are confident that the work we are doing with Indonesia and with the industry will soon lead to the ability to reopen some of the trade. It is simply not enough to say that there are some abattoirs somewhere that will meet the international standards that we expect for our cattle to be slaughtered in Indonesia. You actually have to guarantee that when the cattle are shipped to Indonesia they are in a closed-loop situation where they can be tracked to ensure that they go to the international-standard abattoirs which they are expected to go to and not diverted to other places where the current practices which appalled everybody will continue to operate. That is what we need to avoid.

It is very disappointing that the live trade industry itself has seriously let down the farmers and cattle producers of this country. It was an industry that was aware for some time about some of the treatment that was occurring to the cattle. Instead of trying to address the issue in a long-term process—where we could get closed-loop systems, have appropriate standards and assist the Indonesians and work with them to achieve it—they simply continued to export cattle, with no regard for the way that they were treated and slaughtered. The live cattle trade industry itself has let down the cattle producers and the farmers of this country. And, of course, it has let down all Australians.

This is of interest to all Australians. We know that there has been an enormous public outcry. In fact, there is an enormous campaign to never reopen the live cattle trade, but this government is committed to it for many of the reasons that Senator Scullion identified. We accept those reasons are there. We accept that the livelihoods of many people, including Indigenous companies and stockmen, are reliant on this particular trade at this point in time. The government is moving to ensure that we get an adequate compensation package to address some of those issues.

Whenever a decision like this is made, it always has flow-on consequences, but the government was in a position where it needed to act and act quickly and responsibly in the best interests of the long-term trade. That is what people, I think, fail to under­stand: if we do not get this right, this trade will never reopen. Simply doing what the opposition says—ignoring the reality on the ground and simply reopening the trade without having the proper safeguards, the appropriate closed-loop systems in place—would jeopardise the longevity of this industry in the future. (Time expired)

3:49 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not unreasonable that Senator Marshall would not understand the industry, and the words he has used indicate very clearly that he does not understand the industry. It is my regret to have to quote from a letter from a young lady, Jess Sullivan, whose father, Rohan Sullivan of Cave Creek station, is the President of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association. She said:

Yes the slaughtering was confronting, yes it was horrific, we don’t accept it, and we don’t condone it.

She goes on to say:

The Federal Government’s suspension of live export was a direct response to the reaction to the Four Corners program, and proof that agriculturalists were right to feel threatened and targeted by the ABC.

They were guests in her home, they were guests on the station. Her father appeared in the Four Corners program. She says:

I'm sure the program's makers were delighted with the interest sparked by their production, but the fallout caused by it? They cannot begin to imagine the damage they have caused. Maybe they knew that their ruthless journalism would crush my faith in the good of humanity. They exploited my family to lend their program a false 'credibility'. But did they really mean to bring an entire industry to its knees, to put us at the mercy of a government whose knee-jerk response has all but destroyed Australia's relationship with Indonesia? Or to impoverish families, some of who have now had no income since August last year? Was throwing hundreds of stations into an uncertain future, that could see three generations of some families lose everything, what they intended? Because, congratulations to them, that's what they have achieved.

Regrettably, that is what this government has achieved. We now see the shocking prospect starting tomorrow of up to 3,000 cattle on Moola Bulla station being destroyed. I hope nobody else in this chamber—I know there are one or two who have—is ever faced with the problem of having to shoot livestock. As a veterinarian associated with bushfires and other emergencies, I have. For those of you that do not understand the psychological impact that occurs to a person when they stand and shoot livestock, it is an horrific circumstance.

I feel greatly for that family on Moola Bulla and for the many other stations because these livestock now have no option but to be shot. They have no value in the south. It would be an animal welfare disaster for these cattle to be trucked to the south. They are too light for southern markets. It is too cold in the south for Bos indicus cattle to be brought down to the south. They will now go out onto the range lands and, as they get to 350 kilograms of body weight, they will be unsaleable. They cannot go away in a month or two months time because they will be unsaleable. They are the 2010 calf drop. Their mothers are due to start calving now for this year's calf drop.

If those cattle are not shot, what will happen to them? They cannot be brought south and they cannot be shipped to Indonesia. They will remain on the range lands on the stations. Their mothers, as I say, are starting to calve. That feed might not run out this year, but if we have a light rainfall year into the summer we will have no feed on the range lands this time next year. There will be more feed on this carpet than there will be on the range lands next year.

Why is Moola Bulla in this situation? Because one of the conditions of pastoral leases is that there be a certain stocking rate. If those cattle are not dispatched to Indon­esia, if they are not sold off the place, then not only will the range lands be at risk from a natural environmental disaster but also they will be at risk from the animal welfare disaster of starvation. The pastoralists, if they are still on the stations, will themselves be in the circumstance of being in default under their pastoral leases.

As I made the point before, the pastoralists on leasehold land have no equity. They have no collateral to offer to a bank. If and when they walk off their stations, they will walk off with the shirts on their backs and what they can contain in their utilities because their livestock have got no value, their leased properties have got no value and, after generations, they will leave their places with nothing. That is what will happen. That is why I begged the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry not to completely suspend this trade. The door has now been locked. The door is closed and it is all up to the Indonesians. I know this was not the minister's intention, but it is an inevitable consequence of what happened. As this lass says, she bore witness to the lies of the ABC, who deliberately misquoted the man and made him look like a fool. The ABC has some responsibility in this, and this is not the last we will hear of the ABC. (Time expired)

3:55 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, this is the first opportunity I have had to publicly commend you on your election as Deputy President. As a fellow Tasmanian senator, albeit from the other side, I am sure you will represent not only Tasmania well but the whole of the Senate.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Only your mother could tell you apart.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a frightening thought, Senator. The government shares the concerns of Australians about animal welfare in the live export trade. We are taking all the necessary action we can to provide for a secure future for the live export trade, and that is important to remember. I can comprehend Senator Back's very deep and angry concern, but we have to make sure this trade is ongoing for the future.

Senator Fifield interjecting

Let me remind those opposite who are already starting to interject that they did have 11 years in government and they did nothing to help fix these issues, and I am sure they knew about them. On this side, we are committed to working alongside industry and alongside Indonesia to have trade recommence as soon as possible. It is not a decision the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has taken lightly. I know those on the other side understand that, but they want to get a few political points out there, which is their game. That is what they do. They are in opposition; they oppose everything. It is a strange concept to oppose absolutely everything and to be so negative and so nay saying about everything.

However, concerns have been brought to light about this live export industry and those concerns need to be sorted out. While we are working as quickly as possible to get the trade back up and running, it is important that those in the industry, who are doing it tough, are supported. We have offered some assistance measures for those affected.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

You are driving hundreds of families into destitution, you fools.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators on the other side are interjecting. Senator Brandis, I have told you time and time again. Thirty three-year-olds can yell at me and I can still keep talking, so your over-the-top—

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: that inter­jection from Senator Brandis, calling another senator a fool, is unparliamentary and should be withdrawn.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I was not calling Senator Bilyk a fool, Mr Deputy President. I was calling the Australian Labor Party collectively fools.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, interjections are disorderly. Do you wish to withdraw the statement?

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I will not withdraw.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I ask you to check the Hansard, see if Senator Brandis's submission to you was itself truthful and report back any ruling you might make on the Hansard record.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Bob Brown. I will refer the matter to the President.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, if you are looking at the Hansard, perhaps you would like to look at the comments that Senator Bilyk just made about Senator Brandis. If we are becoming precious with these things, we perhaps should look at both sides.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Kroger. That will be taken into account.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I do not want to prolong this, but we have seen in the last six weeks Senator Bob Brown take a point of order that it is unparliamentary to accuse another senator of impertinence. Now we have seen Senator Brown take a point of order to say that it is unparliamentary for one senator to accuse the adverse side of the parliament of foolishness. I trust that, when the President reviews the Hansard, there will be a very lively concern about the import­ance of freedom of parliamentary expression. If ever there was one who was not in a position to call into question the right of other senators to be robustly critical of their political opponents, it is Senator Brown himself.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask you now to either rule on the admissibility of a debate as a point of order or to rule Senator Brandis's point of order out of order.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Brown. The matter has been taken on board and will be given to the President. The Hansard will need to be reviewed. If the President does have anything further to come back and indicate to the Senate, he will.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, 30 three-year-olds can yell at me; I spent 12 years in the childcare industry, so your interjections just wash completely over me. I know you are childish on that side; I saw it all through question time yet again. You are like kids just before Christmas; the trees are under the present, but you are not allowed to open them, so you are getting a little bit tetchy about things. But there you go, that is how it is. As I was saying, if I could get back to the important issue at hand, I am a bit surprised by the two different—

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Presents are under the tree; the trees are not under the presents.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that correction. You are quite right, Senator Heffernan. Although, in some situations, the trees might be under the presents; you have got a few things all back to front over that side, so maybe that is happening too.

I am a bit surprised when I sit here and listen to the rants and the raves going on over there about this, because it would appear to me that there are two lines once again in the debate from those on the other side. We have heard Senator Back and other senators talk about the issues confronting people in regard to live export trade, but what do they want? Do they want animals to be subjected to cruelty? Are they only interested in pro­viding a short-term fix, not a long-term sustainable solution for the industry? As I said, you did nothing to establish a sus­tainable live export trade in the 10 or 11 years you were in government. We have committed to carry out substantial reform in the way live exports operate.

These reforms will provide a framework for the industry to deliver internationally accepted animal welfare outcomes. This is not done overnight. It is a difficult, complex set of issues, which, as I have said, the gov­ern­ment is working methodically through. We are not putting up a three-word slogan, as is often done by the other side. No, we have asked Mr Farmer to examine each stage of the supply chain, from paddock to the point of slaughter, for all markets that receive Australian livestock, and that review— (Time expired)

4:02 pm

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In five minutes I probably will not get there. The first thing I would like to do is table a document on the impact of the suspension on the live trade to Indonesia, which is out of the working group, with the permission of the—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Heffernan, are you seeking leave to table it?

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am.

Leave granted.

I would also like to indicate that, because of the sensitivity of this document, I will table it in a couple of days, with the permission of the government.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I wonder if Senator Heffernan, in seeking to table the document, would be good enough to extend a copy of it to the Greens and the Independents as well.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order. The document is now public; it has been tabled by leave.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Heffernan indicated, in relation to the very thick document there, that he will seek to have it tabled.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, you sought a point of order; it was not a point of order. You could have denied leave. Leave was granted. Senator Heffernan had leave.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a new point of order. In relation to the second document that Senator Heffernan has, he has indicated that he will seek permission to table that some days time. I am just asking that it be circulated to the crossbenchers as well.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a courtesy and a common practice, which Senator Heffernan would realise.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For those who did not know: in 1988 we exported 81,000 cattle. The cattle trade to Indonesia, or the live export trade, peaked in 2002, with 955,000 cattle. Last year, we exported 821,000. In the 1990-2010 period, Indonesia took 48 per cent of our live cattle exports; the Philippines took 16 per cent; Egypt, eight per cent; Malaysia, seven per cent; and then there are lesser amounts. In the period 2000-10, that was up for Indonesia, to 57 per cent; the Philippines dropped to eight per cent; Egypt dropped to seven per cent; and Malaysia dropped to six per cent.

Can I declare an interest. I have actually shot cattle in a drought situation. I have to tell you that it is not a very nice thing to go through, and I regret, if that is going to happen at Moola Bulla, that there is not another way out. I shot cattle. I went down to save the cows. I shot all the calves. But I did not shoot them all. I could not get through them all. It was too much. I drove out of the paddock and I thought, 'No, I am not going to do this anymore.' I had the rifle under the seat of the car. I opened the gate, then shut the gate. I thought, 'Shit, did I unload the rifle?' I pulled the trigger, and the bullet went out through the door. That is what it does to you. I have experienced that.

Obviously the Indonesian government has said, 'The ball is in your court,' with the letter that Elders and others have got. They are saying they are not going to issue the permits unless we issue the authorisations for export. We could fill 50 per cent. We are talking about abattoirs up there as good as the Wagga abattoirs that kill 1,000 a day. Then you have a whole lot of abattoirs that kill one or two a day, which are never going to be conformist. If we allocated the cattle with NLIS—and I am pleased that the MLA and the Northern Territory cattlemen have learnt the hard way, because for some years I have been trying to convince them that the loophole we have in our NLI system should have been filled. In these regrettable circumstances, now they have agreed to fill it.

When Moola Bulla was a Great Southern cattle property, which was sold to this man from South Africa, it was one of the greatest in that region. I will not nominate the properties—because of the lack of NLIS tags requirement from property of origin direct on the ship, there was a huge cattle-thieving operation there, and the victims were the investors in the Great Southern MIS. Indonesia is waiting on us to do something. Elders have an abattoir which, as I say, is as good as any abattoir in Australia, and they are waiting up there for the cattle to keep coming. They are killing cattle there now, but they will not have a continuum. We have an industry in Darwin that has gone from $1.95 per kilo—and the only live export market out of Darwin at the moment is the Philippines—to $1.40. It has dropped 60c a kilo. I should not name particular companies, but the consolidation of meat processing and the shutting down of a place such as Beef City in Queensland is all about the parity of the dollar, and multinational companies will now fill the Japanese market with boxed meat from America instead of boxed meat from Australia. This will mean even greater pressure on the industry, and it is in the interests of the profitability of Beef City JBS Swift, a family company from Brazil with a sovereign guarantee, to forget about exporting Australian boxed beef cattle to Japan and instead source it from America.

These are further challenges that the cattle industry faces, but we can fix these problems tomorrow morning by exporting NLIS cattle, which are tagged and could go into, for instance, an Elders abattoir in Indonesia, which is as good as an Australian abattoir. By doing so, we could probably maintain 50 per cent of our trade—and we are talking about 57 per cent of our total live export trade, so it is a dire circumstance. It is difficult for people to understand that no farmer wants cattle treated the way they were seen being treated on the telly, because we have seen a perfect political ambush of the industry: Animals Australia and the RSPCA knew about this last year and did not tell us or the industry. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.