Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Conroy. I refer the minister to the serious drought crisis in the northern Australian cattle industry, which threatens the lives of one million cattle if rain does not arrive by the end of the year. In 1969, when Queensland was in severe drought, the Australian government made Shoalwater Bay Training Area available for the Queensland government for use as emergency grazing land for cattle. Given that that decision was well appreciated at the time, will the government make Shoalwater Bay, Dotswood Station and Townsville Field Training Area available for grazing for starving cattle that will perish if relief is not forthcoming?
I thank the senator for his question. Defence training areas, particular Shoalwater Bay Training Area and Townsville Field Training Area, are critical assets to our defence capability. The scale and scope of training activities and the training areas to support those activities have changed considerably since 1969. Shoalwater Bay Training Area may be available for the grazing of cattle for limited time frames and in limited sectors. Accordingly, the government would need to consider any use of Shoalwater Bay Training Area for grazing on a case-by-case basis. The decision to allow cattle to graze on Defence land would probably be progressed as a Defence Assistance to the Civil Community request. The approving authority for a DACC request is the Minister for Defence or the Chief of the Defence Force. As yet, neither has received a request from the Newman government.
The Queensland government's reaction to the plight of drought stricken graziers is just a litany of mismanagement. Even in the awful millennium drought nobody grazed their cattle in our national parks. The Queensland is simply looking for an excuse to cover up its own ongoing mismanagement.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister's announcement that she will travel to Indonesia next week. Will the Prime Minister apologise to the Indonesian government for its decision to restrict food supplies to Indonesia by shutting down the live cattle trade—a decision which substantially contributed to the suffering of Australian cattle producers today?
The action this government took last year was appropriate and weighed and balanced all the issues involved. What we have seen is significant reform in that area over the last 12 months. So I reject utterly the imputation of Senator Boswell's question. I am not sure if there is anything further I can add on that matter.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer the minister to a letter in The Sydney Morning Herald published on 6 June 2011 and co-signed by Senator Bob Carr, in which an organisation, Voiceless, called on the government to end the live cattle trade. As Senator Bob Carr remains a council member of the organisation Voiceless, how can the government credibly claim that it remains committed to the northern cattle producers—when its foreign minister is clearly against the industry?
I reject the premise. This government is committed to ensuring animal welfare and getting the balance right. The Gillard government is committed to the livestock export trade where acceptable animal welfare outcomes can be achieved. The Gillard government implemented the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, ESCAS, to secure a future for the livestock export trade. This is a trade that supports jobs, families and communities throughout Australia. The Gillard government has implemented the highest animal welfare standards for exported livestock anywhere in the world. Without making these key reforms to the live export trade it would not exist today. By placing animal welfare at the heart of the trade the Gillard government has ensured the trade has a future. I thank Senator Boswell for his question—possibly the last question of his long and meritorious career.