Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Statements by Senators

Live Animal Exports

1:16 pm

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

There will be some people breathing a sigh of relief that this could be the last time that I address the question of the live export trade, but I just scratch my head in wonder at the sensibility of some people in the other place. There are a couple of them, including the member for Kennedy—the North Queensland cattle industry—who are trying to pass a bill to make it illegal to market meat as 'Australian' if the cattle are slaughtered overseas. So the cattle are Australian when they are born, they are Australian when they are bred—but when they go overseas? It is a bit like sending a motorcar manufactured in Australia to the Middle East. The wheels are put on the car when it gets to Dubai and it is driven overseas. That is not an Australian car, simply because a part of it has been undertaken overseas. That is the sort of nonsense which we are dealing with.

For the last time, I want to confirm a number of points that I have made in the past so that people understand this issue clearly. There is always going to be a tax on the export of livestock from this country. I want to put on record that of the 109 countries that export live animals around the world, there has only ever been one—and there is only one now, and that is Australia—that invests and has invested in people, in training, in welfare and in education right across the board to ensure that the standards of husbandry, management and nutrition, all of which go towards welfare, are improved. Again, I want to remind people—including all the activists, even the RSPCA, which ought to be called the 'royal society for the protection of animals in Australia', because it has no interest in the protection of animals outside of this country—that when Australian standards are improved for Australian livestock, do you know what happens? The standards lift for all the locally-bred animals, as well as the animals that come from many of those other countries. I have given demonstrations in Doha, during the festival of Eid in 2012, where I indicated that instead of animals going home in the boot of vehicles, they were being processed. The people who bought them got a number, watched the animal being processed and took it home in a plastic bag. What happened to all of the other animals from other countries, Mr Acting Deputy President? You guessed it. It was just simply an exam with only one option. The same things happen in Indonesia—locally bred cattle are being processed according to humane Australian standards.

I want to go a bit further from my own experience as a livestock veterinarian. In Australia, there is the feed-lotting of animals, road transport to the ports and the shipping. Again, the country that leads the world in standards of on-board welfare for animals is Australia. It is the old story—and this is one of the problems: as a human beings, we always like to humanise animals. Would I like to stand in a pen with 54 other sheep between here and the Middle East? No, I would not. Therefore, it is wrong. We must never get to that stage. We have got to look at survivors. We have got to look at how the welfare standards in Australia lead the world, the feed-lotting in our target markets and, of course, the processing. I will be the first to say that processing standards have not always been the best—but which is the only country that has continually raised standards? Australia. The stunning of cattle is a prime example. Those are the points I want to make in that space.

I do not want to dwell on the shocking ban of live exports back in 2011, but I stood in this place and I said at that time: 'Heaven forbid the calves from last year should be on ships going to Indonesia, because the calves from this year, along with their mothers in calf, are competing on the rangeland for the food. I made the prediction in 2011; you remember it well, Acting Deputy President Sterle. I said, 'Heaven forbid—if we have a drought or if we have a bushfire that wipes out the feed on the rangelands, not only will we see devastation of the rangelands environmentally but also we are going to see cattle die in their tens if not hundreds of thousands.' And what happened? And where were the activists? Where was the RSPCA standing up and saying, 'We take responsibility for the death by starvation of those animals on the rangelands'? They were nowhere. I do not like to say this word in the parliament, but I do have to accurately record it: one of them said to me, 'Shit happens.' Does it really? That was the circumstance because, regrettably, as we all know, both drought and bushfire followed in that season.

I want to go to this question about how we need to process everything in Australia because only then are we going to protect the meat-processing industry. These are the statistics: 92 per cent of all beef cattle in this country are processed domestically and two-thirds of them go as hamburger meat to the United States of America. We are the second biggest exporter of beef in the world—not the second biggest producer; the second biggest exporter. Eight per cent of animals go in the live export trade. You would think the member for Kennedy, who comes from North Queensland, would understand it better. I was at University College with him in the sixties, so I have known him for many years. The simple facts of the matter are twofold: first, it is the live export trade that creates the competition in the market so that producers get a fair return; and, second, over the years in Queensland, whether the seasons have been good or bad, that 92 per cent and eight per cent split has remained absolutely consistent.

There are people who say, 'Oh well, if we didn't have live exports, we would simply be able to sell the meat to those markets.' When we lost the live export trade to Saudi Arabia, do you think beef and sheepmeat sales doubled? They did not; they were obliterated. We had none. Again in 2011, when we lost the live export trade with Indonesia for a period the number of live cattle going to Indonesia that year halved. If we could sell the beef instead of the live animals, logic would tell you what would have happened to the sales of beef to Indonesia that year wouldn't it, Mr Acting Deputy President? Yes, you have got one out of one again: they also halved. The two trades have always been very complementary—one opens the markets for the other.

Let me remind you that four million sheep go into Saudi Arabia from other countries every year now, some of them on 747 jumbo jets. We used to sell up to three million sheep when I was in the trade in the 1980s. None of them come from Australia now. Do you think the whole trade stopped? Do you think the Saudi markets went, 'Oh, look at those Australians; they've stopped selling to us, therefore we're going to stop eating sheepmeat'? What a load of nonsense. They have sourced them from other countries, whose standards may not be those that we in Australia have implemented over time, so the loss of trade means the loss of animal welfare standards around the world. How do the activists explain that? They simply cannot. This lack of understanding was displayed by a young woman from an activist organisation in 2013, not two years after the trade was banned, who said:

It is disappointing to continue to hear that the five-week suspension to Indonesia in 2011 is still being blamed for issues facing the industry in 2013.

You bet it was. There were suicides and bankruptcies not only of pastoralists but also of those who supported them: trucking companies, helicopter companies and other supporting companies. The impact is still being felt to this day. How disappointing that somebody would be so naive and so ignorant. That ban hit at the top of the expenditure curve, when all the money was out there being spent, and the bottom of the revenue curve. The last time they had seen a dollar was October of the previous year, 2010. When did the ban come in? When did that ABC footage get released? It was the end of May. They had not had a dollar of revenue for six months, they were at the top of the expenditure curve, and then bang! If that was a coincidence, I tell you what, I am Uncle Billy's uncle—and I certainly am not.

The live export trade underpins the meat-processing trade. Let me give you two examples from our home state of Western Australia. These are actual sale prices of sheep, and it shows you the impact of the live export trade. At a time when the live export trade was ceased, one of my associates managed to get $44 for a line of rams. When the live export trade resumed, he was getting $120 for an equivalent line of rams—three times the price. For ewes it was $15 without the trade and $60 with the trade. That is the sort of thing we are talking about.

I finish my contribution with the statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources from July to December last year. Cattle: 99.88 per cent of cattle arrived safely. There was 0.12 per cent mortality. That is better than being on the range land. For sheep, 98.89 per cent survival and 1.2 per cent mortality. Let me finish my contribution by telling you what the mortality rate for human beings in Australia is. The annual figure is 0.6 per cent. Cattle deaths on these ships are 0.12 per cent; sheep, 1.2 per cent; humans, 0.6 per cent. (Time expired)