Monday, 10 September 2018
Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018; In Committee
It's very disappointing we didn't get to speak on the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill in a second reading debate. I would have liked to have made a second reading contribution on an issue that has the potential to cost the Western Australian agricultural community an extraordinary amount of money, taken directly out of the hands of thousands of WA farming families. I think it is a great shame that we weren't able to continue the second reading debate and be able to make contributions. I know that a number of other people in this place also wished to make a contribution on this bill at the second reading stage. Instead, we've had that debate gagged and have moved into the committee stage of the bill.
I have a number of questions for the proponents of this bill, which I hope they will take the time and make an effort to answer, because they are very important questions in my home state of Western Australia, and in South Australia, where the agriculture sector also relies significantly on this industry—in fact, for the entire agriculture industry across Australia. The livestock industry—not just sheep but the entire livestock industry across Australia—would like answers to some very important questions.
I will begin by acknowledging some of the contributions of those on this side of the chamber. In particular, there was an excellent contribution at the second reading stage from Senator Smith—another great Western Australia senator who understands the importance of this industry to the agriculture sector, particularly in West Australian but also in South Australia and in the wider Australian agricultural economy. I also acknowledge the contributions from Senators Hume and Leyonhjelm, which were excellent enunciations of the importance of the industry to Western Australia as a whole.
This industry is worth $1.4 billion to the Western Australia economy. It's not just about dollars. We all understand the shocking nature of the footage that was placed on TV. The industry—and I have spoken to many farmers about this—was shocked by it. My family has been involved in agriculture in Western Australia since 1830. In fact, my family was involved in the first live export to Western Australia, in a way—that is, from England to Western Australia. My forebear sailed to Western Australia in 1829 with around 40 merino sheep and from there took up a holding of land in part of the Swan River colony and helped to start what is a great industry for this nation and for my home state of Western Australia. So, that $1.4 billion is not just dollars, and we're not just putting up dollars versus the cruelty that we saw in those shots. We've got to remember that underneath that $1.4 billion there are around 5,500 sheep-producing businesses in Western Australia. Our family farm has been in sheep for a significant part of my life. In fact, particularly when my father transitioned from cattle to sheep in the early 1980s, it's been a very big part of my agricultural life. My family, and our family farm, has sold a significant number of sheep to the live export trade.
This bill will impact directly on those families. Trying to pretend that in some way displacing this trade to the chilled trade is going to make up the difference is simply pedalling a lie and a fantasy that will not happen. Globally, around 100 countries export livestock. The major place in which livestock is exported across borders is in fact Europe. Europe sees the most significant trade of animals across national borders in the world. Western Australia has been part of the live export trade for a very long time. One of the things that our family farm exported many, many years ago was horses for the Imperial British Army, of all things. So we've got a long history in animal welfare and live export.
Farmers were shocked by that footage. Farmers were as shocked by that footage as every single person in the city who saw it and was sent one of the emails that all of us received. Farmers care about their livestock. There was no time on the farm that I enjoyed more than shearing time. Shearing time was when there would be more people around, more activity. You would see how the economics of an individual farm fed out into the community. You would have the shed hands. You would have the shearers. You would have in one place all the people who rely on a vibrant, active agricultural community in the bush for the ongoing success and viability of rural communities. Shearing time is a wonderful time. But the reality is—
Today? Now you've made me lose my train of thought, Senator Williams. I shouldn't take your interjections! The economic flow-on effects of the agriculture industry are significant. Senator Dean Smith brought up the impact on the grains industry and why the grains industry in Western Australia is very concerned about the impact on the whole of agriculture. It is because you are not just looking at the direct cost of not being able to export those animals; you are looking at the flow-on costs—to the hay producers; to the grain producers; to the people who service the feedlot environment; to those who work on the ships; and to the shearing community, which relies on the number of sheep in the industry to actually maintain a viable shearing industry, which is growing increasingly hard to attract people to.
I brought up shearing time at the farm for a reason: those who are on the activist end of trying to have live exports banned are also against shearing. We have seen it. The same groups of people who are seeking to have live exports banned are also seeking to have shearing effectively banned. They have released footage of some very terrible examples of shearing in western New South Wales. Those images are shocking to people—and you completely understand that—but are we really going to stop shearing? Are we going to stop the wool industry, a great industry for WA and Australian agriculture? Australia rode on the sheep's back for a very long period of time. And for the first time since the creation of the wool stockpile, at the end of the wool reserve price scheme, the wool industry has been going through a sustained period of growth. It's a great fibre. It's a wonderful fibre. It's a fibre that the world demands, that the world wants, in increased quantities. It is very renewable and, obviously, the properties of wool are amazing.
But the sheep industry does not survive with one arrow in its quiver; the sheep industry survives because it is able to produce meat for domestic consumption, wool for export and live animals for export. To seek to end this trade in any fashion would be terribly detrimental, particularly to the sheep farmers in Western Australia. The flow-on effects would be significantly more dramatic than anyone who is seeking to vote in favour of this bill would acknowledge. The flow-on effects would be significant and quite disastrous for the agricultural industries of Australia.
We've seen an example where a live export destination was halted in Bahrain and the chilled and box trade did not take up the slack. They merely looked elsewhere and, as others before me have stated, they will look to countries with much-lower animal welfare standards than Australia. I've said this before; I will say it again: we do not merely export live animals; we export Australian welfare standards to all those destinations, and we've seen a dramatic impact in regard to the live cattle trade in that respect. We've seen a dramatic impact in terms of the ESCAS-approved facilities in the Middle East, and in exporting our animal welfare standards we are improving conditions around the world.
What's happened with Australia's quite-legitimate decision from this government to invoke the McCarthy review and to put increased restrictions in place in the summer months is that the situation with Emanuel and their licence suspensions have left a void for Western Australia, and obviously that is still an issue to be resolved. But it's not that those markets have closed down; it's merely that they have looked elsewhere. So, anecdotally, we are hearing about significant shipments of sheep going from South America and southern Africa to the Middle East in place of Australian sheep. Does anyone in this place, particularly those who are seemingly going to vote in favour of this bill, seriously believe that animal welfare standards from southern Africa and South America are living up to the animal welfare standards of Australia? They simply are not.
We are the only country in the world that has asked our markets—and they don't have to accept it—to accept our animal welfare standards. We are the only country in the world that has done that, and we have made a significant impact. It is my understanding that for every Australian animal that is killed in an ESCAS-approved facility overseas something like three or four animals that are sourced from elsewhere are killed in those facilities to Australian standards. We are exporting animal welfare standards, and any move to cut off the trade can only result in a negative impact on animals on an international basis.
I've got only 2½ minutes left, unfortunately, because we couldn't continue with our second reading debate—which I think is a disgrace. But before I do sit down I want to ask the three proponents of the bill to answer a few questions: do you truly believe in the live cattle trade? I would like an answer to that question and I think farmers across Australia would like an answer to that question. This bill deals with sheep and it deals with a five-year phase-out period. So, in five years you've got an ending of the sheep trade, but do you want to see the cattle trade ended as well? We've also heard that this is a compromise bill. Does that mean you would sooner see the live export trade and the live cattle trade ended today rather than in five years, with the commensurate impact that would have on animal welfare in Australia? And I ask you—and I ask the three proponents of this bill, quite seriously: have you gone to Western Australia, have you sat down with Western Australian farming families and have you talked to them about this bill and the impact it will have? I would like an answer to those questions.