Monday, 18 June 2018
Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memorandum and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
As an intro to this now, sadly, repetitive debate about a cruel, barbaric practice—which I promise you will end very soon and, on that, Hinch's hunch has never been so confident—I have to go back to my record-breaking first speech, or maiden speech, delivered in September 2016. I know I spoke for 47 minutes when I should have bruised your ears for only 20 and I, belatedly, apologise for my unprecedented verbosity. But I mention it today in this debate on the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018 because I had been accused by some Labor critics back then of using my first speech to jump on the live export bandwagon because 'some of us have been campaigning on this since 2012'. In my first speech, I said:
As for jumping on the live export bandwagon, I brought my first petition to Canberra, urging the federal government to ban live exports, in 1981. I handed the then primary industry minister, Peter Nixon—
in the Rose Garden—
a petition with 30,000 names on it …
Thirty thousand names—and that was well before social media, Twitter and Facebook campaigns. Now, millions of Australians support a ban on live exports. Back then, we were protesting against the live exports of horses to Japan and live sheep to the Middle East. That was 37 years ago. It was prompted by a maritime disaster off Fremantle when more than 40,000 sheep took up to four days to die in a fire aboard an overloaded multideck carrier, which had been abandoned by the crew.
It was around the same time that some of us were protesting against cruelty to circus animals. There were not a lot of us. I think that at Burnley Oval in Melbourne on a cold winter's night there was me, Lynda Stoner and a couple of others and a dog—because bloody animal lovers were all nut jobs back then, remember? More recently, I also supported New South Wales Premier Mike Baird's decision to ban greyhound racing from 2017, and I said I hoped that eventually it would have a domino effect and lead to a phased-in ban in all states of Australia. They had had decades to clean up this corrupt, cruel sport and they did not, would not or could not do it. Of course, Baird caved to National Party pressure, and then he quit his job. But a greyhound racing ban, I believe, will eventually come in. As Gough Whitlam once told me about the republic: 'It's not revolutionary, dear boy, it's evolutionary.'
Back to my first speech: unlike Senator Hanson's first speech—when all the Greens ostentatiously walked out in protest, making sure they avoided the first exit door and trooped out behind her camera—for the record, only one senator walked out on mine. That was the Nationals' braces-clad Senator Barry O'Sullivan, when I started talking about banning live exports.
At a recent estimates committee hearing, where he was the chair, I reminded Senator O'Sullivan about this. He said, 'I walked out because I had to stand my ground.' I did gently point out that, by walking out, he actually hadn't stood his ground, but maybe it was a touch subtle.
Anyway, this bill to ban the export to the Middle East of live sheep: as Kiwi actress Rachel Hunter would say, 'It won't heppen overnight, but it will heppen.' And that's the truth. It will happen. The Lyn Whites and Lynda Stoners of their passionate and compassionate world will win.
Even if the Libs hadn't blinked in 'the other place' last month and pulled their supposedly urgent and important legislation about increased penalties, the writing was then on the wall.
And, as I said on PM Live on Sky News—the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (who, remember, had beaten his chest in protest and said the cruelty to sheep en route to the Middle East during the northern summer was 'bullshit') that minister, David Littleproud, had very little to be proud of.
I am pragmatic. I know, in hindsight, the Gillard Labor government's decision to instantly ban live cattle exports to Indonesia after that savage, damning Four Corners report was wrong. Knee-jerk reactions to any situation are usually not wise.
And, in fact, back then on Melbourne radio, on 3AW, I said to Lyn White and her cohorts: 'Don't pop the champagne corks just yet. This ban will not last.' And it didn't. I think it held for four to six weeks.
And looking back here, if we are all being really honest, that instant ban was wrong. It hurt many farmers—it hurt them financially; it hurt them emotionally. It probably, also inadvertently, caused some animal cruelty, to stranded, superfluous cattle.
That is why this time we are being more practical. We must have a phase-out period. The Greens wanted two years. I wanted three. I have talked to Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon, a passionate Labor shadow minister who wants this evil trade ended as well and has bravely, I believe, been streets ahead of his own party leader. So, I say thank you, Joel. And thanks to Craig Emerson, the former Labor minister who feels so strongly about this issue it has led him to break down in tears on TV—and that vulnerability has seen him mocked on Sky News.
Let me be blunt here. This live sheep trade is putrid. There are crap arguments being put up all the time—for example, 'We need it for halal killing.' Well, halal killing has been going on here in Australia, I'm told, for about the past 40 years. 'There is no refrigeration in the Middle East.' Bulldust. Check out their supermarkets.
The other one: 'If we don't do it this way, other countries will.' Well, let them. I don't intend to make my standards of decency, morality, anticruelty, be dictated to by some other country's traditions or lack of decency, morality and anticruelty. What? If we're not cruel jerks, somebody else will be? WTF.
In conclusion, I truly believe this is the last time that thousands of stressed sheep will leave Australian shores on what have become maritime ovens, to die agonising deaths—cooked alive. We couldn't have stopped it this year anyway (despite the Animals Australia court case which I shall stay out of) because even if Sussan Ley's bill had been introduced into 'the other place' it would have failed with the dual citizenship dissolution of Labor supporters. And, even if it had passed, it could not have achieved royal assent until near the end of the northern summer, anyway.
But, as I have said, as I have pledged, this is the last summer these ships of shame will set sail.
That is my pledge. I've been campaigning in Australia and the United States on this issue for nearly 40 years, and I now say with full confidence: victory, finally, will be ours.
I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018. Oftentimes when bills and issues like this present, my temptation first of all is to come in guns blazing—two six-guns out, cocked and ready to go. But, Senator Hinch, I have a great deal of respect for you. I tell the yarn that I'm in love with one of Senator Hinch's former wives, but he tells me that's okay; he's still in love with the magnificent Jacki Weaver as well. I don't want to do anything that might impede my opportunity to meet her in the future!
I know that some of the concerns you've raised are shared by all Australians. It doesn't matter whether they're in pastoral industries, they're involved in the live export industry itself or they're mere observers of what's happening. But the thesis of my contribution will be that prohibition is not the answer. It is within the powers of this nation and the people in this industry to engage in the export of live animals in a humane fashion. We ought not ever see a repeat of the events that have obviously given rise to your bill and to the current concerns of the Australian people. It's important that we all acknowledge that that footage was traumatic. The behaviour of the people who were responsible for the circumstances and conditions that that consignment of live sheep found themselves in—and I know there have been other incidents and other episodes. As far as I'm concerned, they should be expelled from the industry, and our government should take whatever measures are required to ensure that we mitigate, neutralise and, in fact, abolish circumstances where we see anything like that again in the future.
Before I get to the key points, I want to go back to the farm. I've been involved in pastoral activities now all of my adult life. In fact, I happen to be part of a fifth generation Australian family that's been involved in pastoral industries—predominantly the cattle industry, although there has been engagement with the sheep industry and other live animals over that period of time. Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, I can tell you, through you Mr Acting Deputy Chair to Senator Hinch, that almost to a man and woman, in terms of the producers of livestock, there is massive respect for the animals that are in their care. I've said it in this place before—and my experience is no different to thousands of others, who, in the early hours of the morning, by the lights of the utility have been pulling cattle and sheep out of the bogs and ensuring that their water supplies operate efficiently. In fact, I got a text from my nephew this morning on one of our family properties. It was minus three degrees up there, and it would seem that just about every water pipe on the property has busted from its source. We've got 19 bores there that supply water. I'll tell you what the staff there are doing today, into tonight, and probably through until tomorrow, and that is to make sure that they repair the reticulation of water so that all of our stock have access to it as a matter of life.
It leads me to the second principle: it is simply not in the interests of people who produce live animals to do anything that damages them—even if they were just to treat them as a commodity, and they do not. I can say that, of the entire population, it doesn't matter where you are, there will be people who will be cruel to animals. It is very hard to oversee. We have 360,000 complaints of animal cruelty in this nation each year. It is a shame on us as a society that so many domestic animals and pets are treated in the manner that they are. We've seen it in the greyhound racing industry. We've seen it with different individuals outside of the commercial livestock sector. I haven't even heard you disagree, Senator Hinch—you may not have turned your mind to it and it may not play a large part in your motive in relation to this bill, but I haven't heard anyone in this place directly attack a culture within the livestock production industry that's directed at the principal producers. I know, as I've said from my life's experience, that that is not there as a feature.
It is possible to transport animals—whether by truck, with drovers by road, by ship or by other modes of transportation, such as rail—and not have this problem. We have cattle that are transported by truck in my home state of Queensland, where in excess of 60 per cent of the national herd resides. Sometimes that journey can take up to 30 hours. There are rules and regulations in place as to how that will happen. For example—and I'll use cattle as an example—cattle are offloaded, they are given periods of rest from standing, fresh water and feed. There are rules around that, but even before there were rules, a pastoralist knew the impacts of transporting livestock. There is no other way to take them to processing plants or to market other than to transport them. We're talking about massive distances here, thousands of kilometres in some instances. There are tens of millions of livestock that are moved by one or more of those modes of transport each year here in my home state of Queensland. I imagine the same challenges exist in the northern part of Western Australia and in many of the western parts of New South Wales, and I know they exist in the Northern Territory. We all want to live in Tasmania or Victoria, where you can load stock and be at a marketplace or a processing plant within a matter of hours. But that's not the nature of our nation.
We have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate an ability for industries to create an environment for the humane transport of livestock from point A to point B. I'm not going to retreat from the fact that the circumstances that give rise to our debate, with respect to the consignment of sheep that went to the Middle East, offended almost every single principle. It would seem the ship wasn't properly designed to transport that cargo. It would seem that the supervision in place wasn't, how would one say, instructive enough to ensure that problem didn't happen. That problem was all but foreseeable long before those sheep were loaded onto that ship. As far as I'm concerned, everyone in the chain of events that led to those sheep being on the ship ought to be punted. There is no space or job for them in pastoral industries, now or into the future, with respect to the transport of livestock. But it remains within our reach to design both procedures and environments for these sheep—and let's just concentrate on sheep for a moment—to be transported to the Middle East in a humane fashion so that their life in transport meets all of the high standards that we have in general transport in the country.
The minister for agriculture, Mr Littleproud, has taken this matter very seriously from the get-go, and I support his mode of solution. His approach was not to leap immediately to prohibition of the trade, as happened in 2011 with the live export trade; his approach was to make a statement that we have a capacity to get this right, and that he's going to leave no stone unturned to ensure that that's what happens into the future. Mr Littleproud brought down the wrath of his office, not only regarding the events that occurred—a number of inquiries are going to look at them thoroughly; one has made some interim recommendations and the other one, I understand, is a work in progress—but also onto the department of agriculture, to find out how we found ourselves in these circumstances in the first instance. I've conceded that they were almost foreseeable. If you put too many sheep in a confined space and take them into a northern summer, with the climatic conditions and temperature variations as they are, you're going to have the same result again and again. But it is fixable.
Can I go back to the marketplace itself. Let me indulge the chamber in some short discussions about what happened in 2011 when we suspended the live cattle trade. We will talk first about the impacts on people, particularly on the producers. They are not just the producers of cattle destined for Indonesia, in that case, but the producers of cattle nationwide here in Australia. That suspension was a wrong decision. I note, Senator Hinch, that you have a phase-in period for your suggestions, and that much in itself is welcome. But that suspension was a wrong decision at the time, where hundreds and hundreds of families, generational families on properties, lost their properties. We had quite literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of head of livestock that couldn't stay where they were—that were destined for an export market—come into the domestic market, as opposed to those that perished. We had reports of tens of thousands of head of livestock that perished in the paddock because that decision was so abrupt. The impacts on the domestic market were enormous and are still playing through the balance sheets of many farms, and many of those farms that were impacted went into this prolonged drought event.
What are the alternatives? If we were, for example, to suspend or bring in a prohibition on the export of live sheep from this country to the Middle East, what happens to the sheep that have been produced, and have been produced for a very long period of time, for that purpose? It is no good our sitting here thinking that the domestic market simply will absorb that capacity. It cannot. It doesn't have the capacity to, and if it did it would collapse the market price. There would be so much downward pressure on the value of sheep that it would have a crippling effect. In fact, some producers would run at a loss if they moved the sheep to market. We saw this in the 1970s, when millions of head of cattle and sheep at various times were euthanised in the paddock because the market collapsed under their feet.
I hear the argument frequently that we should process these commodities onshore and export chilled carcasses or boxed meat. That would be all right if the market at the other end wanted chilled carcasses or boxed meat, but it does not. There may come a time when it does. There may come a time in the future when the middle class of Indonesia and parts of the Middle East all will have the capacity to have a two-door fridge in their home so that, like us, they can take in and keep commodities that need to be chilled or frozen, but that's not the case now, so there is no market.
One thing I disagree with in your presentation, Senator Hinch, related to the argument that if we fail to get it right, if we fail to create a humane environment and export these sheep and meet these market demands, we ought not care about where the market is met somewhere else in the world. I said this in estimates recently: the little piggy doesn't want to go to market in the first place. But if little piggy has to go to market little piggy would prefer to be an Australian little piggy going to market, where we make at least the best endeavours—and for the most part we are successful—in humane transportation and in oversight of the way they are processed at the other end. We are the only country to do that to the standard we do. I don't think we should relax the standards or the objectives that we set out to create an almost foolproof humane environment for the transport of these animals. But I don't think it is fair to say, 'I really don't care about North African sheep. I care about my sheep. I care about our sheep'—these are sheep that won't exist in the future if this market is prohibited—'but I don't care about millions of sheep across the water.' I don't want to reflect on other nations, but we do know that it is a matter of accepted course that other nations do not have the same high standards of humane treatment of animals as we do in Australia. There have been some horrific stories from North Africa.
There are a million pigs killed in a large Asian nation to the north of where we are, and I have physically witnessed the treatment of those animals as they go to abattoirs. They're often pulled out of the back of the transport with a baling hook driven into their shoulder, their rump or whatever is facing the transport operators at the time to drag them off the truck. That is horrific. As a nation in a global marketplace I don't believe that we can simply say, 'That doesn't matter. That feature does not come into play as we consider what we do'.
If it is in within reach for us, as a developed nation, to create an environment where we can, and should as an obligation, humanely transport livestock for export then I think that needs to remain writ large an objective of our nation if it makes a contribution to animal welfare across the world. I don't accept the argument that we've just got to look after our backyard, because if that were true we'd talk about the 340,000 complaints of animal cruelty in this nation each year. If that were true we'd talk about how cats, dogs and canaries are treated in our homes. I'm not challenging your genuine concern in this space. From before you arrived here, Senator Hinch, you have been consistent in your resistance and in the diligence that you've applied to making sure that we get this right.
As my time expires, I want to leave the point that I've made. Prohibition is not the answer. Prohibition is not the answer for people who produce for this export market. Prohibition is not the answer for clients nor for the marketplace at the other end—wherever they are destined for. I for one—and I asked you, Senator Hinch, to join me—don't want to abandon the ideal that in a modern society we can design ships, we can design the environment on the ships and we can design all of the preprocessing that occurs. We had ewes on the ship that lambed, and that is unacceptable. We were told that there were processes in place to prevent a pregnant ewe going onto the ship. Well, obviously that failed. That technology is there. It's been around for decades now. We simply have to get this right. We, as a nation, have to get this right.
Senator Hinch, if your voice and the voice of others join the voices of us who are in these industries and who fight for these industries, we will have a much better chance of changing the environment around the transportation of these animals so that we are able to achieve what ought to be a basic moral goal on behalf of a nation, and that is moving animals who have no control over their own environment that are controlled by us. I will take this up with you outside of this contribution. I'll be urging you to join me to become an evangelist to get it right—not to stop it; but to get it right in the first instance.
Labor is pleased to be given the opportunity to speak on the private senator's bill introduced this morning. The bill basically replicates the private member's bill introduced by the member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, and Labor's amendment to the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018, which the government is currently refusing to debate in the House of Representatives. The only logical reason for the move by the government to delay debate and a final vote on its own bill in the other chamber is because it's running scared that its own members will cross the floor of the House of Representatives. The refusal is also denying the will of parliament to see an end to the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern northern summer and to see a phase-out of the live sheep trade.
The model relied upon by the live sheep trade is fundamentally broken. It has three basic flaws. First, it is reliant on the dreaded Northern Hemisphere summer trade, a trade which is incompatible with reasonable animal welfare standards. The science leaves us in no doubt that this is the case. Second, the trade externalises animal welfare cruelty. The premiums earned by exporters as a result of cruel conditions like excessive stocking densities are externalised in the form of higher than normal payments to sheepmeat producers. This in turn can place local processing at an economic disadvantage. Third, both consumer preference and community tolerance for poor treatment of animals are turning away from the live sheep trade model.
Members and senators from no fewer than five of the nine parties represented in the Australian parliament have expressed support for the objectives of this bill: an immediate stop to the northern summer live sheep trade and the phase-out of the balance of the trade within the next five years. I note that, during the last sitting of the House of Representatives, the member for Hunter foreshadowed his intention to move the main provisions of this bill as an amendment to the bill that the government introduced to increase penalties for breaches of animal welfare standards in the live export sector. I further note that the government withdrew its bill from the House program following the member for Hunter's announcement. I'm now advised that the bill has not been listed for further debate in the other house prior to the long winter non-sitting period. This is the bill that the government previously described as urgent.
Why would the government pull its own bill? There can only be one reason. It is fearful that the member for Hunter's amendments will succeed—in other words, that a sufficient number of coalition MPs will defy the Prime Minister and support the amendments. The desperate and dysfunctional government should allow the House of Representatives to express its will. It should let the House vote on the member for Hunter's amendments.
I applaud the courage that Sussan Ley and her co-sponsors have shown by moving a bill in the House of Representatives with the same objectives as the bill we are debating in the Senate today. We are acutely aware of the pressure they are under from those who either don't understand the weight of the issue or simply aren't prepared to do the right thing, because it's too politically difficult for them to do so. If only they shared the member for Farrer's courage.
Fortunately, the Prime Minister has less power to prevent the Australian Senate from expressing its will. The bill we are debating today is more than likely to secure the approval of this chamber. It certainly has the support of the Australian Labor Party.
Community concern about the live sheep trade sector is not new. Parliamentary reports responding to real and alleged breaches of animal welfare standards date back to at least the early 1980s. We have seen evidence both in the McCarthy review and from the Australian Veterinary Association, and during the recent Senate estimates, that the live sheep trade cannot assure the Australian community, our farmers or the parliament that further extreme heat conditions won't occur. I remind the Senate that the Australian Veterinary Association recommended:
Irrespective of stocking density, thermoregulatory physiology indicates that sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the expected extreme climatic conditions during this time. Accordingly, voyages carrying live sheep to the Middle East during May to October cannot be recommended.
Finally, in 2011, the ABC's Four Corners program screened terrible acts of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs. The weight of community reaction left the then government with little choice but to suspend the live cattle trade. It was an extraordinarily difficult time for producers and exporters alike. But what grew from it was ESCAS, an internationally-recognised animal welfare assurance system. It is doubtful the industry would have ever accepted ESCAS if it had not been for the suspension of the trade. There were those who argued the regulation and enforcement of animal welfare standards in other countries was not possible. It was possible, and so is the transition of the live sheep trade to a domestic high-value processing sector in Australia. I commend the bill to the Senate.
I'm very pleased to co-sponsor the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018 today with Senators Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer. This bill sets out a framework over five years to transition away from the very worst of the live-export sea voyages, those long-haul live sheep and lamb shipments that sail into the Northern Hemisphere summer months and into the riskiest of shipping routes through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Our priority in preparing this particular bill has been to end the shocking cruelty that tens of thousands of sheep must endure when they are exported for overseas slaughter. We've been working closely with animal welfare organisations, the meatworkers union and other stakeholders to create a transition plan that is better for animals, better for Australian workers and better for farmers and local economies. We stand with the majority of Australians in wanting to end the live-export trade. An independent poll commissioned by RSPCA Australia and conducted this year found that three in four Australians demand an end to live exports. This confirms previous polls, and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have taken actions to let their demands be known.
This issue is being debated now because of the actions of a courageous young Pakistani trainee ship's officer. His name is Faisal Ullah. He filmed the death and suffering that occurred on the Awassi Express. I express my thanks to him, and I believe he needs to be acknowledged. He took that action of filming the horror so the world could see the reality of the live-export trade, because he knew how important it was to end this cruelty. He follows in the footsteps of courageous live exporter vet Lynn Simpson and others who have borne witness and have revealed their evidence. I acknowledge the massive contribution of Mr Ullah and the extensive work of Animals Australia, the RSPCA, and many other animal welfare and animal rights groups and individuals who have campaigned for decades on this issue.
The solution is to start transitioning away from the trade, and this bill before the Senate offers a fair pathway to achieve that. The trade must end. As we know, attempting to regulate the trade has failed time and time again. That individual exporters are profiteering from the profound suffering which is the live-export trade is unacceptable enough, but let us not forget that successive Australian governments have explicitly supported and facilitated a continuing cruelty that would see any Australian farmer prosecuted and possibly imprisoned if they had engaged in actions that resulted in such cruelty. The exporter Emanuel Exports, whose ship the Awassi Express caused the death of 2,400 sheep in last year's August voyage, illustrates the extent of this failure. That live-export ship passed official inspections 39 times in the last five years, and the company was granted the permit to continue sailing with sheep on board without sanctions. This is despite 3,000 sheep dying on one of its other ships, the Al Messilah, on the same long-haul route the year before, in 2016. This same company was found guilty of animal cruelty under Western Australian animal welfare laws in 2008, but had to be acquitted because state animal welfare legislation is suspended by federal laws that take over when the live-export ships and their suffering cargo leave Australian shores.
The Australian government has refused to prosecute or sanction any breaches of these federal laws, and those breaches are so clear. Evidence collected from live animal shipments continues to show extensive breaches of Australian regulations and international World Organisation for Animal Health standards, known as OIE standards, as well as the WA Animal Welfare Act. These breaches have resulted in systemic and extreme suffering for thousands of sheep. Significantly, the evidence demonstrates that Australian producers, MPs and the wider public have been deceived by the government and corporate interests in the live export industry.
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, the peak body responsible for setting industry policy, has publicly stated that their social licence to operate is based on their no-fear, no-pain animal welfare commitment. The Awassi Express vision clearly shows that export companies are breaching this commitment. The level of heat stress and its consequences are business as usual and reveal why this industry does not have a social licence.
I want to put on record the level of breaches occurring, as this is one of the key reasons why we have brought this bill before parliament to end the live sheep trade over the next five years. The following standards have been breached: the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Standards) Order 2005, the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004, the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002 and the OIE guidelines.
Clearly enough is enough. The live sheep export trade has been given too many chances. Let's remember that this latest horrific scandal is not the first incident of mass suffering and deaths inflicted on thousands of exported animals. Other examples abound. In 1980 one crew member and 40,000 sheep died on the Farid Fares. In 1996 one crew member and 67,000 sheep died in the Uniceb disaster. In 2006 live exports to Egypt were suspended after footage of animal cruelty was aired on 60 Minutes. There were mass protests after footage of cruel treatment of live exports in Kuwait in 2010 and in Indonesia in 2011. The list goes on and on.
The scale of suffering is hard to visualise. Government agencies extract these figures into visually cleaner and smaller percentages that render the terrible reality more publicly palatable. For example, the total of 15,591 sheep that died during live export voyages in 2011 is rendered into a tidy industrywide mortality rate of less than one per cent—0.86 per cent, in fact—for one year. If less than two per cent of the total livestock die during a voyage, this can mean hundreds of thousands of deaths, but when portrayed as two per cent it doesn't sound very much. It's a way to gloss over it for business to continue as usual.
The animal export legislation amendment bill before us will end this suffering. The bill immediately prohibits shipments of live lambs or sheep through or to any place in the Persian Gulf or Red Sea both during the worst of the baking Northern Hemisphere summer months of July, August and September and if the voyage is 10 days or more. These are the worst of the live export voyages, which usually include multiple unloading ports. The suffering of sheep is increased on voyages of 20 or 30 days in hot and humid temperatures that consistently reach levels where bodies begin slowly shutting down, and the death rates are some five to 10 times the usual mortality rates on Australian sheep farms.
After a five-year transition period the bill will prohibit absolutely all live sheep and lamb long-haul ships to or through the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea regardless of the time of year or the length of the voyage. This allows plenty of time for governments to support a transition package, as has been done in the past for other dying industries. This bill also reaffirms the government's own stated support for the international minimum standards for animal welfare established by the World Organisation for Animal Health—that is, the OIE standards.
The government repeatedly states not only that the OIE standards inform its Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System—that's the ESCAS framework—and the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock but that Australian standards, in most instances, exceed the OIE standards. However, Australia's ESCAS and ASEL frameworks are meaningless, given the continuing horror on live export ships, without governments using their available powers to sanction all breaches. As the government's own accepted standards, they must be embedded in law as a bare and uncontentious minimum. This bill thus requires that live exporters must adhere to the OIE's code for the transport of animals by sea. As per the House of Representatives bill, any suspected breach of the bill requires that the livestock export licence holder must be issued with a written 'show cause' notice by the secretary.
The bill's prohibition of live sheep long-haul export voyages will remove the well-considered major risks to the exported animals. Live export voyages of 10 days or more constitute long-haul live export voyages, on which significantly increased numbers of sheep or lambs suffer and die during the voyage. The longer periods at sea compound endemic shipboard sheep illnesses, resulting from failure to eat manufactured pellets that are so far removed from the fresh growth of paddocks, and related enteritis and salmonella syndrome. The prolonged confinement of the animals in accumulated masses of faecal and urine matter further increases animal welfare, morbidity and mortality risks. If the fact of the barbarism that is the live export trade isn't enough, the cruelty is also a clear reputational risk to Australia and its domestic chilled meat trade.
Thirty-three years ago a Senate inquiry recommended phasing out the live export industry on animal welfare grounds alone, to be replaced by a supported transition to the chilled meat trade; 33 years ago, a Senate committee made that clear recommendation. It really is time we caught up. In 2013 New Zealand ended the live export trade, with its peak farming body, the Federated Farmers of New Zealand, stating the scale of the industry's cruelty was too great a reputational risk for its important chilled meat industry. Just last year the Victorian state director of the government's own export finance credit agency revealed that the agency did not fund the live export trade because it involved too much cruelty. Not surprisingly, those comments were quickly buried by the agency.
Let's also remember that this cruel trade across all live export is also cannibalising Australian jobs and rural economies by exporting processing and supply chain employment overseas, when people load their ships with frightened animals. In 2004 a Western Australian ministerial task force described the growth in the live export trade as coming at the expense of the domestic meat-processing industry. In 2010 a report by SG Heilbron, The future of the Queensland beef industry and the impact of live cattle exports, found:
… … …
Pity Senator O'Sullivan isn't in the chamber to hear those comments! Really, it makes you wonder whose interests Senator O'Sullivan represents. The 2012 ACIL Tasman economic analysis of the inputs and outputs of live cattle export farms in Australia's Top End shows they are financially sustainable over the long term regardless of the live export market and are problematic from a whole-business perspective.
As long as 12 years ago, a 2006 Hassall report into the live export industry forecast sheepmeat imports progressively displacing live sheep in Middle East markets, and demand for chilled meat growing. This is in fact happening, with halal-certified carcasses and meat processed in Australia increasingly sold in Middle Eastern supermarkets as a preferred clean, green option. With the shocking vision of faecal matter covering and killing so many animals, you have to wonder if we are going to be able to keep that image of our other products.
Middle Eastern demand for fresh and chilled sheepmeat is now three times greater than live exports and it's expanding, resulting in a 60 per cent decline in live exports to that market in just over a decade. Here the economic figures from the export trade show that the change is occurring now, and, by not driving the change, this government is actually jeopardising the future for farmers and jeopardising our own economy because they are beholden to some of the very rich pastoralists in this country.
In fact, trade figures confirm that, for over 10 years, the average value of chilled sheepmeat has been worth around 11 times more in export dollars than the live sheep export trade. As the number of live sheep exported has declined, the price of sheep has risen in Australia. Recent analysis by Pegasus Economics finds just six per cent of Australian sheep are sold into the live export trade, with 80 per cent of those animals coming from Western Australia. Live sheep exports represent 0.1 per cent of annual income for most farmers. Even specialist sheep farmers find 0.5 per cent of their income from live exports. Again we have to ask the question: who are the Nationals really representing when they don't get behind the trade that can really benefit the farmers of this country?
Not only this; Western Australian and South Australian abattoirs have enough capacity right now to absorb more than the numbers of sheep currently live exported and create the extra regional jobs to deliver that capacity. Government just needs to invest in the extra supporting infrastructure, transitional processes and job training to make this happen. It has done it before, providing over $2 billion in structural adjustment packages for other struggling agricultural sectors such as tobacco, sugar and the dairy industries. Additionally, international market factors beyond Australia's control present a constant threat to the sustainability of the live export industry. One clear and present risk is when Middle East governments end their food subsidies that prop up the dying live export industry. Australia has a responsibility to remove this certain risk for those few farmers who supply the export companies. Consider when live exports to Bahrain stopped because it removed its food subsidies: Australian chilled meat took over the market completely.
There is only one answer here. This bill will end the barbarism of the Australian live sheep export trade. It will benefit the domestic meat-processing industry and create more Australian jobs. I wish to warmly congratulate Sussan Ley, the member for Farrer, for introducing a bill to the House of Representatives to transition out of the live sheep export trade—a bill that will end the mass cruelty. Our bill mirrors the groundbreaking work Ms Ley has undertaken. The Turnbull government should back this bill. The Prime Minister and the minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, should admit that their response to the Awassi Express has failed.
The independent review for the conditions of the export of live sheep failed to make any recommendation that will guarantee that the mass deaths of the sheep on the live export ships will truly end. The minister effectively set this inquiry up to deliver recommendations that suit the interests of the live export industry. We have no doubt that the review's author, Mr McCarthy, conducted his investigations in good faith; however, by not allowing the review to countenance a complete transition away from the trade, the minister has ensured the review worked in the interests of those who want the trade to continue. Nobody seriously believes more ventilation will end the cruelty of heat stress and long-haul travel.
The boxed, chilled meat trade is a win-win. It's a way to end the cruelty and boost jobs in regional Australia. I congratulate the meatworkers union for their work in this year and over many years, and I particularly thank Grant Courtney from that union for his advice on how to the transition plan can be managed so it delivers jobs for regional Australia, ends the cruelty of the live export trade and brings certainty to farmers in managing their stock. The Greens' five-point plan to end the live export trade, launched in 2012, was launched with the support of the meatworkers union and many animal welfare groups.
The government needs to face that the tide has turned on the cruel live export trade. This bill provides certainty for Australia's agriculture industry, and we do urge that all members support it.
I welcome this opportunity to add my support to this much-needed private senator's bill, the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018. I speak now to the 3,213 constituents in South Australia who contacted me directly about the live export trade. I am sympathetic to your concerns, which I know are shared by many other South Australians. Like you, I was horrified by the recent revelations about the conditions suffered by sheep en route to the Middle East. No animal deserves to be treated with such cruelty. That is why I said to you that we must develop a plan to phase out all exports of live sheep. This bill offers a fair and responsible way forward through a five-year transitional period. The stress and cruelty visited on sheep being transported long distances by sea in what are inevitably stressful and often fatal circumstances should be stopped for both moral and economic reasons.
It is essential that such a plan for transition contain arrangements to enable producers and exporters to shift to boxed lamb with minimal disruption to their business. It not only would be more humane but also would add economic value to currently underutilised abattoirs across Australia. Sales of boxed lamb to the Middle East are on the increase. Producers and exporters should be encouraged. Exporters should be encouraged to step up efforts to increase this aspect of the trade. The live sheep trade is already in economic decline, and steps need to be taken urgently to phase it out in a responsible and predictable way. As we have heard today from Senators Hinch and Rhiannon, the economic case of transitioning away from live exports is strong. ACIL and Pegasus economic analyses have shown this over the last decade. This bill is a first step towards that end. I strongly support this important first step to ending live exports, which is why I am a co-sponsor of this bill. I will continue my remarks at a later date.
I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Labor Party in support of this private senator's bill, the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018, and join my Labor colleagues in applauding the courage of those who have brought forward this bill here in the Senate and its equivalent in the other place. Australians have for some time now been terribly horrified by revelation after revelation of the cruelty of the live export trade—a cruelty that I think drew its last straw when the devastating footage was aired on 60 Minutes on 8 April, which made it very clear at that point in time, yet again, that thousands of sheep have been suffering over a period of time now and dying on the Awassi Express. Those shipments from Australia in 2017 were of course filmed in secret but aired publicly. There was a separate investigation in August 2017 of an incident on a trip from Perth to Doha, which found that 2,400 sheep died on the Awassi Express due to extreme heat—almost twice the acceptable mortality rate.
The Australian community wants this live sheep trade to end. However, it's not only the Australian community that is firmly behind this policy change; it is the science as well—science that cannot be ignored but continues, unfortunately, to be ignored by this current Turnbull government. I do believe that regardless of the good intent—and I say that clearly: the good intent—of this bill and those in the other place, it is only a matter of time before this live sheep export trade ends. That is because, with the onset of the northern summer, it is once again a time of extreme risk for Australian sheep. I heard during recent Senate estimates evidence from the McCarthy review, the government's own commissioned review, that the Australian Veterinary Association confirmed that, regardless of stocking density, extreme heat conditions and resulting mass mortality events cannot be prevented by the industry. They cannot be prevented.
But what is so concerning is that, regardless of that being made clear by departmental officials during Senate estimates, this government will not be accepting those key recommendations from the McCarthy review relating to revising the heat stress risk assessment model from one based on mortality rates to one based on animal welfare measures. Why is this the case? Why is the government ignoring the science? Why is the government ignoring key recommendations from its own administered review?
The science was laid out clearly, in graphic detail, during the detailed briefings from the RSPCA's chief scientist, Dr Bidda Jones, and Animals Australia's chief investigator, Lyn White, to parliamentarians, which I hosted on behalf of Parliamentary Friends of the RSPCA with my co-chair, Jason Wood, in May this year. As I said then, Labor believes very strongly that a transition away from the live sheep export trade will increase the value of the product we produce here, and it will build on our own brand as a producer of clean, green, safe and ethical animal products being produced right here in Australia. Even more importantly, it will create jobs and create a vibrant industry for those farmers to have their sheepmeat produced right here in Australia. That is important because it means higher returns for our farmers, and of course it means an improvement in animal welfare standards.
The RSPCA, like other stakeholders, has welcomed Labor's commitment to ending live sheep exports and has endorsed our approach of a collaboration and consultation to secure a better future for Australian farmers and for Australian sheep farming. This is about growing our sheep-farming industry right here in Australia and growing it through jobs, whilst at the same time having that benchmark of decent animal welfare standards—something that this government cannot stand by and say it is implementing at all, when it won't even implement key recommendations of its own administered review.
Departmental officials acknowledged to me during Senate estimates that the recommendations from the McCarthy review would lead to the end of the summer trade. That is why this is not happening. What we say is that there should be an immediate halt on the summer trade because the summer trade is when high temperatures from climatic conditions cause the damage to the sheep that leads to their death, that led to 2,400 sheep dying last August. When are the government going to wake up and recognise that they are simply ignoring the science and ignoring what is needed and what is expected by our Australian community? They need to face the facts and the science. They need to face reality and accept that the best way forward is to commit to the end of this live sheep trade.
This morning, our own shadow minister Joel Fitzgibbon provided Labor's private member's bill, which complements the bills that have been debated both in the other place, through Sussan Ley's bill, and also this morning through the senators who have brought this bill on in this place. It is growing. The support is continuing to grow for the end of this live sheep trade, and I don't think this government should be standing in its way.
No Australian would countenance any activity or any action that in any way was cruel to animals. We are a nation of animal lovers and we feel for our animals, whether they be domestic pets or animals that we produce for our own consumption and for trade. Cruelty to animals is something that is foreign to all Australians. But we mustn't overlook cruelty to our fellow human beings. I know most of the senators who have spoken in this debate come from the capital cities in the south. They don't really understand the cruelty that occurred to human beings, to families, at the time of the live cattle export ban. At the time, the stories were there—and they've been repeated in this chamber time and time again—of families who had to take children out of school, because they simply could not afford to keep them there, because of the sudden ban on the live cattle export trade. Whole communities were devastated at the time. The distress caused to human beings was something that you really had to experience to understand fully.
Apart from Senator O'Sullivan—Senator O'Sullivan, might I say, is a very big exception—none of the senators who have spoken today, none of those from the Greens or the Labor Party, would ever have understood the hurt, the anxiety and the cruelty that happened to many of our rural families at the time of the live cattle export ban. Senators from the capital cities will dismiss it because they don't experience it, but people like Senator O'Sullivan, Senator Williams and I actually deal with and understand those families and understand the hurt, the trauma and the loss of self-respect that occurred at the time of the banning of the live cattle trade. Unless you've seen it, as Senator Williams, Senator O'Sullivan and I and other senators on this side have, you don't understand the cruelty to human beings. Whilst we would never countenance cruelty to animals, we believe we should adopt the same standards for human beings. Those from the Labor Party and the Greens will dismiss that, laugh at it and talk about the importance of preventing cruelty to animals. As I say, no-one would disagree with that, but I wish that, just sometimes, they would get out of their ivory towers in the capital cities and go and see what life is like in those parts of Australia that actually produce the food and fibre that we need for ourselves and that are exported.
I'm a Queensland senator, and there is no live sheep export trade from my state—quite differently to live cattle, which is a very, very significant part of my state—but I do feel equally for the farmers of Western Australia, parts of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria whose livelihoods and the livelihoods of whose communities very often depend on all aspects of the sheep industry, including the live export of sheep. There are some 1,800 jobs directly dependent upon this live export trade, and none of the speakers, apart from those on this side, seemed to care at all about the welfare and ongoing livelihoods of those workers. In certain parts of Australia the live sheep trade is a very, very significant part of our economy.
We can't on any occasion countenance or condone cruelty to sheep, cattle or any other animal, and we don't. Senators should be aware of the very significant regulations and provisions that were put in place with the live cattle trade to ensure that cruelty did not occur. Without rehashing the debates of those days, one must also realise that the live trade in animals will continue no matter what Australia does. But I think it's recognised around the world that animals being exported live from Australia are treated far more humanely than animals from many other parts of the world. If the Australian trade were to stop, that wouldn't mean the trade in live animals would stop. It would continue because there is a demand for the acquisition of live animals in various parts of the world. So the trade will continue no matter what Australia does. If you're genuinely interested in the welfare of all animals and not just Australian animals then you would prefer Australian regulations and Australia's humanity towards animals to be at the forefront, rather than the way some other countries treat their animals in the export of live animals.
You'll be aware that the government moved quickly to make changes to the welfare of exported livestock. Independent observers were immediately placed on vessels carrying our livestock to the Middle East, and three important reviews were progressed following this latest revelation about the inhumanity and cruelty in the sheep exports trade. The government has accepted all of the recommendations of the McCarthy review of sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern summer. That review, as senators will know, was released on 17 May this year. The review of the Australian standards for export of livestock and the review into the capability powers and culture of the independent regulator will report to the government in due course.
Senators may recall that our former distinguished colleague then Senator Chris Back has contributed his expertise as a veterinarian to some of those reviews. Former Senator Back—and it's a real disappointment that he's left us in the Senate—was a sound and wise head at the time of the live cattle export ban. He knew the industry. He knew the impact various government regulations would have on human beings, not just animals. He knew of the distress caused and actual cruelty that occurred to many people and many communities of people who were affected by that ridiculous decision of a former government. He, more than most, was articulate and passionate about improving the welfare of animals being exported live but, at the same time, the importance of maintaining the communities and families that rely on that trade and that industry.
I often wonder about the Labor Party. They seem to think animals are more important than humans. Animals are important, but I know up my way, diverging slightly into the question of crocodiles versus human beings, it would seem that the Labor Party and certainly the Greens political party in my state of Queensland far prefer the life of a crocodile to the life of a human being. Crocodiles in Queensland have multiplied exponentially. They used to just be in remote parts of Queensland. They are now swimming along the beaches of Townsville, where I have my office and where tourists used to go swimming along the beach. We now have crocodiles there. But will the Greens political party or the Labor Party do anything about it? They say: 'Oh, no, the poor crocodile! He must stay there. It doesn't matter if he eats a couple of human beings along the way'—as has happened.
Honourable senators interjecting—
The Greens again make jokes as I speak about the sanctity of human life, because they have no comprehension of what life is like outside their capital city ivory tower. Certainly, you don't get crocodiles on Bondi Beach. You don't worry about them there. But you can pass judgement on those who have to live in these areas, and more importantly tourists who used to go there and enjoy the northern beaches but are scared to do so now, because of the attitude of the Greens political party, who really call the shots for the Queensland Labor government in allowing crocodiles to run wild and humans to take their chances. I'm sorry: I'm a great animal lover, but I'm one of those people who do believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that human beings are more important than animals, and the same applies to these live animal exports.
We can do both. By regulations, as we've done in the cattle industry, we can ensure that cattle who are transhipped are transhipped in good conditions that don't impact upon their welfare. In the cattle trade we've taken that even further. We've ensured that the abattoirs and the killing arrangements in countries beyond Australia have been forced to meet Australian standards. We've done that by contract. We can't regulate in other countries where we have no jurisdiction, but by contract we can ensure that our cattle being exported live are treated humanely and are slaughtered humanely, as they are in Australia.
I know there are some people who don't believe that we should kill any animals for food, and I appreciate their philosophy and their right to do that. But most of us like a good steak, like our lamb chops, like our lamb cutlets, like our lamb roast and like our pork roasts and, of course, to get them you have to slaughter an animal.
In Australia for many, many decades we have ensured that our abattoirs are humane and that the killing of the animals is done in a way that is very humane and that the animal doesn't really even know what's happening. We have exported our standards and our humanity towards animals to those countries to which we export both live sheep and cattle. The TV program that has generated concern around the countryside, and has mobilised GetUp! to get their emails working, was disgusting. No Australian would deny that. What I was more disgusted about was that the regulations that were in place before were not properly administered, and that's something the administering authorities and those responsible should be held to account for.
As a result of that, there will be new regulations on the live export of sheep, which will ensure the welfare of those animals. At the same time, it will allow the human beings—the people who live because of that trade and those who are employed because of that trade—to continue in their way of a livelihood and a job.
The government supports farmers who rely on live export and the exporters who do the right things. I have to say, most of the exporters do fall into that category and they do the right thing. The government is committed to providing the standards of animal welfare that Australians respect. I must pay credit to Minister Littleproud for the proactive way he has handled this issue in his first few days as minister. I commend to the Senate the speech by my colleague Senator O'Sullivan, who went through this very clinically. I would suggest that Senator O'Sullivan knows the animal trade better than anyone in this chamber—perhaps not as well as Senator Williams, but Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Williams know the ins and outs of these trades.
Our farmers, the Australian community more broadly and our trading partners must be able to have confidence in our livestock export industry, and the measures the minister and the government are taking will ensure that that confidence is there and that the welfare of animals is paramount. It can be done. You can have the best of both worlds. Without being personal, those who speak in this debate from the Greens political party and the Labor Party have no idea of the contribution that the live cattle and live sheep exports make to our country. They have no idea, and they care little about the families and the people who rely on these industries and whose welfare, livelihoods and futures depend upon a continuation of these export industries.
The government will ensure that the regulations—as we've done with cattle—give paramount importance to the welfare of animals, because the way Australia does it is far better than any other exporter of live animals. If Australia were not in the business, these other exporters would have their own way without the regulations, without the concern and without the conditions imposed upon exporters of Australian animals. Those who have spoken are, perhaps, a bit nationalistic when it comes to the welfare of animals: their concern is only for the welfare of Australian animals, not the welfare of animals around the world. But Australia leading the way will promote the welfare of animals by example and by sheer foresight. By example, we will demonstrate to other shippers from other countries that this is the way it should be done. That must be a real gain for the welfare of animals across the world.
The government will continue to improve regulations to ensure the welfare of animals exported live. But we will do that while at the same time ensuring that these very, very valuable export industries for Australia and for the families and communities that rely on these exports are looked after by the Australian government. That's what the government is here to do, and that's what we will continue to do.
The images we saw from the Awassi Express earlier this year were horrendous and should never again be repeated. No animal should suffer what we saw, whether they are shipped to the Middle East, Asia or even to the eastern states. I believe in the strict enforcement of laws and regulations regarding the live export of all animals. Furthermore, I fully support sanctions and penalties on any and all companies that do not comply with the laws and regulations. Personally, I believe that, if need be, they should have their export licences revoked. Make no mistake, I in no way endorse the mistreatment of animals. This legislation, however, has been hastily put together without thought or consideration for the welfare of the live export animals: sheep, cattle, goats and pigs. Neither has any consideration been given to the livelihoods of our farmers or our strategic allies.
It appears that the intention of this bill was merely to promote its author. Derryn Hinch has joined the list of eastern-state elites, including the Liberal's Sussan Ley and Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon, who have refused to come out west to speak to the farmers whose lives would be destroyed. Also, they engage in cheap political pointscoring. These elites should have the decency to come out and look the farmers in the eyes and explain why their livelihoods should be destroyed overnight.
Having spoken to Western Australian farmers, I personally saw the disgust on their faces after what they saw on the Awassi Express. Having read the evidence, I also know that WA farmers were not to blame. This bill does nothing to address the concerns of the welfare of the animals, nor does it acknowledge any of the measures brought forward by the farmers themselves to deal with the issue. It also fails to take into account the food security of Israel, one of Australia's closest partners and our fifth largest market for live exports. Banning live exports to Israel would increase the strain on their food security, given the regional instability that we are currently witnessing in that area.
I do not believe that now is the right time to turn our back on our allies. In Australia, we ask major projects to conduct the stakeholder consultation process and for socioeconomic impact assessments to be written. Just ask any mining company and they will tell you the process they must go through to prove that they have spoken to local communities and have assessed any major impacts. The Liberal and Labor parties, and now Derryn Hinch, are for some reason exempt from this. WA communities are not even worth speaking to—let that sink in. These politicians do not believe it's worth their time to speak to people whose livelihoods they want to destroy.
My role, as a Western Australian senator, means I have to represent the people of my state first and foremost. I have personally spoken to a wide range of people on both sides of the issue. Western Australians realise most that changes need to occur. What scares me, however, is that they are not being heard, that nothing is being done and that they're not being treated fairly. If I could do one thing in this debate, it would be to give a voice to those who are ignored by the elites. This is why I urge the crossbench not to consider any bill that ignores the people and communities directly affected by it, nor leave any loophole for the mistreatment of animals. I also invite my fellow senators to come out west and speak to some of the people whose lives they intend to affect.
I rise to contribute to debate on the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018 put forward by Senator Hinch and the Greens. I don't think one Australian, or anyone around the world, would condone the treatment of the sheep on the shipping line we saw on the television program Four Cornersappalling treatment. It was overcrowded, had a very poor sewage system, had a lack of ventilation and so on. But surely we should learn from the 2011 kneejerk reactions from the Labor Party and the Greens, when they were in government, to ban the live export of cattle to Indonesia when, once again, there was appalling behaviour in the abattoirs over there. Why they would want to bruise the animals before slaughter is beyond me. But, of course, the Labor Party just banned the whole export of live cattle. They put a freeze on it. Senator Joe Ludwig was the minister at the time. I don't think it was Joe Ludwig's decision. I think it was forced on him from above—by the Prime Minister et cetera at the time. But the effect was terrible on Indonesia. At the time they had nine A-class abattoirs, as good as anything in Australia, and many B-class abattoirs that could have been raised to those standards. We should have banned the export of cattle to those bad abattoirs but not holus-bolus. We've now got the trade going again, and it's going well. ESCAS is working; it's doing its job. We're one of the few countries who take responsibility for the animals when they land in the other country. What other countries who export live animals do that?
I'll take it back to live sheep exports. We've got the Greens here now wanting to ban live sheep exports. I'll tell you a bit of history about my time in the sheep industry. The Greens might listen to this. I'm taking it back to 1990-91. We had 170 million to 180 million sheep in Australia; it's down to about 70 million now. We had an oversupply in the market. We had 4½ million bales of wool held in wool stores, and of course the wool market crashed et cetera.
What do we have to do with excess sheep when they get old, when they are six or seven years old? The first-cross ewes I sold just last week might have been nine years old. They can live a bit longer and produce lambs a bit longer. My brother Peter and I had to get rid of 1,000 sheep off the farm in about 1991. Winter was coming and the lambs were coming on. We had marked the lambs and so on. We had to get rid of 1,000 sheep. Senator Bartlett should listen to this. We literally gave away 500. We did not get one cent for them. We drafted off the 500 with the best condition and gave them away. The trucks came in. We gave them to the abattoir. We did not get a red cent for them.
What did we do with the other 500? I'll tell you what we did. We built a temporary fence in the corner of a paddock amongst the gum suckers and a few trees. I stood there with a semiautomatic 22 with a 10-shot magazine in it and I shot the sheep one by one—500 of them. It was not a very good experience I can tell you. I wonder if Senator Bartlett or Senator Rhiannon have ever had to stand in the corner of a paddock and shoot sheep one by one. I'll bet you they haven't. What did we do the next year? Opened up the fence and marched another 500 sheep into the pen and shot another 500 sheep one by one. It got to the stage where the barrel of the rifle was almost glowing hot. It was the worst job I have ever had.
Sadly, when this was going on around Australia some of the farmers after shooting their animals turned the rifle on themselves. That's what happens when you stop overseas markets. If you cut the market off, that's the effect it has on the people here. The Greens and Senator Hinch would never have been through what I've been through in this patch of the woods. For them to stand up here and be popular in saying, 'Let's just ban the industry,' is disgraceful. Why don't we just improve the industry? Ban from carting livestock the shipping line that had the appalling treatment of the livestock. I think Minister Littleproud has handled this tremendously well. He now has inspectors on every ship going overseas and a commissioner here to report back to. Get it right: don't overcrowd them; give them space; give them ventilation; give them feed; give them water.
Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, you come from South Australia. So do I. Back in the 1970s when I was driving semitrailers I would cart loads and loads of sheep and wethers to Outer Harbor, where they would be loaded onto the boats. There might be 330 or 340 wethers to a truckload. We carted them from everywhere—the Flinders Ranges, the mid-north and you name it. When those sheep were placed on ships like the Danny F, which had 70,000 at a time, they put condition on when travelling to the Middle East. They improved their condition. I can tell you that animals under stress do not put condition on; they lose condition. They did a good job with the good diet, the good feed, and the good ventilation. We sent millions upon millions upon millions of sheep to the Middle East with no problem, through the hot months as well.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I have seen in South Australia 50 degree heat in the sun and sheep in the middle of a paddock without a tree, because the country was never timbered, like in the Jamestown country where I grew up. The sheep will stand in the middle of the paddock with their heads under each other's bellies, shading their heads. They cope with it no problem at all. They have fresh air, feed and water. The heat is not a problem as I see it on the ships. It is the fresh air, feed, water and ventilation that are the problems.
The footage we did see of the treatment of the sheep was disgraceful and appalling. We certainly don't condone that at all, but we shouldn't stop the industry and cut out our markets—and there is constant marketing of 1.8 to 2.3 million sheep overseas. It's not reducing. It has been going on for years. It has stabilised since 2012. As Senator Georgiou said, it's not the farmers' fault. They are excellent at growing good feed in this country, whether it be beef, sheep, lamb, cattle or vegetables. Australia's reputation for growing food is second to none in the world.
There is the claim that, if we stop the live exports, they'll take the chilled meat. No, they won't. Kuwait has made it quite clear: ban the live export of sheep and we will not buy your chilled boxed meat. They will simply get their sheep elsewhere. We see sheep being supplied from South Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia. They will fill the gap if we stop supplying live exports to these countries. It's just amazing that the Greens run the populous line: 'Chill the meat and process them here.' They said that with the beef. AACo kicked off the abattoir in Darwin, and a few weeks ago they closed it. Why did they close it? Because they lost tens and tens of millions of dollars operating an abattoir in Darwin. But I suppose the Greens have probably never visited an abattoir or been through one.
It's obvious. In the Top End of Australia we get the wet season. You can't transport stock off the stations when the monsoons are on. You would bog your trucks. We had enough trouble in South Australia in the Flinders Ranges. I tried to take my boys down there a couple of weeks ago to show them some of the stations I carted livestock out of in the Flinders Ranges. One I remember well is Umberatana station, which is 100 kilometres out from Copley. It took us six hours to drive that 100 kilometres empty and longer loaded when we took two decks of sheep out. You couldn't take three decks of sheep out; you'd tip the semitrailers over.
But the Greens would not be aware of that, because they have never done any of this work. They sit there and just say: 'Let's squash the market. Let's cut them off. Let's stop the live export of cattle and stop the live export of sheep. Let the other countries fill our gaps and take our market away. Two million sheep a year at $120 is $240 million to the farmers? That doesn't matter. Wipe their income out. We don't care about them on the land. We don't care if they go broke.' It's just amazing how the Greens and others in this place can simply take a rushed decision. Didn't you learn from the Labor Party when they were in government in 2011 and saw what they did to the beef industry? What a disastrous mess they made of that. How many people in the Top End went broke and how many families broke up because of the pressure they were under? Think of the people as well as the animals.
As I've said, we now have inspectors on the ships, and they report back to the commissioner. I think Minister Littleproud has done a great job here. Now we want to increase the fines and the punishment, but Labor are playing political games with that. We've got the RSPCA and the NFF supporting us to increase the fines and punishment. It's simple: keep the industry going and do it properly. Don't shut it down. Don't cut out people's markets. I told you earlier on when I started this speech what I had to do with my brother Peter when it came to shooting the sheep, but probably no-one else in this building has had to do that. It is not a very good time, not a very good experience.
Get it right. As I said in the media, we've had thousands of human beings killed in plane crashes. We didn't ban aeroplanes; the manufacturers simply did their work better and made them safer to the stage where now it is safer—much safer—to fly an airplane than it is to drive a car down the road. You can shake your head, Senator Bartlett. You probably have never been out on a sheep property. Have you ever worked out there? Have you had to shoot any? No, you shake your head at it. Don't worry about the farmers. That is why they despise you Greens so much.
I will; good point. That's why the farmers despise the Greens so much. They go out there and put laws on them like native vegetation laws where the farmers can't even spray weeds, clear country or do anything, all to appease the Greens and the Greens supporters in the cities. They have no idea of the actual growing of food. The problem they've had is that they've been spoilt in this country. Perhaps if, like in many other countries, they were to go hungry for a few months, they might get a bit of an idea of who actually grows the food in this place. Then again, when it comes to beef and lamb, that may not affect their diets much at all anyway!
So be a bit realistic here. To call for the banning of live exports—can't they see it? It's clear: if we don't supply those two million sheep of live exports, they'll be kept here, abattoirs will overflow with meat, the market will be oversupplied, the price will fall and, most importantly, we'll lose our box sales. Those are sales like the ones that the great Roger Fletcher's works do now, exporting to over 100 countries with box meat. And other countries will fill the gap. Can't the Greens see that? If we don't send those sheep to the Middle East, who are importing nine million live sheep a year when we are doing about two million sheep, other countries are going to do it. Do you think you're going to stop live export of sheep to the Middle East? No, you are not. But whose are the best cared for? Whose are the best presented? Whose are the best prepared? The Australian sheep. The Australian graziers who look after them and produce so well that we've had one bad shipping line, one bad shipping experience.
Of course you get dead sheep. When you run livestock, you'll always have dead stock. Sadly, on our farm, when my wife and I run 300 or 400 sheep, we get the odd dead one as well. And these days, especially with the value of them, it's terrible. It's a tough time out there now in the drought. Many are buying feed from even as far as South Australia. But look after the industries we've got. Preserve them; don't shut them down.