Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee; Government Response to Report
In respect of the government response to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report Feasibility of a national horse traceability register for all horses, I move:
That the Senate take note of the document.
The Australian government delivered its response to the Senate inquiry into the feasibility of a national horse traceability register last month. The response agreed with or agreed in part with most of the 18 recommendations of the committee, including the establishment of a national horse traceability working group to progress the design, the development and the implementation of a national register. However, the government is distancing itself from the key ask of the federal government taking on this responsibility, showing leadership and driving the establishment of a national horse traceability register.
I pushed for the establishment of the inquiry in early 2019 after learning more about some heartbreaking events. From Juliana and Mark Waugh, I learnt more about the tragic loss of their 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, in a preventable horse-riding incident at Dubbo TAFE in 2009. They have worked nonstop since then to improve rider safety. Their work has resulted in safety codes to regulate riding in New South Wales. But they have also been arguing for a national horse traceability register for safety, and also for the good of the horse industry. And it's not just them. I can't actually think of an inquiry where stakeholders have been more aligned in wanting something to happen, and unified in what it should be. And they want the federal government to show leadership. Everyone from Racing Australia and Australian Harness Racing to horse breeding societies, farming peak bodies, biosecurity bodies, the Australian Veterinary Association, animal welfare organisations and the police understand the need for a national register and are in favour of one.
While the inquiry was going on, we saw the shocking expose on ABC that revealed the extent of the cruelty and animal abuse. We know that race horses are thrown on the abattoir and knackery scrap heaps to meet a terrible fate when they are no longer profitable. Evidence the committee heard showed us that a birth-to-death national horse traceability register would have significant biosecurity and safety benefits; it would improve animal welfare and prevent animal cruelty through more transparency and accountability. Of course, the horseracing industry should also take moral responsibility for the whole-of-life care of the thousands of animals that they breed for gambling and racing. There should be breeding caps and a dignified retirement plan for every single horse.
It has now been close to a year since the committee reported, and eight months have passed since the working group was announced. When the government's response was tabled, the working group had not been established, let alone met. Finally, yesterday, we saw a media release from the Victorian Minister for Agriculture announcing the establishment of the working group and advising that it would meet for the first time later this month. This is certainly a welcome development. Let's be clear though: the states and territories have an important role to play in the establishment of a register, but this is no reason for the federal government to distance itself from a national register and from this issue. A national register requires national leadership. The federal minister needs to be part of and to drive this process. No-one wants to see this report gather dust in Minister Littleproud's office. The government needs to start work immediately. The community wants real action on safety and biosecurity and on animal welfare, and it is really time to get this done. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.