Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019; Second Reading
The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019 aims to provide an additional independent layer of accountability and assurance over the regulation of Australia's livestock exports. The bill's purpose is twofold: (1) to promote continual improvements in the regulatory practice, performance and culture of the department's function as the authority responsible for the administration and operation of the export regulatory system as it applies to the export of livestock in Australia; and (2) to provide an additional layer of accountability and assurance over the regulation of Australia's livestock exports.
The agriculture minister's speech made it clear that the inspector-general, in addition to providing greater assurance in the regulation of live animals, will also review and report on broader animal welfare issues. It is important to make this point, as the bill itself did not initially mention animal welfare. So Labor is pleased that the government has moved amendments to clarify the intent of the bill. However, the fact that it has taken the coalition government over six years to ensure that there is another layer of independent oversight to the regulator says a lot about the culture of this government and its attitude towards animal welfare.
I also note that the minister's speech, on cue, did mention the 2011 suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia, making the bizarre claim, 'It's amazing how quickly we have forgotten.' Nobody on this side has forgotten and nobody is shying away from how difficult the suspension was. The Liberal-National coalition government remind the parliament at every opportunity, but their political motivation is telling of how this sad government works. For the last six years, there has been a lot of talk from the coalition government, but yet again we have seen very little real, long-term action. The bill that we are discussing today is not new and should have been legislated no less than six years ago.
I want to make it clear that Labor will be supporting the bill. However, I will be moving a second reading amendment which criticises the government for abolishing the Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports position established by the former Labor government. This decision removed an additional layer of accountability for the regulator and contributed to the demise of public confidence in the regulator.
If the government had legislated the inspector-general bill back in 2013, the regulator possibly would have better understood what they should have considered in terms of animal welfare when issuing export permits. It took the 2018 60 Minutes program to expose the fact that animal welfare was not properly considered before the regulator issued permits.
The fact is mortality is not—and I say again: not—an indicator of animal welfare; it is just an indicator of death. I acknowledge that the minister does admit that Australians were 'appalled' in 2018 when they saw footage of sheep dying on voyages to the Middle East, and many were further angered by the assessment that the mortality incidents report 'did not match the footage'. However, I note that the minister omits talking about the Morrison government shutting down, overnight, the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer, without any support being provided to the affected sheep farmers—the Morrison government. Indeed, that might be why we have another new agriculture minister, because the previous minister, Mr Littleproud, did take the issue seriously and made many tough decisions which revealed failings by the regulator and a massive problem in the culture within the department.
But let's go back to 2013. On 30 July 2013 the former Labor agriculture minister, the member for Hunter, announced that Labor would appoint an inspector-general of animal welfare and live animal exports. The position would have added another layer of assurance that our regulatory system was delivering the animal welfare outcomes we want through auditing and reviewing the investigative and compliance processes. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? At the time, Labor made it clear that, with the new position, there would be no additional burden of red tape on our exporters or on our trading partners, that the position was to provide confidence that appropriate animal welfare outcomes were being met—it was not about shutting the industry down—and that the position was a sensible extension of a world's best system that balances the need to ensure that the regulatory system is delivering the international animal welfare standards the Australian community expects.
It is important to reflect on the concept of the 'world's best system', because this system was put in place by Labor very quickly post the suspension of the trade in 2011. This system, for those who don't know, is called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which we refer to as ESCAS. ESCAS has ensured the long-term sustainability of the trade—in particular, the cattle trade. The inspector-general might have ensured the long-term sustainability of the sheep trade, as the heat stress of the sheep might have been brought to the attention of the regulator earlier and changes in animal welfare standards could have been developed.
But, back in 2013, post the election, the then agriculture minister—that's another one altogether, the member for New England, and we know who that is—made it clear what the culture should be from the regulator. Actually, I'll make it even clearer; it was Mr Barnaby Joyce. He said that that would have an inherent conflict of delivering the minister's mandate and trying to be an independent regulator even though the position is not a statutory position. So, on 31 October 2013, three ministers ago, the former minister—as I said, the member for New England—abolished the inspector-general, claiming that the inspector-general was 'a classic example of layer upon layer of bureaucracy without any practical outcome'. He also said that the livestock export regulator 'was already, and remains, subject to appropriate oversight and review mechanisms'. He also said that this was 'one bit of red tape we can do without'. Remember, this is Mr Joyce, the member for New England.
But Mr Joyce wasn't the only opponent. Surprise, surprise, the National Farmers' Federation also appeared short-sighted—I don't say that too lightly, because, unfortunately, I've had to deal with them many times—and wrote to the former minister, claiming that the NFF 'is concerned that the proposed independent inspector-general of animal welfare and live animal exports addresses a perceived political problem but does not address the concerns of industry, animal welfare groups and stakeholders. Any new institution must not be a cost on industry and must not add extra compliance onto industry.' I'll go on. This is still the NFF, who said that industry is 'fully committed to improving animal welfare on farm and across supply chains in Australia and in our overseas livestock export markets. We are proud that our starting point is world's best practice as international stewards in this area. It is important that we work together to further strengthen the robust regulatory structures that we currently have in place.' That was the NFF.
Now, ensuring that appropriate animal welfare standards are achieved will be possible only once all those who have an interest in the trade take animal welfare seriously. 'Animal welfare' is not a dirty word. It is good for productivity and for Australia's trading reputation. This bill is a step in the right direction. However, more transparency, so we see that the regulator is doing the job it should be doing, will go a very long way.
The minister is refusing to release a number of reports, including the heat stress risk assessment report and the final investigation report into the allegations made in the media that live export workers had been offered money to obtain and leak footage of animal cruelty on export vessels and that whistleblowers had offered to cut off ventilation and switch off exhaust fans to distressed sheep on voyages in order to receive payments. The fact is that over the last six years we've had three ministers. The first set the culture of 'nothing to see here'; you know who that is. Then the second minister, Mr Littleproud, tried to clean up the mess he inherited. Now we have a test for the new Minister for Agriculture: to ensure that the regulator is able to do its job without fear or favour.
As I said before, Labor supports this bill. However, I move the following second reading amendment on sheet No. 8747 standing in my name:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate:
(a) condemns the action of the Coalition government which in 2013 abolished the position of Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, established by the former Labor government; and
(b) notes that this decision removed an additional layer of accountability, contributing to the loss of public confidence in the regulator."
Can I speak to the amendments now, Madam Deputy President?
Labor will support government amendments (1) and (2). Labor supports these amendments as they essentially clarify what the assistant minister alluded to in his speech when he stated:
The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019 will provide greater assurance in the regulation of live animal exports and broader animal welfare issues.
As I put on the record during the general debate, the bill is a step in the right direction to rebuild confidence, change the culture and ensure another layer of independent assurance over the regulation of Australia's live exports. The current interim inspector-general, Mr Ross Carter, was appointed in March 2019 and has already published his three-year work plan, which demonstrates that he will consider animal welfare as part of his broad remit. The current work program includes reviews into: monitoring and reporting during livestock export voyages; livestock export licensing and permits; the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System; Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock; response to external inquiries, reports, complaints, allegations and incidents; managing risk; approved arrangements; regulatory culture, regulatory capability, skills, resources and technology; and interaction and interface with state and territory animal welfare regulation.
Labor reiterates its disappointment that it has taken this third-term coalition government more than six years to re-establish the inspector-general position, but we look forward to the inspector-general's recommendations as to how the overall regulatory system can be improved. On that, we recommend the bill to the Senate.
I rise to speak to the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019 and to indicate at the outset that, while the Greens will be supporting this bill, we do so only because even a little bit of something is better than nothing at all. At the end of the day, this bill, as it stands, is somewhat of a toothless tiger; it doesn't even meet the recommendations of the Moss review—the very advice this government is pretending to be taking. I foreshadow that I will be moving amendments to address some key flaws in this bill.
It has been a few months since the Senate passed a motion calling on the government to release independent observers' reports more transparently and more quickly. I can see that the government has begun to comply with this, with more 2018 reports being released—although I should note that just six reports from 2019 have been completed and released out of the 65 voyages taken to date this year. What is contained in these reports is really quite incredible. The independent observers all use the same words and come to the same conclusion of 'no issues identified'. The words make it seem like there were no issues at all. But when you get to the photos and you see cattle and sheep piled up on top of one another, wading in their own faeces and in flooded pens, you see that things are a bit different. The observers go on to congratulate the exporters on how generous the size of the pens is, when they allow only half of the cows to lie down at any one time. And calves continue to be born on these ships of misery.
Then, of course, you realise that these conditions are business-as-usual for the live-export industry. From reading the reports, there are two particularly sickening voyages I wish to identify to the Senate. I want to highlight a particularly gruesome part of the report on MV Ganado Express. In 2018, while loading MV Ganado Express with cattle in Townsville, three cattle were killed. The independent observer's report states:
There were three mortalities which occurred prior to leaving Australian waters. Two of the cattle were spooked by the feeding process and fractured their leg when it was caught on the pen rails. The cattle were euthanased by the stockperson. These two cattle were in the 500 to 700 kilograms bodyweight range and were euthanised using a captive bolt that did not appear to be powerful enough for the size and breed of the cattle. The stockperson showed experience in technique and placement of the captive bolt, however both cattle required six applications of the captive bolt.
How can you not see this as an issue? Obviously, for this government the terror that these animals feel has no meaning.
Take the report on MV Ocean Ute, which voyaged from Portland in Victoria to Tianjin in China. Over the 22-day voyage, 47 cows died, including from bovine respiratory diseases. So, it's not just heat stress that kills and tortures animals on live-export ships. On this voyage, the temperature decreased to around zero degrees. This is how inhumane live export really is.
Bills like the one we are debating today perpetuate the myth that there is some kind of regulatory failure that can be addressed to stop the cruelty. Of course regulatory failures must be stopped, but the truth is that there is only one thing that can stop the cruelty and that is to ban live export. When the former agriculture minister, Minister Littleproud, announced last year the intention to establish a live-export inspector-general, he said that the live-export industry needs 'a tough cop on the beat'. I'm sorry, but this bill ain't it. The bill doesn't even reference animal welfare and won't allow the inspector-general to investigate individual actions. There is no mention of animal welfare in the entire bill. The whole reason that this bill exists is the Moss review, which was set up to investigate the horrific torture of animals in live exports. I have no confidence that the bill, as introduced by the government, and the inspector-general, as defined in this legislation, will actually improve animal welfare at all.
The first set of amendments I circulated would rectify this. I do understand now that the government has taken up my amendments and they've circulated them as well. If animal welfare is an objective for this government, and Senator Duniam's second reading speech mentioned animal welfare about 10 times, I think, then why not include it in the bill from the very start? However, it is good to see that the government has since taken up my amendments—the Greens' amendments—to insert 'animal welfare' in the objects of the act, and to ensure that live-export officials, in performing functions and in exercising powers, consider the welfare of animals. The amendments will also insert a requirement for the inspector-general to consider the welfare of live export animals in their investigations.
I've also circulated another amendment to this bill which will bring the inspector-general in line with the recommendations of the Review of the Regulatory Capability and Culture of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in the Regulation of Live Animal Exports conducted by Mr Philip Moss AM, commonly known as the Moss review. The Moss review did call for an inspector-general of live exports who would 'review the performance of functions or exercise of powers by department staff members in the regulation of live animal exports'. This clearly calls for the ability to exercise the review of functions by departmental staff. Yet here we have a bill that explicitly prevents this from happening. Section 10(2) of the bill states:
Subsection (1) does not permit the Inspector-General to review only a single performance of a function, or a single exercise of a power, by a single live-stock export official.
This would actually rule out the inspector-general investigating any individual decision of a livestock export official. This is why I call this bill a toothless tiger—pretending to do something without actually doing it.
I understand that the government has very lazily done a cut-and-paste job from the Biosecurity Act 2015, and in doing so has actually missed the point of this Moss review recommendation. As it stands, the bill doesn't fulfil the recommendations of the Moss review, as the government claims, and my amendment would remove this unnecessary restriction on the inspector-general. Ultimately, we need to end live exports. In the meantime, we should at the very least be doing everything we can to improve animal welfare.
Australia is already recognised as the world leader in animal welfare provisions for live export, and now this government is going even further. Australia is third in the world, behind Canada and France, for live exports by value, and our live export standards are the most stringent in the world. It would be terrific if we had those on the other side putting as much effort into asking our competitors to come up to our standard as they do into berating what is already world's best practice. For instance, Australia is the only country that requires specific animal welfare outcomes for all livestock exports.
The Morrison government's move to further enhance the welfare of live animal exports should be welcomed by all Australians as a positive step towards ensuring the prosperity of cattle producers, improving animal welfare and enhancing the industry's reputation. Adding another layer of regulation is not a good outcome—but it is the only tool in the opposition's toolbox. Instead of encouraging best practice, instead of encouraging an industry that is working hard at every turn to improve its own practices and the practices of other partners in the industry, all we have is an opposition that was ready at a moment's notice to shut down an industry, to make those animals worthless and to have very poor animal welfare outcomes across the far north of Australia, where the vast majority of these animals come from—not to mention the human impact on small businesses, graziers and farmers who were all brought to the edge of mental illness by the overnight shutdown of an industry that is very important to our nation.
This legislation is the sort of practical solution that people have come to expect from the coalition, as opposed to those disastrous actions of Labor, who only do what sounds good rather than what works. I have spoken to graziers who nearly lost everything when live exports were summarily stopped on Labor's watch, and I can assure you the bitterness is still there and will be around for a long time. Unlike Labor and the Greens, the coalition wants regional areas to not just survive but thrive, and exporting our meat animals gives remote and rural Australians the best chance of achieving this. It also gives the importing countries a chance to thrive by ensuring that their people have access to fresh meat and enough protein to satisfy their needs. The damage that we did to our relationships with our trading partners through that overnight shutdown is immeasurable.
But it is not just any meat that our trading partners want. They want Australian meat, because we have the best produce in the world that continually has international industry representatives saying: teach us how you do it. The Beef Australia expo held triennially in Rockhampton, which is the beef capital of Australia, has participants from many countries coming to do business and learn from our best practice. The live export trade was valued at over $1.7 billion in 2017-18 and supports the livelihoods of thousands of people in rural and regional Australia. It is crucial to Australia's economic performance and the ability of graziers to continue making a living that this trade continues.
But let's be clear: no-one, especially the farmers and the graziers, is happy to see footage of animals being mistreated, and anyone who says otherwise merely displays their ignorance of what goes into producing meat for human consumption. The cash-for-footage scandal highlights the incentive that has now been provided for people to mistreat and then film animals. I've seen graziers put themselves at great personal peril and great personal expense to save stock from floods, drought and now fires. I've seen hard men of the land reduced to inconsolable tears at the sight of livestock they've lost. The welfare of the animals that rely on them for food, water and safety is paramount.
That's another reason the Morrison government is investing in the Northern Australia Beef Roads Program—$100 million. But all over Australia the meat industry is investing in animal welfare initiatives. The red meat beef sustainability framework is an example of that. More specific examples are Roma saleyards in South West Queensland, holding itself to the very high standards of low-impact methods to move and weigh cattle, and Dalby saleyards putting the entire saleyard under cover at great expense.
There is a huge amount of research being done on other ways to increase animal welfare, all the way from the moment they're born. But this is not being driven by government; it is being driven by industry. It was the industry, not the government, that made the decision to halt exports during the summer months, and this government's added animal welfare checks are merely improving what is already being done in the meat producing sector. The Australian government does not tolerate cruelty towards animals and is constantly working to improve animal welfare conditions in importing countries. It's working with industry and our trading partners to improve the transportation, handling and slaughter of livestock in overseas markets.
However, our farmers and the Australian public need the assurance that the government is serious about the welfare of livestock exports. This bill will establish an Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. It will build confidence in this country's animal welfare checks by providing an extra independent layer of accountability. This is a practical measure that balances the needs of animals, the concerns of citizens and the viability of meat processors. It keeps live exports going, it keeps farming families on the land and able to make a decent living and it shows the world that we're serious about leading the way, in partnership with industry, in farming innovation and quality control and that we're serious about the health of our livestock.
But I have to say that I was surprised that a senator from Western Australia would speak to the amendments being proposed by the ALP that are purely cheap political point scoring, looking back, as Labor does, into the past and not into the future. And, of course, the amendments proposed by the Greens are, as usual, not just useless but not practical.
One Nation is a proud supporter of the live animal export industry. We are proud of our farmers and the diligence they display to produce cattle and sheep and to prepare them for export around the globe. They do a great job in an industry that often throws up unpredictable circumstances. They deal with fluctuating weather, fluctuating prices, the difficult process of planning ahead when they face uncertain future demand, the costs and maintenance of farm machinery and staff, media bias and narrow-minded protests.
Our cattle and sheep are of the highest quality—the best in the world—and they are a vital part of Australia's export regime and our economy generally. They're also part of our national character and the Aussie DNA. A One Nation delegation recently visited a pre-export feedlot for sheep in Western Australia. Our party loves to meet people directly, face to face, to learn about the needs in this country, and the visit to the feedlot was one such visit. The delegation was headed by One Nation member of the Western Australian Legislative Council Colin Tincknell, a great representative of the people of Western Australia, along with our other MLC, Robin Scott. I was due to attend but was unable to due to the flu. The reports that came back to me were very encouraging.
I can say without a doubt that the people who deal with our live sheep exports are meticulous along the entire supply chain to ensure that the animals are well cared for. The animals' needs are met in terms of a well-balanced diet. Their health and comfort needs are met in the holding sheds—the sheds are well ventilated, the animals have access to feed, waste is removed promptly, ventilation is superb, they are sheared if the depth of their wool is more than 20 millimetres, and the parasite requirements of the customer countries are met.
Media reports in the past have suggested that our farmers are somehow heartless when it comes to live animal exports. That is an absurd suggestion that defies logic. Our farmers depend on their land and their herds year in and year out. It is in their best interests to manage their properties wisely, to care very humanely for their animals and to ensure that they do all that they can to maintain the high-quality beasts that Australia is known for.
The visit to the pre-export feedlot helped to further highlight the high level of care and treatment given to sheep to ensure stress is reduced, health is maintained and quality remains high. The visited feedlot can house 84,000 sheep in winter and 95,000 in summer, prior to their export to Israel, Jordan and Turkey, which all have specific health protocols that must be met in order for the sheep to be accepted. Harold Sealy of Livestock Shipping Services, who guided our delegation around the feedlot, outlined how meticulous they are in caring for the sheep. The animals are sorted according to weight, which is monitored entirely throughout the trip to the customer. Sheep are very susceptible to stress and can lose weight very easily, so it's a good indicator of how well they are cared for throughout the process. As Mr Sealy outlined:
They come in from the farm, we put them on the vessel and they arrive at their destination at their original weight or a fraction better; it shows that the animals have travelled well and work has been done to eliminate stress.
International competition from other sheep exporters means that Australian sheep must be of the highest quality to ensure acceptance. It's ordinary supply and demand. Quality products attract the interests of customers, and that's what our Australian farmers give them. As Mr Sealy made clear:
Without us delivering an article to the customer, we don't have an income, so we take great care of our animals, as do our farmers, and it's insulting to say we don't care about our animals.
One of our biggest selling points is we are Australia—we have great biosecurity and we have a very healthy animal, and the health of that animal is one of the reasons they want to have that animal.
We have live sheep and live animal exports because a lot of these countries, such as Indonesia, have large populations. They can't take processed meat, because they don't have refrigeration for it. They need to slaughter on a needs basis to feed the populace. It's quite interesting.
I, like most Australians, do care about the health and wellbeing of the animals and that they are treated fairly. We all saw the report about the mistreatment of sheep on that vessel. That begs the question: was it a set-up to destroy live sheep and cattle exports? I say to the Greens or anyone else who is protesting and wants to stop live exports because of the treatment of the sheep and cattle: let's start looking in our own backyard, at our slaughterhouses and how they slaughter animals here. The RSPCA have complained about this. People are slaughtering cattle in Australia by merely slitting their throats, without stunning them first. If you're really concerned about the wellbeing of these animals and how they are slaughtered, we need to start cleaning up our own backyard and look at how we slaughter animals.
Stopping the export business would be detrimental to a lot of the farming sector. It is a great resource, especially for Western Australia and the Northern Territory. We cannot lose this export business. If we shut it down in any way whatsoever, these countries will go elsewhere looking for the product that they need. It is best to ensure that there is a very, very high standard in the live export of animals from this country, to ensure that we do not lose this income source that we have and to ensure that we protect and look after our farmers whose income is purely based on live exports. We have to get over our emotions with this, let our heads rule our hearts with regard to live exports and ensure that we get it right and are known for our good quality. We can do that. We have done it. It is happening. I will not stand back and see our farming sector ridiculed and criticised, when people are doing the right thing. This is purely based on emotion, people wanting to shut down our live exports.
I rise to make a contribution on the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, and I thank all senators who have spoken before me. This is an important bill for my home state of Western Australia, because it puts in place another one of the foundation stones, another one of the girders, that allow for this sustainable industry to continue and to keep on improving. As Senator Reynolds, who is in the chamber, knows only too well, this is a vital component of agriculture in our home state of Western Australia—particularly the sheep industry, although the cattle industry also have live exports of their product from Western Australia. But it is a very significant part of our sheep industry in Western Australia.
I have risen to speak on this topic a number of times in this place, and I think in every contribution I have made the point that we do not just export animals; we export animal welfare standards. When we engage with our trading partners overseas through the live trade, we export our standards to those countries. That also has a downside. It means that, when we withdraw from a market, when we are not able to fulfil a particular market opportunity, the live exports come from elsewhere—countries with standards that are not comparable. I will highlight that recently the extended northern summer ban meant that some 80,000 head of sheep from South Africa were transported into Kuwait. That's a wonderful opportunity for the South African farmers, but the fact is that South Africa do not impose on their agricultural industries the kinds of requirements that we impose on ours. They do not have the equivalent of the ESCAS, which means that, when we send our stock overseas, we are not just sending an animal; we are sending our animal welfare standards. This is something that everyone in Australia must know.
As I've said, we as a country, particularly in this area, lead the world in animal welfare standards. The ESCAS, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which is funded by Australian producers, ensures that Australian standards for animal welfare and animal treatment are adhered to right up until slaughter. That means that all animals that go through an ESCAS certified facility in a foreign country actually benefit from those improved animal welfare standards that Australia has developed and helped other countries adopt.
Can the industry get better, and has it got better? Absolutely. We have seen, since the resumption of the trade, some rather outstanding results in animal welfare, with very low rates of mortality. These are rates of mortality that farmers would be very happy to have in their paddocks. We have seen that, by the trade embracing things such as reduced stocking density, improved reporting requirements, improved standards for the vessels and the three-month self-imposed moratorium on shipments to the Middle East during the Northern Hemisphere summer, all these things are coming together and ensuring a sustainable, high-quality industry continues long into the future.
There is an economic component to this. Of course there is. The live export trade was worth around $500 million to the Western Australian economy and $1.7 billion to the national economy in 2017-18. It supports around 10,000 jobs. Around 6,000 of those are in my home state of WA. With 6,000 jobs, particularly in the rural and regional area of Western Australia, it's a very significant employer.
Now is a critical time. It is a critical time for us. It is a critical time for our trading partners. Our trading partners want to know that our industry in Western Australia and the rest of Australia can supply their needs on a regular basis to their requirements and to continue a very long-established trade. So, as I've said, this is one of the foundation stones. This is one of the building blocks upon which a highly sustainable industry can continue to exist and, in fact, can continue to improve.
The role of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports came out of the Moss review. It was a key recommendation there. It's been modelled on the existing Inspector-General of Biosecurity. The role is pretty straightforward. It's to continually review the performance, functions and exercise of powers by livestock export officials such as veterinarians, authorised officers and the secretary of the department. It's about providing accountability and assurance for the regulator and on the systems and practices that are in place. It's about continuous improvement. It's about making sure that our animal export industry continues to achieve the high standards that over the past 12 months it has clearly demonstrated it can achieve. It's an industry that deserves an opportunity to continue this good work, continue to improve itself and continue to show to the Australian people that it's a very important part of our agricultural sector.
I just want to acknowledge a couple of people. One is our good colleague from the other place Rick Wilson, the member for O'Connor. A significant proportion of live exports come out of Rick's seat of O'Connor. Rick has been tireless in advocating on behalf of the live animal export industry out of O'Connor. The seats of Melissa Price and Nola Marino are also impacted, but the vast majority of sheep production in Western Australia is in the seat of O'Connor. Obviously, there are smaller numbers that come out of the eastern states and South Australia, but this is a highly localised problem. It creates some issues, I guess, in selling the benefits of an industry when it does only come from one relatively small—I'm sure Rick would disagree with me about 'small'!—part of Australia.
I think it's also important to know that those who have held the portfolio area, Minister Littleproud and now Minister McKenzie, have played key roles in ensuring that the industry was given that opportunity to undertake some continuous improvement to get the ships moving again, to get the sheep going back to our trading partners again and to get the trade back up and running on a sustainable footing that's well geared now to last into the long term.
Finally I just wish to say that, whilst this decision is certainly well above my pay grade, I think that an ideal candidate for the first inspector-general would be a former member of this place, Chris Back. I think everyone acknowledged, when he left this place and there were many kind words spoken about former Senator Back, that he was a very fair hand. Senator Wong described him as 'dignified, even-handed, calm and fair'. She said of Chris:
Those of us on this side of the chamber have appreciated that greatly and respected your work greatly. We are going to be suggesting that we bring you back for training of chairs in the weeks to come.
Senator Siewert said:
We both have a love of agriculture and want to see agriculture succeed, particularly in our home state of Western Australia. We have a lot in common, working on the same issues, and we want to see more people make agriculture their profession, because there are very serious issues in this country in that area.
I think the very high regard that Senator Back was held in would serve him in great stead if he were considered for the role. I certainly think that would be a be a very good outcome, because of both his previous knowledge and service of this place and his great love of agriculture, and livestock in particular.
As I've said, the industry has done a lot to improve the outcomes on board those vessels. The last year of livestock transportation has seen some 714,000 sheep loaded through the port of Fremantle at a mortality rate of 0.26 per cent. This is, by any historical measure, an absolutely outstanding badge of pride for the industry. The industry can keep doing better. It knows it can. The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports will work with the industry and assist the industry in making sure it can be the best it possibly can be in the years to come, hopefully for many, many years to come.
Madam Acting Deputy President, I want to take a point of order, on clarity. I'm a great big supporter, and a friend, of former Senator Back, but do I take it that Mr Carter shouldn't get comfortable in his new role?
) ( ): This is not my first speech. My pathway to this place is one that many may consider unconventional. In this instance, I suggest that that pathway sees me uniquely positioned to speak on this matter with uncommon authority. As a veterinary surgeon with more than 30 years experience in the Northern Territory, a very large portion of which has been spent working in the pastoral and livestock industries and with live exporters, I consider I'm uniquely placed.
I've worked for a large number of primary producers and exporters in the live export industry, in the pre-export inspection of stock, performing importing countries' protocols, supervising loading of stock and accompanying live export vessels at sea. I consider myself to have excellent firsthand experience in this sector. It is with this experience that I speak in support of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, which will deliver a critical component to our plan for best practice in our livestock export industry, a component that will provide greater assurance in the regulation of live animal exports and lead to greater assurance of good husbandry and welfare. With the establishment of the position of Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, not only can we ensure animal welfare standards are being met or exceeded, but we can also ensure the quality of our export products are of an ever-increasing standard.
It has been my experience, almost without exception, that livestock producers care a great deal about the health and welfare of their stock. This is also true of most exporters. If they have no other reason to care, there is certainly a big money incentive. Stock that die, are sick, are injured or that fail to gain weight represent loss of profits on a journey. Consistent weight gain on a voyage is what they strive to achieve, and this is only possible with good welfare. Sick or distressed animals do not gain weight.
With my personal history in mind, you'll understand my disbelief and distress when I saw a video of the appalling conditions on board a live sheep export boat in 2018. It is with great relief that I also witnessed our government moving swiftly to investigate and to implement a range of changes to ensure the welfare of all exported livestock is improved. Whilst producers and exporters are generally very good, it behoves us to expose and weed out the cowboys.
Australia's live export trade is valued at well in excess of $1.7 billion, representing one of our most significant industries. This industry also delivers thousands of jobs to people who want to work—the hardworking, quiet Australians who spoke so loudly on 18 May this year. This government listened to the quiet Australians who want jobs and security. We are committed not just to maintaining a sustainable, well-regulated livestock export sector but to improving it where possible and to growing job opportunities.
The inspector-general will provide improved assurance as to the proper regulation of the industry and will therefore support its sustainability, ensuring jobs and prosperity for our nation. With this bill and the implementation of the role of inspector-general, we introduce an independent layer of accountability, providing the assurances necessary to promote even greater confidence in our live export trade for producers, foreign customers, governments and the Australian public.
While improving the government's regulation of livestock, this bill provides assurance to our trading partners that we are committed to the livestock export trade and that we mean business when it comes to protecting animal welfare. We also demonstrate to our trading partners that we have a reliable framework in place. We must also look internally, within our own shores, and consider the impacts on our farmers and primary producers. These hardworking Australians contend daily with often harsh lands, continually managing the planning of futures that may or may not include an abundance of rain and feed for stock. We have an obligation to those hardworking Australians to ensure they reap the rewards of their efforts and that this government acts to ensure there is security for these jobs to remain and flourish.
With the establishment of an inspector-general position, we'll deliver to our live export industry the assurances they need to work, plan and invest with confidence—that is, confidence that they can realise an income, a reward, for their hard work; confidence that their government has a plan for ensuring their product is treated with the same attentive care they apply to their livestock; and confidence that their government is listening to their needs.
The people of the Northern Territory, probably more than most other jurisdictions, felt the effects of the Labor government's live export ban. It devastated the Northern Territory and it had a great flow-on effect not only on the producers and the exporters but also on the small businesses and the people in communities. It also led to poor welfare outcomes and the death of huge numbers of livestock.
Our government has already implemented regulation that ensures improved outcomes for animal welfare, and ultimately this bill will drive a positive change in the livestock export industry for Australia that will also see better outcomes for industry and for all Australians. I commend this bill to the Senate.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to speak in favour of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019. While I speak in favour of this bill, I want to explain two core contradictions that this bill highlights. But first I will give an overview. This bill provides for the office of an inspector-general of live cattle exports. The purpose is to provide certainty that the welfare of the animals is being respected while at the same time ensuring the commercial viability of the cattle export trade.
Animal welfare is crucial to farmers because farmers care for their animals. That's why farmers have poured tens of millions of dollars into educating people who handle their cattle overseas. I am following, in the speaking order, a vet who said that core to the farming business in cattle and sheep is weight and that farm animals lose weight under stress. It is in the farmer's financial interest and their own moral and ethical interests to look after animals. That's why farmers care for animals. That's why farmers have poured tens of millions of dollars into educating foreigners on how to handle Australian cattle overseas.
I can think of people that I've met in Central Queensland and the Darling Downs like Bryce Camm—bright, experienced, knowledgeable, committed. He points out things like export competitors and the sophistication of farming these days. It is not just a simple matter of putting a few cattle on a boat; it is a very scientific business. I'm thinking of Linda Hewitt in Central Queensland—energetic, savvy, dedicated and, again, knowledgeable. She is similarly concerned about government interference in the business.
Importantly, this bill is not just about farm products, farm animals; it is about confidence in the cattle industry. With that confidence, graziers invest. With that confidence, graziers employ. With that confidence, graziers across our country can earn export earnings. That wealth flows through to the benefit of our nation. Here are some background facts. The live cattle trade generates $1.2 billion in export earnings, with $620 million being returned to the local economy. This employment is critical to local economies, from TI and Cooktown in the north to Thargomindah and Cunnamulla in the south-west. This employment is critical to local economies, particularly in the Northern Territory and the northern parts of Western Australia and Queensland. It's important right across the country—not just in the Territory, as Senator McMahon talked about, but right across the country because of the flow-on effects, which I'll discuss in a minute.
In the Kimberley, for example, 700 local Aboriginals are provided with jobs because of live cattle exports. Even the ABC noted that these job are all these blokes know. Live cattle exports allow Australians to breed tropical, heat-resistant breeds of cattle in northern Australia to be exported to Asia where they are generally grown on locally. A lot of countries to which our live cattle and sheep are exported do not have refrigeration, so people need to buy their food daily. That means we're looking after their needs and the needs of their country. It means the live cattle trade is helping not only our economy but also economies right across Asia and the Middle East. It helps them with employment and also with domestic herd quality. It helps these countries overseas to help themselves.
The graziers and employees, like these Aboriginal stockmen, love these cattle. They respect these cattle because their income comes from the cattle and because they are living creatures as well. The demonisation of the live cattle trade is an insult to good, decent and caring people.
There is another perspective here that I want to add. As Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers, I learned firsthand of the damage that banks and receivers do to so many rural producers. I learned more. I learned of the government tipping farmers over the edge due to government interference in the Murray-Darling Basin, stealing farmers' property rights. The live cattle export ban that flowed right across our country didn't just affect the north; it affected all cattle producers right around the country. Prime Minister Gillard's knee-jerk and capricious reaction in cancelling the live cattle trade after footage of foreign workers abusing our livestock emerged caused terrible losses in the industry. These are now the subject of a $600 million class-action lawsuit. Prime Minister Gillard's reaction was to the ABC's fabrications and sensationalism. It's a pity that our farmers aren't media savvy, because they would have been countering this a long time ago. Yet farmers around this country are waking up. One thing the farmers won't do, though, unlike the Greens and the activists, is tell lies. They're using facts. I want to commend their dedicated families and the communities that were cleaned out by the banks as a result of government facade.
Now we're entering even more-dangerous territory. When a drought hits, it is often necessary to export cattle in this manner to save them from being put down. That option must be available to farmers. Live cattle export is actually an animal welfare benefit. One Nation are committed to ensuring that live cattle, sheep and all animals are treated with the same respect overseas as they are in Australia, and that's why we support this bill. Farmers' livelihoods, as I've said, require care of animals, yet the Green ideology says the reverse. I'll discuss that further, later this afternoon.
I will go further now, though, to say we are committed to ensuring that not only farm animals but farmers and all Australians are treated with respect. Let's consider the Liberal-Labor legacy that's devastating agriculture. Here are just some of the things that I can list. There was the stealing of farmers' property rights in 1996 under a Liberal federal government that did a deal with the Borbidge National Party state government in Queensland. That was done as part of the UN Kyoto protocol. It was based on no data that the UN produced and it was later implemented through the Labor Party in the state of Queensland. This is the Liberal-Labor duopoly.
The lack of investment in water infrastructure is crippling our industry. We can see that now everywhere. A prominent Liberal whom I won't mention but for whom I have some respect was asked by a friend of mine just last week, 'Why didn't the Liberals invest in building dams 10 years ago?' The answer was staggering: 'Because we didn't need them 10 years ago.' What rubbish! We need investment now to protect the future.
I was talking with a farmer in southern Queensland who was talking, in turn, with a Chinese buyer in Japan. That's how the international connections work. He was being told by the Chinaman that the problem with Australian agricultural product is a lack of consistency—not quality, because our quality is better than anywhere else in the world. It's about the consistency of delivery. This drought now stands as a beacon for that. So we need investment in water infrastructure. We need proper allocation of water. Some of the allocation has been affected by the UN's Rio de Janeiro declaration, which was not based on data and which was implemented by the Labor government, followed by Liberal governments. That was from 1992 onwards.
Then we have energy policy. We have a drought. As I have said many times, we have farmers in Central Queensland, southern Queensland and North Queensland not planting fodder in a drought because they can't afford the water prices. We have canefarmers similarly worried about their energy prices affecting their farming. And the energy prices that are crippling our country are due to the UN's Kyoto protocol, the UN's Rio de Janeiro declaration and the UN's Paris agreement—all based on no data, all due to the UN and all implemented by both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. And now we have an insane government action in Queensland, where the state Labor government is putting in severe penalties and restrictions based, again, not on data but on UN protocols and on a consensus statement—not science, a consensus statement. We'll have a cup of tea or a few beers and come up with a consensus statement.
Then we talk about the fishing industry that's been decimated right around our country following the UN Kyoto protocol; and following the Rio de Janeiro declaration in 1992, from the UN again. Forestry is the same: no data to back it up. But now the Queensland Labor government wants to smash the forestry industry in South-East Queensland. They're just the specifics that are hurting agriculture in my state. Then we look at tax. We look at economic mismanagement. We look at budget cycles now becoming ways of getting favours. As a result, we see rural and regional Queensland being smashed.
It's not foreigners doing this. It is decades of the Liberal-Labor duopoly government. We need real action, management and vision for the farmers of Australia. From TI to Thargomindah, from Cooktown to Cunnamulla, rural areas need the support of these restrictions—these artificial, government imposed restrictions—removed.
The live export industry is of critical importance to Australia and particularly to the Northern Territory. The aim of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019—to provide an additional, independent layer of accountability and assurance over the regulation of Australia's livestock exports—is important. It is vital that one of the north's most important industries can continue to operate with confidence in regulations, accountability provisions and assurance. We need to restore confidence in the industry and for the industry.
The fact is that this bill should have been legislated six years ago. If the government had legislated the inspector-general bill back in 2013, the regulator may have better understood what they should have considered in terms of animal welfare when issuing export permits. Exporters would not have faced the uncertainty they did last year when a TV program exposed that these considerations were not occurring.
Labor announced in July 2013 it would be appointing an Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. In what does seem like deja vu, this position would have added another layer of assurance that our regulatory system was delivering the animal welfare outcomes we wanted. The position was to provide confidence that appropriate animal welfare outcomes were being met. It was not about shutting the industry down. The inspector-general position would have made sure the regulatory system was delivering the international animal welfare standards the Australian community expects.
The position was abolished by the former minister for agriculture, the member for New England, who said it was just another layer of bureaucracy, of red tape. Yet here we are with this government presenting this legislation to set up the position of inspector-general. Labor will be supporting the bill, but, as my colleagues have flagged, we would like more transparency, to see that the regulator is doing the job it should be doing. The live export industry is a major industry in the Northern Territory. Our producers support initiatives that will strengthen the integrity of the regulatory system and provide the Australian community with greater assurances that Australian livestock are handled and slaughtered humanely, here or when exported overseas.
The live export of cattle from the Territory was valued at $520 million in 2018, up 33 per cent from 2017. Fifty-seven per cent of the total NT cattle herd is destined to be turned off into the live cattle trade. Darwin is the largest live cattle port in Australia, with more than 400,000 cattle exported in 2018 to South-East Asian markets.
The live cattle trade employs more than 10,000 people through the supply chain across northern Australia. The potential to grow the export of both live cattle trade and water buffalo export trade offers a real opportunity for the Territory, with benefits of more local jobs. In the context of buffalo, it also offers the opportunity to reduce the impact of feral water buffalos on our environment. There are significant opportunities for First Nations people in the Northern Territory to benefit from growth in buffalo exports. Plans to further develop the industry are being developed in south-east Arnhem Land, supported by the Northern Territory government. There is potential to build exports to 30,000 buffalo per annum; in 2017 there were 10,000 buffalo exported. If you've never tried buffalo, I can highly recommend giving it a try—as you should with most things in the Northern Territory!
In terms of the overall live export industry in the Territory, we already supply around a third of live exports into Indonesia, and opportunities are expected to increase as a consequence of the new free trade agreement with Indonesia signed in March this year. The live cattle export trade sustains a raft of industry support services, including veterinary, transport and agency businesses. This is identified across Australia but is particularly important in the vast expanse of northern Australia, where services are separated by distance. Any reduction in the trade would place pressure on the continuation of these services, particularly in remote communities where the live cattle export sector is a key industry offering employment opportunities—particularly, as I said earlier, in First Nations communities.
Animal welfare is, of course, a key issue for our live export industry. I note that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has accepted new Australian standards for the export of livestock. One of the recommendations is to lower stocking densities on board export ships. This will lead to new costs. Reports vary, and the extent of the impact is not yet fully known. However, it is estimated that there will be cost implications for margins somewhere between two per cent and 10 per cent, which may be passed on to producers.
The impact of the Australian government ministerial directive that all livestock export shipments require an independent observer on board vessels has also added costs to our exporters. Whilst the Northern Territory livestock export industry remains committed to supporting transparency and improvements to animal welfare, it believes that the extra requirements add an unnecessary and significant regulatory and financial burden on the industry. The financial burden of carrying an IO falls more heavily on small ships, including many of those operating out of Darwin and those used by the main buffalo exporters. However, some of these exporters have been able to gain exemption, as there is insufficient accommodation on their smaller ships to carry an observer. This has addressed some of the strongest complaints, although it does not solve the problem for all exporters.
The current live export cattle price is around $3.05 per kilo. The tightening of supplies has started to push the market higher after months of depressed prices due to dry-condition destocking throughout the north and areas flooded not yet being restocked. There is some optimism that better conditions in recent weeks will encourage producers to restock, which may lead to higher prices later in the year.
Export numbers were strong in 2018. Total live cattle exports through the port of Darwin were 404,401 head, with 271,000—or 67 per cent—Northern Territory cattle. The NT government is committed to seeking better animal welfare outcomes, investing $5 million in live export yards and implementing the Australian animal welfare standards under the Livestock Act and regulations. I note that the live export industry plays a very important role during drought, in southern Australia in particular. As a competitive buyer within the beef supply chain, the live export industry is able to support domestic cattle prices at times when the market is saturated with stock, providing an alternative sales outlet for Australian farmers.
I'd like to finish by stressing that this position of inspector-general of live animal exports must be supported so that the job can be done without fear or favour and, most importantly, assurance and certainty can be provided to the industry, albeit six years too late.
I note, on rising to speak to the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, that this is not my first speech. But this is a matter that is particularly important to farmers across Australia and to regional communities both in my home state of New South Wales and beyond, and I'm pleased to rise to speak to this bill. As has been mentioned, Australia is a world leader in animal health and welfare, and the Liberal-National coalition government is committed to maintaining our high standards and to ensuring our regulations for animal welfare are being met. This commitment is clearly reflected in this bill. On that note, I commend my Nationals colleagues the Hon. David Littleproud MP, in his former position as Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, in her capacity now as Minister for Agriculture, for working with the farmers and the industry to improve and strengthen oversight of the live export trade.
Australians were rightly appalled in 2018 when they saw footage of sheep dying on voyages to the Middle East and on the MV Awassi Express in 2017. Many members of the Australian community, particularly the farmers that breed this livestock and others employed in the agricultural industry, were absolutely horrified and sickened by what they saw. Indeed, many wondered why this had not been reported to authorities before and why footage, instead of going to the authorities who could act on it, went instead to a media outlet and an activist organisation. But that is a matter for another debate.
While the community was rightly appalled, so too was the government. Some used that as an opportunity to advocate shutting down the industry—an industry that is worth over $1.7 billion. But this government has instead taken steps to fix the problems affecting the industry and to improve the oversight of the trade. We did not immediately compromise the livelihoods of farmers and businesses throughout rural and regional Australia, as Labor did in 2010 when they shut down the live cattle exports. Instead, this government supports those farmers and exporters who do the right thing and the thousands of flow-on jobs dependent on livestock exports. And we make no apologies for penalising and throwing the book at those who do the wrong thing, like when we cancelled an export licence last year. We do this because we recognise that the live export trade must be conducted properly, sustainably and in a manner consistent with the standards of animal welfare that Australians expect.
The industry must be accountable. That is why, in April 2018, the then minister appointed public sector governance expert Mr Philip Moss AM to conduct a review of the regulatory capability and culture of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in the regulation of live animal exports. The government has accepted all recommendations from the Moss review. The position of inspector-general, which will be established by this bill, is part of the government's broader strategy to develop and maintain an effective regulatory culture for the live export sector.
This position, the position of Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, is modelled on the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, formally established under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Just as the Inspector-General of Biosecurity provides a layer of assurance over Australia's biosecurity risk management systems, so, too, will the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports provide accountability and assurance in relation to Australia's livestock export regulatory systems. They will be able to review the performance of functions and the exercise of powers not only by live export officials but also by the secretary of the department and to make recommendations for overall system improvements. They will be involved in promoting continual improvements in regulatory practice and in improving the performance and culture of the Department of Agriculture in its role as the regulator of Australia's livestock exports, and they will be fully resourced to do it. The creation of this position of inspector-general is in addition to the government's other measures in response to the Moss review.
Animal welfare is at the heart of all regulatory activities relating to animal exports, and it is what farmers expect. Indeed, as has been mentioned by my colleagues today, farmers know that animal welfare is at the forefront of their profit-making enterprises. Without good animal-health-and-welfare practices, both on farm and through the value chain to the end consumer, we will not have a sustainable industry, going forward. I know this, as I once worked for one of Australia's largest beef producers, and they were heavily involved in the live export industry. The department has formed the Animal Welfare Branch to engage with industry for this purpose and to make sure we're meeting the expectations of the public and the producers alike. The Animal Welfare Branch is driving a greater focus on animal welfare, including developing a range of indicators that are based on science and that are focused on the wellbeing of animals, rather than just mortality numbers.
This government has taken a range of actions to protect the welfare of all livestock exported from Australia, be it sheep, cattle, buffalo, camels or goats. The government is committed to continuing livestock exports, which continues to be a legitimate business option for our farmers. But our farmers, and the Australian public more broadly, need greater assurance that the government is protecting animal welfare outcomes for livestock exports and that those exports are conducted properly and sustainably. This bill goes towards providing that assurance. This bill will drive a positive change in the livestock export industry by improving regulatory practice, performance and the culture of the department as the regulator of the industry, and I commend this bill.
The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019 will establish the position of Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. It will empower the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports to review the performance of functions and exercise of powers by officials in relation to the export of livestock and to make recommendations for improvements. The Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports will promote continual improvements in the regulatory practice, performance and culture of the Department of Agriculture in its role as the independent regulator of livestock exports.
The bill provides an additional independent layer of accountability and assurance in the regulation of livestock exports. The bill will contribute to driving positive change in the livestock export industry—an industry which the government supports as a legitimate business option for farmers. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.