Senate debates

Monday, 13 August 2018


Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018; Second Reading

11:20 am

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution in the second reading debate on the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018. Essentially, this bill replicates the private members' bill that was introduced by the member for Farrer, the honourable 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. I suppose, to go back to Senator Cameron's contribution, this does highlight some tension and division in the current government. They have a member of their own side, a former minister, proposing a way forward which has caused division in their ranks and has caused the orderly and proper conduct of the parliament to be disrupted.

Every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate has received an inordinate amount of emails on this particular subject. There are very few emails that are coming in in support of the live export trade continuing in its current form, but there is an enormous amount of community wide feeling about animals being treated in an inappropriate way. So I think it's important at the outset to just put on the Hansard, on the record, some of the fast facts which you can obtain from the Meat and Livestock Australia fact sheet. There are 37.2 million head of breeding ewes aged one year and older as at 30 June 2016. That's from the ABARES agricultural commodities report. The gross value of Australian lamb and mutton production, including live exports, in 2016-17 was estimated at $3.9 billion—once again, from ABARES agricultural commodities, June 2017. Lamb and mutton production, including live exports, contributed six per cent to the total farm value of $62.8 billion in 2016-17. Once again, those figures are sourced from the ABARES agricultural commodities, June 2017, report.

So, clearly, we have more sheep than we can eat, even though Australians have amongst the highest per capita consumption of meat. So we need to export it. That's very, very clear. In fact, in 2016-17 Australia exported 57 per cent of the total lamb production and 92 per cent of the total mutton production. The total value of these exports was $1.94 billion, and the value of mutton exports was $720 million. Australia's live sheep exports were valued at $234 million in 2016-17. We produce approximately eight per cent of the world's lamb and mutton supply, we are amongst the largest exporters of sheep meat in the world, and we are the third-largest live sheep exporter. I think it's important to get those facts on the table, because what we've been asked to do is immediately—immediately—cease live export. I think what we should be doing immediately is not to export in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It is unconscionable to put many, many thousands of sheep into intolerable conditions, such as 50 degree heat.

I have had the opportunity of visiting the Middle East with the Honourable Sharman Stone, Ms Teresa Gambaro and Ms Maria Vamvakinou. We went there on a trade delegation, and one of the issues we looked at in Kuwait, in the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia was the live sheep export position. It became very clear as we went through those Middle Eastern economies that they do buy lots of sheep from around the world. In some places, like Kuwait, they're slaughtered by halal methods and then distributed back to families. A family will, if they like, go to the abattoir and pick out the sheep that they particularly want, and then it gets slaughtered and delivered to their house.

In Saudi Arabia we came across a vastly different situation. In Saudi Arabia they have enough resources—their bank accounts are full enough—to purchase whatever they want from wherever they want. They were very, very critical of Australia putting in place animal welfare standards. They said: 'We buy the sheep; it's our business what happens after that. You shouldn't be looking down the line.' Our position was to respectfully push back on that and say: 'Look, we are exporting sheep, but we're not going to export them in an uncontrolled way. Our experience in the live export of cattle was catastrophic. We need acceptable standards in the way that our animals are delivered to other parts of the world.' It's fair to say that, after an eight- or nine-day trip, we were no closer to agreement. The Saudis, in their world, have their standards, and we have our standards—basically, we were never going to meet in the middle. I think what really was unsaid in all of those discussions was that the fact they weren't buying as many Australian sheep is more driven by the value of our dollar. As our dollar came off a higher rate and went down to a more long-term average of about 70 cents, all of a sudden our sheep became much more attractive to them, and they looked at getting the trade back to where they had it historically. But we do know that there are farmers who are heavily reliant on turning off mutton and making a profit out of their agribusiness.

This is going to be challenged all the way over the next few years. It's very clear. I can't win the argument in my own household. My sons, daughters and grandchildren look at me askance if I try and defend the live sheep export trade; they just see animals suffering. They're not putting up with it and they'll vote, clearly, with the way they feel about animal welfare. So change is coming; there is no doubt about that. The industry needs to change. It's not a simple argument. If you look at the statistics in this agribusiness, people are going to have to transition. We're going to have to have high standards if we continue to export live sheep.

It's simply that the model that we've relied on is fundamentally broken. It's got three basic flaws. It is heavily reliant on the dreaded Northern Hemisphere summer trade—a trade which is basically incompatible with reasonable welfare standards. There is no real prospect of getting reasonable animal welfare standards in that Northern Hemisphere summer. Don't be emotional about it; the science will tell you that. There's no way you can pack a ship full of that many sheep, take it into 50 degrees and have any sort of welfare standards. So it should be immediately banned in that period of the northern summer. There's no argument about that. I think the science is telling us that.

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. So consumer preference and community tolerance for the poor treatment of animals is not going away. It is not going away. It is a widely held, deeply felt, supported position right across the whole community. You can have a discussion about it in your own family or you can have a discussion about it in any group that you're in, but 90 per cent of people now are looking at improved, humane animal welfare standards. That's just a fact of life.

I digress a bit, but one of the great things I had the opportunity of looking at when I visited a school in Cummins in regional South Australia was a led-steer competition. In rural Australia, this is the sort of activity that goes on. A led-steer competition involves a young student who's charged with looking after an animal, a bullock. The competition is called 'Hoof and Hook'. They look after a steer for the entire seven or eight months. It's their job to make sure that it's in good shape, that it's putting on enough weight and that it's fed properly, and then, eventually, it's taken to the abattoir and the quality of the meat is judged. I dare say, there are not a lot of students in Australia who have the opportunity to go through that type of economic activity. I dare say that this is predominantly a rural activity. But I would say that those people have a great regard for animal welfare and a great understanding and respect for meat, which we eat: safer, better quality and with better taste. You generally don't get that in your suburban school.

What's happened is that a member of the government, the Hon. Sussan Ley, has proposed a private member's bill in the other House and it is likely to have some capacity to be supported. It's very clear that it has support and it's caused enormous division in the other place, with some of the other members of the Liberal Party and the National Party saying, 'Look, we make a quid out of live exports. We're just going to keep doing it.' That's caused division in their own party. The government took the legislation out. Despite the fact that we didn't have four members in that place, they were still at risk of losing. It highlights the division and the dysfunction of the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull's government; it really does. Members and senators from no fewer than five of the nine parties represented in the Australian parliament have expressed support for the objectives of the bill: an immediate stop to northern summer live sheep trade and the phase-out of the balance of the trade within the next five years. I think that's a very important point. Mr Acting President Sterle, as a Western Australian senator, you would well know that there are many agribusinesses in Western Australia that are heavily reliant on this trade and we need to help them transition away from it because, clearly, the Australian community will not support images of sheep effectively boiling in their own skin. That is not what Australia is about; that is not what anybody in this country is going to put up with, and they make that very plain, almost every day, in an email chain to my office.

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 the government had introduced to increase penalties for the breaches of animal welfare standards in live export. However, the government withdrew the bill from the House program following the member for Hunter's announcement. It was a bill that, at one time, they described as urgent. It looked like getting up, despite the fact that we were down four members in that place, and it looked like getting up and overturning the government's position, so they withdrew it. The only reason they withdrew it is that they were fearful that the member for Hunter's amendments would succeed. In other words, a sufficient number of coalition MPs would defy the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull and support the amendments. That was despite, as I said earlier, the Labor Party being four members down in the House of Representatives, pending the by-elections, and despite the absence of Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo—another well-known supporter of the amendments. Basically, as Senator Cameron touched on before, the government are clearly dysfunctional. A member of the government brought on a private member's bill to take action on an important issue. The government are paralysed and can't act like a normal, clear-thinking executive.

It's very, very clear that the Northern Hemisphere summer has had catastrophic consequences. We cannot close our eyes to that. It is very widely held and deeply felt in the Australian community that something needs to be done. That something that needs to be done is to immediately stop sending sheep to the Northern Hemisphere summer. That's very, very clear. But we also need to be cognisant of the fact that people make a living growing sheep and they're allowed to sell sheep—but the current regulations need to be changed.

A very important review was done into this trade, and I think it is instructive to put it on the public record. The review stated:

Overall, this review concludes that the live export industry is at the crossroads. What has occurred in the past must not happen in the future, and industry must therefore retreat to a ‘safe’ position, consolidate and then build a new way forward based on science, trust and performance.

The central issues relevant to sheep health and welfare during shipping to the Middle East in the months of May to October are stocking density, ventilation and thermoregulation in the sheep.

That is very succinct and clear advice from the eminent person who reviewed this, Dr Michael McCarthy. It is very, very clear, succinct and easy to understand, and I think the agribusinesses that are involved in this trade understand these issues.

But it appears that the minister, the Hon. David Littleproud, has been incapable of taking reasonable action against people who are not obeying the regulations that currently exist, and that is an absolute disgrace. It is another sign of the dysfunction and disunity in this government. If the shipping company is not obeying the regulations and if, as was reported, the department is not policing this and ensuring that the regulations are honoured, we have a catastrophic situation—we have a perfect storm. We have good producers caught up in the crossfire of a department that hasn't fulfilled its obligation to ensure that things are done in a proper and coherent way; we have a shipper who's not done the right thing; and then we have a minister who says, 'Oh, I can't do anything about it; I can't enforce this.' He was critical of his department, but he should have shown leadership and taken ownership of this issue and moved to immediately refuse to issue permits to people who were not complying with appropriate regulations. Secondly, he should have introduced regulations that would take the prospect of sheep being boiled alive in the Northern Hemisphere's summer off the table—just off the table.

This argument is not going away. This is a well-resourced, well thought out campaign by the animal welfare people—and they've got plenty of stuff to work with. It's impossible to defend the current situation. You'd have to turn a blind eye to absolute inhumane cruelty, and no-one in this place should do that. No-one in the community wants us to do that and no-one in the community is doing that. I would not have a day go past when I don't have an exhortation from a constituent in South Australia saying, 'Act now and get rid of this live export trade.'

We have to act promptly and we have to act humanly, but we do have to recognise that it is a very large business and people may need to transition away from it. I am not talking about transitioning away from cruelty. Cruelty should be stopped. The inhumane treatment of animals should be stopped. That should be done by regulation and enforcement by the department and the minister. We should act very quickly on this issue of exports in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It is incomprehensible that the Prime Minister hasn't grabbed this issue by the—for want of a better word—horns and just said, 'No; Northern Hemisphere summer exports are out.' That would defuse some of the tensions in this argument. It won't defuse all of the tension in this argument, but it will defuse some of the tension in this argument. The Prime Minister should also look at some of the producers, particularly those that I have read of in Western Australia, who would be hurt by this decision. They should be encouraged to look at other ways of dealing with their mutton, particularly.

I know that a number of countries in the world simply want live exports. That's always going to be a contested space, unless we can do it humanely and professionally and ensure that the regulations we put in place are carried out right to the end of the chain. I know that that is a really difficult task. I think we've made substantial improvements in the export of live cattle. I've spoken to many people in the Northern Territory who are in the export of live cattle; they want to see their animals get to the end of the chain in a good shape and be slaughtered in a professional and humane way.

The challenge in the live sheep export is enormous. We saw the catastrophe of the sheep that were diverted, I think, to Bangladesh and slaughtered there because there was a disease issue and they were refused entry to a Middle Eastern port. We know what can happen. It can be catastrophic. The government should get its act together. It should take the challenge up. The Prime Minister should take this challenge up. Show some real leadership. Put this whole sector back on a more even and humane footing.

11:40 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It's been four months since the footage of some 2½ thousand sheep dying horrifically aboard the Emanuel Exports ship Awassi Express was released to the public. That brave decision by Faisal Ullah, a young trainee ship's officer aboard the Awassi Express, to film that haunting scene showed us unequivocal proof of the torture and agonising death that sheep experience because of the live export industry in Australia. These animals died from heatstroke. They were trapped in cages so tightly packed that they couldn't move, let alone reach water. After they died, the carcasses decomposed so quickly in the stifling heat that the crew couldn't accurately assess the death toll. Individual sheep were no longer recognisable. And what's more upsetting is that successive Australian governments have allowed this profound suffering to continue, even explicitly supporting the multinational corporations involved, when any Australian farmer would be prosecuted and possibly imprisoned if they were responsible for this kind of cruelty.

I'm pleased to be speaking to this bill, which lays out a pathway for transitioning away from these kinds of live exports sea voyages. I have to say that my office has been absolutely flooded with support for an end to this cruel practice. The Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018, co-sponsored by Senator Lee Rhiannon and Senators Hinch and Storer, will ensure that, after the five-year transition period, no Australian sheep will suffer this horrific treatment ever again.

But I shouldn't have to make this speech. I should not have to stand here and call on this government to extend basic protections to living creatures. This appalling practice should have ended in 2011 when the Greens first introduced our bill into parliament to ban live sheep exports. To successive governments' national shame, we have seen them bow to corporate influence and refuse to prosecute or sanction these clear breaches of federal animal welfare laws. In fact, in 2008, Emanuel Exports was found guilty of cruelty under WA laws but had to be acquitted because state animal welfare legislation is suspended by federal laws that take over when the live export ships leave Australian shores. The federal government has known for at least a decade that this grisly, horrific practice was taking place, but the Labor and Liberal parties' gutless refusal to stand up to these wealthy corporations has seen it continue.

It's heartening that we have individual members of both sides who have introduced bills with similar objectives to this one. I also welcome all of those senators who have spoken out in support of a live export ban. But again I'm asking, as is often the case in this place: why is it that we have to wait so long for the Labor Party and the coalition to do the right thing? Across the board, the Australian community has been calling for this ban for months. The government has known about these terrible animal welfare violations for years, but once again, the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party have put those corporations ahead of ordinary people.

This bill will kick off a five-point plan to end the barbaric trade and boost jobs in regional Australia in the process. It's backed by the meat workers union and animal welfare organisations alike. It will immediately prohibit shipments of live sheep during the hottest months in the Northern Hemisphere and voyages of 10 days or more. These are the worst of the live export voyages, responsible for the most gruesome suffering, when the hot and humid conditions consistently cause bodies to shut down and death rates to reach five to 10 times the usual mortality rates on Australian farms. After a five-year transition period this bill will prohibit all live sheep exports to or through the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea, regardless of the time of year or length of voyage. It's important to immediately end the most barbaric conditions, but we also need to recognise that inherent in the live animal export industry, whether it be cattle or sheep, is cruelty to those animals. We will continue to see more footage emerge of cruelty to cattle and sheep if this trade continues, because inherent within those industries is cruelty to animals. That's why we need to support this legislation but also, over the longer term, to end all live animal exports. We need a long-term plan to support Australian workers and businesses to successfully transition to an industry which is good for jobs and investment but, most importantly, makes it clear about what standard we will accept when it comes to the treatment of animals in this nation. We support this bill, but we want to go further. We need to ensure that, once and for all, this country bans the live animal export trade.

11:46 am

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

What is interesting about the speech we just heard then is that the truth has come out. This bill is the beginning of what the Left want to do to the live export animal trade in Australia. They want to shut it all down. So I speak to the people in Queensland, the cattle producers in Queensland and those in the Northern Territory, who were sent to the end by what happened back under the previous Labor-Greens government, when Joe Ludwig and Prime Minister Gillard turned off the live cattle trade to Indonesia. They turned off a sovereign country's protein intake on the basis of one television program, destroying our relationship with that country—a relationship which is still being rebuilt at the moment—destroying countless, hundreds if not thousands of lives in Queensland.

But they haven't learned from that. They haven't learned from the damage that was inflicted on the people in Queensland and the Northern Territory. This bill is not a five-point plan: it's a two-point plan. They want to shut down the export of sheep to the Middle East and then, anyone in the cattle industry, they're going to come for you also. This is the first step to shutting down the live cattle trade in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

I was in Normanton and Karumba a couple of weekends ago. It's great news in Karumba in terms of what's going to happen with the dredging of the inlet there so cattle can once again be exported live from the Port of Karumba to Indonesia. It's something that is going to create jobs for that community and help the economic growth of regional Queensland. But under the Greens, under the Left's attack on rural and regional Australia, these people who don't understand rural and regional Australia, who do not live in rural and regional Australia and do not understand the importance that farming has for rural and regional Australia—they want to shut it down. They do not understand the impact that this will have, once again, on people in rural and regional Australia. This bill, with its so-called five-year implementation plan and five-point plan and all the other palaver, for those who are listening at home or who read this later, know that the Left are coming for you. If you ever wonder about the difference between the Liberal National Party and those on the other side of this chamber, this is a line of demarcation. We will stand with the sheep farmers of WA. We will stand with the cattle producers of Queensland and the Northern Territory, because we believe in your right to export your produce overseas. We believe in your right to earn income.

The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud—who is actually my local member because we both live in regional Queensland; we both live in Warwick; he lives on one side of Warwick and I live on the other side of Warwick—has been very strong in his condemnation of this rogue company in terms of what it did in that footage that was shown. Minister Littleproud has been very strong in saying that it was unacceptable.

Let's get some facts on the table. I know that the Left don't particularly like facts. They get in the way of their ideology and their misty-eyed view of the world, which they look at through their mochaccinos and their piccolos and things like that. In 2017, of the 1.7 million live sheep that were exported by sea, 99.29 per cent were delivered in good health and delivered into suitable facilities approved under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. That is a fantastic rate.

When you consider what is happening in Australia at the moment, where are the tears from the Left about what's happening in drought-stricken Queensland? Where are the tears from the Greens about what's happening with the graziers in Queensland? There are no tears from them, no tears from the Left. They don't care about these people. They care about these bumper-sticker politics that you see from the Left.

The trade in live sheep to the Middle East is still open and will remain so under this government. The Liberal-National Party is a strong, strong supporter of the live animal trade. We will continue to support the export of sheep to the Middle East, and we will proudly continue to support the export of cattle to Indonesia and elsewhere in the world because we are a trading nation and we will export animals because we need to make sure that we stand up for our rural communities. We need a sustainable live export trade which has good animal welfare outcomes—the trade that provides for over 10,000 rural Australian jobs, 10,000 jobs in rural and regional Australia.

I know that these people on the Left don't care about rural and regional Australia. They never go there. It's like Paul Keating: they fly over it when they're going from one capital city to another to taste the difference in cappuccinos and piccolos and things like that.

This trade was worth, in 2016-17, $1.6 billion. But it is the jobs that are so important for rural and regional Queensland and rural and regional WA and for Australia. They are very, very important. A ban or a phase-out of the entire industry unfairly punishes those exporters and farmers who have done no wrong. The calls to ban live exports disregard the value of this trade to our farmers and others in rural and regional Australia. Banning the live exports is simply a knee-jerk reaction, just like when Joe Ludwig and Julia Gillard were having a cappuccino or whatever it was at the Lodge that night, watching Four Corners, and decided: 'Oh, look! Here's a TV program. We don't like the outcome of this program. Let's just turn off the export of cattle to Indonesia.' What an insulting, patronising attitude the Left take—that we can just switch off a sovereign country's importation of protein. I don't think the Left realise how sanctimonious and patronising they are in how they deal with most Australians and how they deal with independent, sovereign countries.

Banning livestock exports is simply a poorly considered decision and a cop-out. It takes away the livelihoods of Australians and creates food security issues for importing governments. Many farming families and others in the supply chain, including local businesses that provide transport, mustering, feed and agistment services, still remain devastated from the 2011 cattle trade suspension.

We have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to make sure that that public policy decision that was made by the previous Labor-Greens government, which was probably one of greatest failures of public policy in the history of this Federation, is not repeated. A massive failure in public policy has—

Senator McKim interjecting

They're laughing! They're laughing.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm laughing at you, mate!

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

You laugh at the graziers who committed suicide. You laugh at those people who had to walk off their land. You laugh at those. That says so much about the modern Left. They laugh. Are you listening, everybody throughout this building? The Left laugh at those people who had to commit suicide because there was nothing open for them because the live cattle trade was turned off. You lot are complete and utter—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McGrath! Point of order, Senator McKim?

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, as you would know, a personal imputation of the kind that Senator McGrath just made when he said I'm laughing at people committing suicide is highly disorderly. I'd ask you to ask him to withdraw it, because it's simply not true.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator McKim.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, I did not name the senator, so there was no personal imputation about the senator, unless he's admitting that he was laughing. I did not name him.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McGrath, I will rule. There is no point of order, but I would urge you to ignore the interjections.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

It is very hard, Mr Acting Deputy President, to ignore those who laugh when—

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Because you're just making stuff up.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm making up that people committed suicide? Mr Acting Deputy President, what we are hearing here in the chamber is not just absolute ignorance but actual, shameful ignorance and, almost, a perverse gleefulness that people in Queensland didn't commit suicide. Well, I tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President, they did. You can speak to anybody in Queensland who knows the impact of the ban on live cattle on Queensland. So, for the senators who are laughing, when you go to sleep tonight I want you to think about the fact that you were laughing about death. You were laughing about what graziers in Queensland have been faced with.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McGrath, resume your seat. Senator McKim.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, it's the same point of order I made earlier, and I'd ask you to consider this as an argument: I was the only person who laughed when Senator McGrath made the comment that the 2011 decision by the Labor government was one of the greatest public policy failures in the history of Australia's Federation. That's what I was laughing at, because it's such a ludicrous claim. However, I was the only senator who laughed, and, therefore, anyone watching or listening would reasonably interpret that Senator McGrath is suggesting that I, personally, was laughing at people committing suicide, which, as I said earlier, is not true. So I would ask you to consider it in that context.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator McKim. On the point of order, Senator McGrath?

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, it is clear that there was laughter coming from that corner of the chamber when I was talking about suicides and deaths in regional Queensland.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to help you out here, Senator McGrath: absolutely not. I heard Senator McKim laugh when you made a comment. Your comment about suicide followed on from the laugh. I don't need to consider it; I will stand by that. So I will come back to you, Senator McGrath, and I would urge you to ignore the interjections.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

It is very important, when any government or chamber comes to make public policy decisions, that we understand what has happened in the past and understand that failure of policy. There were many great failures in the previous Labor-Greens government—we don't have enough time. There were two in particular. They effectively opened up our borders to the people smugglers; that was the greatest failure. The second-greatest failure was what they did with the live cattle trade. For those who do not understand that, I would encourage them to go to regional Queensland. I would encourage them to go to Normanton. I would encourage them to sit down with the cattle producers and those involved in the cattle industry in rural and regional Queensland, whether in Normanton, Cloncurry, Winton or wherever it may be. I want them to sit down and understand what the ban on the live cattle trade did to them and their communities and what it actually did do in terms of producers who, sadly, took their own lives.

What we're seeing with the bill that is before the chamber is a desire to extend this perverseness to the sheep industry and to the export of sheep from Western Australia to the Middle East. We know what will happen if this passes and if this chamber and this parliament approve the banning of sheep to the Middle East. As Senator Richard Di Natale says, they want to—and I wrote it down—'end all live animal exports'. That is a terrible, terrible thing to do. It is shameful that anyone in this chamber or this parliament would want to do that, because of the damage that would inflict upon rural and regional Australia. But it's not just rural and regional Australia. The damage will impact upon our economy. Ten thousand jobs depend on this sector. That's 10,000 families. How many rural communities? The flow-on effect when these jobs go—this is an industry that is worth $1.6 billion. We must continue to tackle the issues that impact upon all public policy decisions in Australia. We must improve the trade. We've got to weed out the problems. But we must support our farmers, not just throw up our hands and say, 'Look, we want to shut it all down. These farmers can go and start weaving baskets or open up a coffee shop or something like that.' That is just a failure to understand how the rural economy works.

Minister Littleproud engaged Dr McCarthy to do the McCarthy review of the Middle Eastern summer trade of sheep. That was released on 17 May along with the department's response. This review gave us a map to progress immediate improvements to the current trade and into the future. All of Dr McCarthy's 23 recommendations were accepted subject to further testing and consultation on the heat-stress risk assessment recommendations. Given the proposed heat-stress model recommended by Dr McCarthy produces fluctuations in stocking densities of between 18 and 85 per cent, it requires further work, which has already commenced. In response to other recommendations of Dr McCarthy, the regulator has reduced allowable stocking densities. This means sheep are getting up to 39 per cent more space, with stocking densities reduced by up to 28 per cent.

Before I go on to further points that come out of Dr McCarthy's review, I want to remind everybody who is listening that in 2017 there were 1.7 million sheep exported in the live export trade by sea, and 99.29 per cent were delivered in good health. That is a very good figure, a fantastic figure. The live animal trade to the Middle East is a very important industry. The Left want to extend this ban to the live cattle trade but it should not be implemented because we have a very, very good live animal trade. Dr McCarthy's review wants to establish the mandatory investigation of any voyage on which more than one per cent of the sheep perish; ensure all vessels carrying sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer are equipped with automated watering systems; and place independent observers on all voyages to report back to the regulator.

The review of the capability, culture and investigative powers of the independent regulator, which in this case is the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, is also near completion. Mr Philip Moss AM will report later on his investigation into the capabilities, investigative capacity and culture of the department as the independent regulator of live exports. The regulator needs the best available tools to do its job without interference. These tools include tougher new penalties to punish exporters who put profit before animal welfare and break the rules.

The government would like Labor to stop playing politics and vote with us for the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018. The proposed amendments increase criminal penalties, introduce offences for directors of companies and introduce new regulatory options. Under the current act, penalties for wrongdoing in live export are a maximum of five years in prison and a $63,000 fine for individuals. For a company, the maximum fine is $315,000. These will increase to eight years in prison and a $100,000 fine for individuals and a $504,000 fine for companies. If people have done the wrong thing in relation to animal welfare—and Minister Littleproud has been very, very strong in relation to this—they should be 'nailed, not slapped on the wrist'.

This is what is fascinating about the failure of the Left to understand rural and regional Australia: the best protectors of animal welfare are not those who come from the inner-city suburbs; they are the farmers themselves. If you speak to any grazier, any sheep farmer or cattle farmer, they are the ones who are in love with their animals, who want to protect their animals and make sure their animals are in the best possible health, because they know that a happy animal, an animal that is well cared for, is an animal that they can get more money for. And that's what we're here for. We want to make sure that our animals are in the best possible condition, because we want to get more money for our animals. The more money we get for our animals that we export live to the Middle East and to Indonesia means the more money that goes into our rural and regional communities—that is so important.

It is rural and regional communities that are still doing it tough. Look at what's happening with the drought. Parts of Queensland, for seven years, have been in drought. In my view, it's one of the greatest natural disasters to hit Queensland in the last few decades, if not in the last century, in terms of the lack of rain that has fallen. We're not just talking about the fact that there has not been enough rain; there are parts of Queensland where it has not rained for a number of years. We have children in parts of western Queensland who have never seen rain fall from the sky. That is sad in terms of not only the impact it has upon the rural producers but also the impact it has on the small towns that are in western Queensland.

What we will see with this bill, if it is passed, is another disaster hit the rural and regional industries of Queensland and Australia. Western Australia will be smashed, their sheep trade will be smashed and the sheep industry over there will be completely turned on its head, because it is false. It is false to say that those in the Middle East will suddenly accept a chilled meat trade. Minister Littleproud has met with the governments of the relevant countries in the Middle East and they have said: 'If you turn off and stop exporting your sheep to us, it means we will not take our chilled meat from you. We'll get our chilled meat from elsewhere, and we'll also get our live sheep from elsewhere.' There are a bunch of Lefties who have had a bit of a get-together and who have decided that this is a good thing to do because it's bumper sticker politics. Some emails have come in, and they're using their outrage to raise money to campaign against rural and regional Queensland when what we need is for this chamber to not smack down the sheep trade and not smack down the cattle trade but to understand what rural and regional Queensland needs. Actually, what we need is more of what the government is doing. The government has done some fantastic work in terms of supporting those who are impacted by the drought.

We must understand that we're in real, real danger here of history repeating itself. Labor and the Greens destroyed the live cattle industry. They took a sledgehammer to communities across not just Queensland but also the Northern Territory and huge damage was done to those communities. In 2010, the Indonesian market imported over half-a-million head of Australian cattle, representing nearly two-thirds of all live cattle exports that year, and that was switched off via press release. Via press release we effectively declared a protein war. We turned off the protein that an independent sovereign country needed. The Left do not understand the cultural sensitivities of our trading nations and do not understand that, actually, most people in Indonesia do not have the ability to have fridges, so they want to have fresh meat from those markets. This government will strongly stand on the side of the live animal trade, both sheep and cattle. I encourage senators to oppose this bill.

12:08 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

This issue is of critical importance to Western Australians. I'm glad to be able to make a contribution to the debate. In WA, the ships that depart from the Port of Fremantle that service the live sheep trade are not tucked away in some industrial area; they are in the very heart of the city of Fremantle. The trucks that drive the 65,000-odd sheep that are put on just one ship come from the farms in the east of our state. They drive through Perth's suburbs to the port. Everyone in the community can see these trucks making this journey. They've often been the subject of public debate. We often see protesters down at the port. We often see people very visibly making their livelihood from the live sheep trade, because we see the sheep being transported in these trucks. It's not so much the visibility of sheep in the trucks, but the vision that we've seen of these sheep dying at sea. It has led to resounding calls nationwide, including in Western Australia, for clear action on this issue to address the suffering of these animals. My office, like all of yours, has been inundated with emails and phone calls. Clearly during the recent by-elections in Western Australia, this was an issue that resonated with voters not only in Fremantle but also in Perth.

I certainly believe that the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018 is in line with community expectation on how animals should be treated when being exported. However, the government are not delivering action on this. Despite their much-lauded statements that they would support action, they have now visibly completely gone to ground. We've seen the government not allow debate on a similar bill introduced by one of their own members, the member for Farrer, and nor will they allow debate on Labor's amendments to that bill. We have here a government so worried about disunity among their own ranks that they are denying the will of the people. Indeed, I believe they will ultimately damage industry. They're denying the will of the people to be appropriately represented in the House of Representatives and have this bill debated. We've seen a refusal to bring on debate on the bill and the amendments already introduced in the House, which has meant that the will of the parliament to phase out this trade and to stop the trade during the Middle Eastern and northern summer is being effectively denied. People like the member for Farrer can see that we need to move on this issue, so why can't this government?

Again, we have a government that is vastly out of step with the community. What they are doing is delaying action on this issue, which will ultimately see industry itself suffer. The simple fact is that we have a long and proud history of sheep production in Australia. My own grandmother came from a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia. The simple fact is that when you have such a clear and resounding community concern that says, 'There is no community mandate to allow animal exports or sheep exports in these conditions,' to continue to export sheep in those conditions in the face of that can only do the industry further damage. What it does is lock in the sentiment against the industry so that, when future issues catch up with the industry, it will be locked out, and the reaction of the community will become even more punitive. The mandate for the sheep industry and for the export industry will decline even further. That is exactly what has happened historically in this debate.

The bad behaviour of exporters and the terrible incidents that have happened at sea previously have been well exposed. They've been very, very well exposed. We were supposed to see action back then. Instead, we now find ourselves having witnessed even more egregious deaths at sea of these animals and a very, very clear loss of mandate for this industry. If we don't get on with the job of transitioning the sheep industry and the sheep export industry now to create meat-processing jobs locally and to create higher animal welfare standards for sheep that are exported during the phase-out, we will be letting the industry down. No-one wants to see the continuation of exports in their current form. The evidence—the science—is absolutely crystal clear on these exports. The Australian Veterinary Association has advised that it can't assure the farmers, the Australian people or the parliament that sheep won't continue to suffer from heat stress and die during voyages between May and October, because that's when extreme heat conditions are almost guaranteed to occur. That was the evidence given to Senate estimates, which is that farmers don't want animals which they've raised and cared for to be mistreated.

Unfortunately the industry has been too slow to act on this, and this is why we need to step in and act for the community and the animals in question, and also to restore faith and the good reputation of Australia's agricultural producers. We can see now that the industry does seem to be coming around. Even the National Farmers' Federation has said there may be a need for pause over the northern summer. So I can only encourage the government to get its act together and to support the legislation before the chamber today.

12:16 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will make a brief contribution to this. It gives me the opportunity to commend the work with this legislation of not just my colleague Senator Rhiannon but also many other people from the Greens; indeed, many people from a range of parties going back to the 1980s. I point, particularly, to the groundbreaking work of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare which was set up on the motion of Don Chipp, if I recall correctly, and which did a range of inquiries, some of which were very influential in getting significant changes happening in animal welfare area in a cross-party way. Alongside that it did have a report into live export. Even back then the major welfare implications of the live export trade were clearly acknowledged across all parties by that committee. I think that was a 1985 report. Unfortunately, all these years later, despite all of the evidence of cruelty being even worse than people had assumed at the time, we've had government after government not just continuing the trade but actually looking for ways to expand it. It really is a great tribute to the many people in the wider community who have continued to campaign to end this cruelty, which is intrinsic and embedded in the nature of the trade.

When I was in this chamber previously, one of the largest petitions of the entire decade, with hundreds of thousands of signatures, was tabled in this place from people seeking to end the live export trade. That was in the days when everyone had to actually write their names on bits of paper for petitions, rather than just click on the screen on the internet. So the size of public concern and opposition to this trade has been longstanding and very, very large. We've had motion after motion put forward in this chamber over the years. We've had other legislation and amendments to legislation moved, including some I did myself previously, over 12 or 13 years ago. Each time we've had the corporate interests winning out over the community concern and the clear and extreme suffering of animals that was displayed time and time again. It is a really sad indictment of the unwillingness of vested interests to acknowledge extreme cruelty and their willingness to use what are basically flimsy and sometimes just straight-out false arguments to try to dismiss that. Most of the time it's just been straight-out denial. Despite the absolutely mountainous evidence of massive and extreme cruelty, involving whistleblowers and activists sometimes taking extreme personal risks themselves to expose that cruelty, we've actually had an industry, aided and abetted by some in government over the years, prepared to cover up and deny the extent, both the breadth and depth, of the cruelty involved.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for this debate has expired.