Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018


Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill 2018; Second Reading

4:15 pm

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

I present the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—



On behalf of the Australian Greens and Senator Derryn Hinch I introduce the Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill 2018.

In doing so, I acknowledge the work of former Senator Kakoschke-Moore and her staff on this bill and their contribution to this second reading speech.

The Export Control Amendment (Equine Live Export for Slaughter Prohibition) Bill amends the Export Control Act 1982 to expressly prohibit the live export of horses, donkeys, mules and hinnies for the purpose of slaughtering those animals overseas.

The recent footage of 2,400 sheep slowly dying on board a live export ship is a reminder of why the intense suffering inflicted by the existing live export trade should not be allowed to extend to even more species.

This bill if passed would ensure that equines would not also be subject to the horrors of the existing live export trade.

The live shipment of these sensitive animals for slaughter does not currently exist in Australia. However, in 2017 it was revealed that the Turnbull government had prepared an exposure draft of the Export Control (Animals) Amendment (Equine Animals) Order 2017 (the Equine Amendment Order). If this order had been enacted it would have opened the door for Australia's horses and donkeys to be exported. This would have resulted in an expansion of the cruel live export system that has been responsible for the horrific death of thousands of cows and sheep at sea and brutal deaths at their destination.

In this instance, the target destination was to China—a country not known for animal welfare protections.

There is an emerging global trade for donkey skins that has resulted in global donkey populations plummeting, and working donkeys from villages around the world being sold or stolen and killed often brutally for their skins. There are reports of donkeys and related animals being skinned alive. Some are killed by being pounded with a hammer.

The trade is being driven by a marketed demand for the animals' skins which are boiled into a glutinous glue called Ejiao and marketed in pills, bars or tonics as a so-called luxury "vitality tonic". Around the world, this is causing mass-scale suffering to donkeys and devastation to the communities that depend on these animals for transport.

In 2017, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce was eyeing this cruel live export trade of all equines for slaughter as a business opportunity. In March 2017, responding to the interest of Chinese businesses he stated that "We're going to make sure if you want to eat donkey skins, you're going to eat our [Australian] edible donkey skins".

Questions in Senate Estimates to the Department of Agriculture asked by myself and Senator Hinch confirmed that secret discussions had been had with visiting businesses looking to Australian horses and donkeys to boil up into potions for a hungry market.

The public response was swift and outraged. Australia's peak body for the live export trade, the Australian Live Export Council (ALEC), immediately issued a statement that "A live export trade in Australian horses and donkeys does not currently exist, and ALEC members are neither seeking nor supportive of any such trade commencing."

The Senate supported Senator Hinch's and my motion condemning any such trade. The motion called on the government to heed community expectations and definitively ban the export of live horses, ponies and donkeys for slaughter.

That is what this bill would achieve.

The annual global demand for donkey skins has been estimated by The Donkey Sanctuary to be between four and ten million.

As the lucrative fad for donkey hide glue has soared in China, Chinese agricultural authorities have reported that their own donkey populations have plummeted from 11 million in 1990 to five million in 2015.

Supply businesses have had to look elsewhere and have been thus decimating donkey populations across the world as they feed the animals into the supply chain and into the stinking holds of the ships carrying their suffering live animal cargos across the planet's oceans to be killed.

The growth of the market for donkey skins has seen poor communities priced out of ownership or replacement of old animals, or have their animals stolen and killed. Many of these communities rely on donkeys as their transport for water and goods, and as agricultural beasts of burden, and this has seriously affected agricultural production and the livelihoods of whole impoverished communities.

The growth of this market has also seen the starvation of animals by dealers, given the profit lies in the skins' gelatine and not their flesh.

So serious has this become, that countries are now banning the international trade, with Pakistan the first country to ban the export of donkey hides in 2015. Nine African governments have followed suit by banning donkey skin exports, and in Brazil concerns about the trade are growing.

The booming Ejiao profiteering grinds on, producing more than 5,000 tonnes of gelatine per year. The scarcity of skins has led to rising product fraud, with manufacturers substituting horses as raw material.

An industry based on the long-distance transportation and slaughter of equines raises serious and unavoidable risks to the welfare of the animals. As is already tragically well known, the live export trade is a serious welfare crisis, with stress, disease, injury and death during the transport alone being compounded by the lack of control over what happens to the animals in importing countries.

These risks are especially high for horses and donkeys who must also pass through the same many stressful stages of transportation prior to even leaving Australia. Mustering, then yarding, loading, trucking, unloading, holding in an assembly area and then trucking and final loading for export subjects the animals to terrible stresses before the horrors of the live export journey itself begins.

As all horse and donkey lovers know, equines are highly sensitive animals and are particularly susceptible to the many collective stressors inherent with live export.

Studies, including a 2013 study published in the Animal Science Journal, have shown that trucking even previously handled horses or donkeys for as little as four hours results in both species showing a stress response, with donkeys showing higher levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, than horses.

A 2015 Australian study titled 'Health problems and risk factors associated with long haul transport of horses in Australia' researched records from 180 consignments of horses transported over 4,000 km (from Perth to Sydney) and concluded that long-haul transport is a risk for horse health and welfare.

Researchers have also noted that domesticated donkeys are very difficult to load and that it is essential that the animals must be handled with great care and patience by competent people. Similarly, even well-trained horses can develop an aversion to transport and pose a danger to themselves and the handler if transported.

In addition to a stress response, other outcomes associated with transporting live animals, including horses and donkeys, include physical injuries such as broken limbs, damaged hooves, and eye and head injuries; psychological trauma; elevated heart and respiration rates and decreased electrolyte levels.

Where wild horses or donkeys are sourced for live export, these welfare risks are compounded by their lack of any prior contact with humans or experience of yarding, loading or transport. While the risks of loading domesticated horses and donkeys can be high, these animal welfare risks are magnified for wild animals as are the impacts of the stressors associated with transport. Where these animals are dealt with en masse as part of a supply chain dependent on time and quantity efficiencies as its model, the cruelty and suffering of equines entering this trade is guaranteed.

Let's not forget the tragic death of last year's 16 prized polo ponies on the relatively short ferry trip from Tasmania to Victoria, to the shock of careful and loving owners. If this is the level of risk, how could we then expect horses and donkeys to survive the long trip overseas, in conditions already proved to cause such terrible suffering?

The recognised fact is that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) conditions on the live export chain do not work. The live export industry is a business model unavoidably built on the suffering of animals that continues under the Australian government's purview. Additionally, evidence of brutal and abhorrent suffering once the animals are unloaded continues to be exposed by courageous whistleblowers and animal welfare organisations who are committed to Australians' demand for better treatment of the animals unfortunate enough to be used by humans.

We have been giving a rare opportunity here. Australians do not want to see the start of a live export trade in horses and donkeys for slaughter overseas. The live export industry itself does not want to see such a trade. There is little doubt that horse racing and horse breeding industries would not want to be associated with such a trade, nor risk the added cruelty of their old or injured animals entering into the supply chain where so much suffering is known.

Supporting this bill does not require the shutting down of an industry. There are no jobs reliant on the live export of equines for slaughter.

Non-government organisations led by Humane Society International and The Donkey Sanctuary have been tirelessly educating the public and decision-makers about the realities of the terrible demand for the skins of these sensitive and charismatic animals. The Greens stand with them, and with most Australians, to support a pre-emptive ban to ensure that Australia plays no part in growing this terrible trade.

The thought that there is a legislative gap that could allow the live export trade to extend to more animals is very worrying. The Greens are firmly opposed to this trade that is already seeing millions of equines suffering for a substance that is nothing more than boiled donkey or horse skin, marketed and packaged up to unsuspecting consumers as a luxury good. Australians want no part in supplying or facilitating growth in this profiteering.

Animals suffer so much in the name of human profit, entertainment or beauty. The Greens are deeply committed to removing that suffering of animals where it is possible, from ending cosmetic testing on animals to ending live exports.

This bill confirms the status quo and ensures that export of live equines, including horses, ponies and donkeys for killing in overseas slaughterhouses will never begin.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.