Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry

6:51 pm

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

I am delighted to rise to comment on the report to the parliament titled Livestock mortalities for exports by sea: 1 January - 30 June 2013. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

In so doing I comment once again on the excellence of the figures that have been presented to us in the report. Of some 440,000 cattle—just under half a million—mortalities were 500, or 0.12 per cent. n other words, more than 440,000 of the 441,000 survived the journeys in condition as good as or better than when they left Australia's shores.

In numbers of sheep, out of 805,000 the mortality rate was 1.12 per cent, which is higher than you would normally expect—some 9,800—but there was one particular incident in September in the Gulf where the vessel, as I understand it, ran into a most unusual high-humidity period for a couple of hours. At different times I have read—although I never experienced this when I was a veterinarian on live sheep ships—about that type of circumstance, but prior to that and after that the mortality levels have been very low. If you remove those, we are back down to 0.7 per cent, which I think is a remarkable statistic and speaks to Australia's excellence over the last 40 years in leading the world in the transport of livestock to the points of export, transport on vessels, transport to feedlots, behaviour, nutrition and husbandry at ports. I will come back to that.

This evening I want to report to the Senate a remarkable statistic. In Jordan at this time there are some 700,000, moving towards one million, refugees coming across the borders from Syria. I am very proud to report that Australia almost uniquely is supplying the sheep, and therefore the sheepmeat, for that enormous number of refugees displaced by the atrocities going on in Syria at the moment. It is my understanding that meat forms about 18 per cent of the accumulated foodstuffs for those people. This country can be very proud that, as a result of the long-term contracts we have had, as a result of the excellence of the stock that leave this country and are transported and arrive in those destinations—in this case Jordan and its associated Gulf states—we are playing our role in providing foodstuffs. Should anyone say, 'Surely we could send this meat frozen or chilled,' I would dare say that, with the standard of infrastructure in the refugee camps supporting some 700,000 to a million people, refrigeration would not be high on the priority list.

We are always going to have disasters and we are always going to have events with animal deaths. Unfortunately, during the bushfire season here in Australia during January, on one day alone we lost 7,000 sheep in a bushfire in one of our southern states. Australia has always and, regrettably, will always face those sorts of events. It is the resilience of our producers, the excellence of our exporters and, I dare say, the excellence of our regulators who oversee this process that drive the improvements that always go on. I say, and will go on saying, that, of the 109 countries that export live animals around the world, there is only one country that has ever invested, and continues to invest, time, money and people in improving animal husbandry, animal welfare, nutrition, housing, transport and other standards in those markets—and that country is Australia.

I believe it is high time that Greens senators, animal activists and others in this country give some acknowledgement to the producers, the exporters and those who have over so many years worked to improve and upgrade standards. Are those standards at 100 per cent? No, they are not. But let me say this to you very clearly: should Australia ever be exited from live export trade in those markets, two things will happen: we will lose the meat trade, as indeed we have done every time we have lost live export trade, and—I say this particularly to those who genuinely have an interest in animal welfare standards around the world—the inevitable outcome will be a decline in animal welfare standards in those countries. I for one will never stand in this chamber and fail to defend animal welfare standards around the world. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.