Senate debates

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2011; Second Reading

12:25 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


As the Greens spokesperson for Animal Welfare I am proud to re-introduce this Greens bill into the Senate to put an immediate end to the horrific treatment of Australian livestock in overseas abattoirs. The Greens are determined to keep campaigning until the cruel live export trade comes to an end. The live export industry has failed to prevent the suffering and deaths of 2.5 million animals during transportation over the past three decades and we have no confidence that it will succeed in preventing animal cruelty under the government's new supply chain regime. That is why the Greens remain deeply committed to a live export ban.

The Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill amends the Export Control Act 1982 to prohibit the export of cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, goats or other prescribed animals for slaughter overseas. The ban will be in place immediately, with no delay and no continued cruelty. I pay tribute to my colleague Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, then Australian Greens spokesperson for animal welfare, for first introducing this bill in June 2011, in the weeks following the airing of the ABC Four Corners program about live animal exports, aptly titled 'A Bloody Business'. The footage exposing extraordinary cruelty was provided by Animals Australia investigators who visited 10 abattoirs in four Indonesian cities in March 2011. The RSPCA then conducted a full scientific assessment of the evidence from this investigation.

The program sparked a public outcry. The Greens were inundated with emails and phone calls from constituents all over Australia who were appalled and outraged by the footage of Australian cattle being subjected to cruel treatment. Australians were horrified to see eye gouging, kicking, tail twisting or breaking, as well as cattle experiencing an average of 11 cuts to the throat, whilst conscious, with one animal suffering 33 cuts to its throat. Senator Siewert responded swiftly by calling for the immediate suspension of export licences followed by a legislated ban on live exports. The minister was slower to respond, taking days to announce a ban on exports to 11 identified abattoirs, and then days later a further announcement of a suspension of all cattle exports to Indonesia. You can read Senator Siewert's assessment of the government's handling of the matter in her second reading speech.

Last year the Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt introduced a similar Greens bill into the House of Representatives to immediately end live exports, and the independent MP Andrew Wilkie introduced a bill to phase out the trade in three years. In the days leading up to the vote, more than 20,000 Australians took to the streets to call on the government to ban live animal exports and around 350,000 people signed a petition calling for a ban. Yet only those two MPs supported the bills in the House of Representatives. The major parties remain out of step with public opinion and the outcry will not go away until the cruel and immoral live export trade is stopped.

Senator Siewert outlined the enormity of the live export trade in her speech to the private members bill she moved on this issue:

The sheer numbers of animals involved in this industry are astounding. Between 2008 – 2010 approximately 2,697,569 cattle were exported from Australia, in the same three years 10,751,169 sheep were exported and 254,798 goats. Sheep are exported from Fremantle, Portland and Port Adelaide to Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Breeder cattle are exported from Darwin, Fremantle and Broome to Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Jordan, Japan, Israel and Brunei. Goats are exported from Adelaide, Fremantle and Sydney to Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Brunei.

The live export trade continues to cause unacceptable suffering for animals. Just this month there was another disaster on board a Brazilian-owned live export ship bound for Egypt, resulting in the death of up to 3,000 cattle. Animals Australia described the tragedy as one of the worst shipboard disasters the live export industry has seen in many years.

The current initiative of the Gillard government to better regulate the export supply chain is too little, too late. Auditing individual livestock sent overseas is not the correct response to ending this cruel trade.

We have already seen the new controlled supply chain regulatory framework break down in Indonesia. In February this year, fresh footage footage taken by courageous animal activists in Indonesia working with Animals Australia was aired on the ABC Lateline program, showing serious and systematic breaches of the government's new Export Supply Chain Assurance System at the Temur Petir and Cakung abattoirs in Jakarta. Viewers saw sickening practices including cattle being held in head restraints for longer than the allowable ten seconds and cattle being taunted before slaughter, placing a big question mark over the government's new regulations which are supposed to protect Australian cattle.

Now that we have this regime it must be enforced properly. Both Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp are motivated by the industry's economic performance rather than the welfare of animals. To maintain any public confidence in the system, the government needs to apply the full force of sanctions.

Since the live export trade with Indonesia resumed exporters have been taking enormous risks by allowing their animals to be slaughtered at 62 different abattoirs in Indonesia. They simply cannot be confident that it will be done properly. In the absence of a ban on live exports, the government should move immediately to reduce the number of abattoirs that Australia exports down to a more manageable number. Further, 12 of those 62 abattoirs do not practice pre-slaughter stunning. Livestock killed at abattoirs that do not use stunning suffer a cruel death. The government's failure to require all exported animals to be stunned before their throats are cut is another set back for animal welfare. The Greens want to see mandatory pre-slaughter stunning enforced in all Australian abattoirs.

In late January 2012 the government headed a trade delegation to the Middle East to examine the livestock trade. The fact that the delegation included no animal welfare experts and gave little prominence to animal cruelty raises concerns about the new supply chain regulations and underlines that the government is not giving priority to animal welfare issues. If the government was serious about making the live export trade more humane, they would have included animal welfare experts on the delegation. This is a symptom of the government's failure to accept the reality of the problem, and is the reason why the Greens believe that an end to animal cruelty can only be ensured with a ban on live exports.

In the United Kingdom the live export trade has also received strong public opposition. In the 1990s the veal crate farming system was banned on animal welfare grounds, but the UK continued to export 500,000 calves a year to continental veal crates, where a calf is kept in a solid-sided crate of wood that is so narrow the calf cannot even turn round from the age of two weeks old. The UK also exported 2 million sheep a year for slaughter abroad. Following a 1995 report by the EU Scientific Veterinary Committee that was highly critical of the veal crate system, and in response to strong public pressure, the EU banned the use of veal crates from 2007. Numbers of live animal exports from the UK have fallen dramatically since the mid 1990's, and though there continues to be a live export trade the public and animal welfare groups continue to oppose it. The banning of veal crates showed the British public that the power of public opinion can change government policy.

The live export trade, as well as being beset with animal welfare problems that cannot be resolved, is not in Australia's best economic interests.

A key claim of the live export industry is that any cessation of the live export trade will harm the domestic industry as processed meats cannot substitute for live sheep and cattle. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website states that:

“There is evidence that if Australia were to withdraw from live exports, there would be no increased trade in Australian meats. When Australia's live export trade to Saudi Arabia was suspended, there was no significant increase in the meat trade during that period.”

Yet this assertion does not appear to be supported by the facts. A ban on exporting live sheep to Saudi Arabia was in place between 1991 and 2000. In its 2009 report, ACIL Tasman stated that following the ban on Australian sheep to Saudi Arabia, imports of frozen sheep meat from Australia increased from 7,900 to 25,122 tonnes, an increase of 318 per cent. They concluded that during this time 100 percent of Australian live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia were replaced by chilled sheep meat. They also reported a 300 per cent rise in Australian sheep meat exports to Egypt between 2002/03 and 2005/06 when Australian live sheep exports were stopped. Market substitution has occurred when live exports have ceased.

Several independent economic reports conducted in recent years found that live exports are undermining Australia's meat processing industry. Live exports compete with and undermine Australia's beef exports. The live export trade to the Middle Eastern countries of Kuwait, Qtar and Bahrain, which make up 65 per cent of the market for Australian live sheep, is heavily subsidised by those governments. There is also trade protection in Indonesia to assist processors, feedlotters and livestock importers compete against imported Australian processed meats. Economic analysts engaged by Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp have stated that exported meats and live animal exports compete in export markets. A 2011 Meat and Livestock Australia report states that 38% of Australian beef exported to Indonesia ends up defrosted and sold in Indonesian wet markets. A 2008 ABARE report accepted that refrigeration was widespread in the Middle East and did not inhibit a trade in processed meat.

Turning to home, The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union argues that the Australian meat processing industry is a viable alternative to live exports, and that thousands of jobs would be created by increased domestic processing. They cite Australian Bureau of Statistics data that show the decline in the number of meat processing jobs in Australia, from between 40,000 to 48,000 workers in the 1970s to around 32,000 workers in 2009. There were 475 abattoirs in Australia at the end of the 1970s, dropping to 315 abattoirs by 1995/96. A ban on live animal exports would not only end the cruel suffering of animals, it would see abattoirs re-opened, especially in northern Australia, and create new jobs.

A 2010 report commissioned by Australia's leading meat processors - Teys Bros, Swift Australia and Nippon Meat Packers Australia - into the future of the Queensland Beef Industry and the impact of live cattle exports reached damning conclusions that live cattle exports are cannibalising Queensland's beef-processing industry and that they threaten to destroy $3.5 billion worth of assets, $5 billion in turnover and 36,000 jobs. The report also found that the increased live export of Queensland cattle to Indonesia meant lost processing opportunities in Queensland.

ACIL Tasman's 2009 review into the live sheep trade also found that phasing out live sheep exports would have long-term benefits for farmers and the economy through increased processing in Australia. Australia's major meat processors have confirmed that Australia has the capacity to process all cattle and sheep currently going to live export. If this transition were to occur, the majority of the estimated 10,000 industry jobs would be maintained if animals were processed in Australia.

This Bill offers a win-win on the issue of live exports. A ban would end the cruelty and create tens of thousands of jobs particularly in regional Australia.

In November 2011 a Senate inquiry released its report on animal welfare standards in the live exports market. The Greens were very disappointed with its recommendations and issued a dissenting report calling for animal welfare standards to be strengthened and to be placed at the centre of any reform. What was apparent is that both Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp had failed to adequately monitor or improve animal welfare practices in foreign markets to which Australian animals are shipped. Meat and Livestock Australia was receiving $5 per head of cattle exported to address animal welfare issues. What we saw on the ABC Four Corners program last year was the utter failure of the Mark I cattle restraint devices, which were commissioned by Meat and Livestock Australia and attracted a $1.2 million taxpayer subsidy, to prevent animal cruelty. We have seen again this year in footage obtained by Animals Australia that serious breaches of animal welfare standards persist in the supply chain.

Ultimately, the Australian Greens believe that there is no way to implement safeguards that can guarantee the humane transport and slaughter of animals in overseas markets. We do not accept that the implementation of a traceability system will adequately protect Australian animals from cruel treatment.

The refusal of the major parties to ban live animal exports has placed the onus on animal rights groups and the general public to keep the pressure on the government to make animal welfare the priority of any action taken on the live export trade. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many groups and individuals that have campaigned for so long against the cruelty of live exports, long before it head the headlines last year, including Voiceless, Animals Australia, Animal Liberation and the RSPCA. I acknowledge the important work of the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel in offering their legal expertise to promote law reform in animal welfare, and I encourage anyone who cares about this issue to join the World Society for the Protection of Animals, or WSPA's humane chain at to speak out against live export cruelty. You can also follow the Greens campaign on my website. The success of this campaign will come from building on the widespread support is has already received.

The live exports business is a cruel, inhumane and immoral trade in living beings. It has brought tremendous shame on Australia. The majority of Australians want it shut down. To this end, the Greens call for an end to the live export trade and a move to grow our meat export trade. Such a move addresses our responsibility to end animal cruelty inherent in the live export trade and provides opportunities to create more local jobs, support communities and maintain economic viability for producers.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.