Thursday, 4 August 2022
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
I rise to again explain to the chamber the strong measures being undertaken by the Albanese government in response to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Indonesia. I welcome this opportunity to again inform the chamber about the range of strong measures the government is taking in response to this risk. As I've previously said, this is a serious situation that we now face in relation to not just foot-and-mouth disease but also lumpy skin disease, which has seen an outbreak in Indonesia as well. Accordingly, the government is treating this matter seriously.
As I've previously said, expert judgement has indicated that Australia faces an 11.6 per cent risk of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the next five years, with a higher risk, 28 per cent, of a lumpy skin disease outbreak. It is worth noting that these are not new risks. The last risk assessment conducted for foot-and-mouth disease, in March 2021, indicated that we already had a nine per cent risk of an outbreak here—not surprising when you consider that there are about 70 active foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks around the world at the moment.
With respect to the first component of Senator Roberts's motion—and as I previously conveyed to the chamber on Thursday 28 July—I am advised as follows: the exact number of doses for foot-and-mouth disease held in the vaccine bank is considered confidential information in the interest of national security, including to protect against bioterrorism threats. We hold enough vaccine doses in the vaccine bank to cover at least the first four months of a disease response, which gives us enough time to then order more vaccines. The vaccine manufacturer prioritises the production of vaccines for countries that are experiencing a disease outbreak, as you would expect. The Australian government has provided $1.5 million for Indonesia to purchase one million doses of foot-and-mouth disease vaccine. These are expected to arrive in Indonesia in the near future. While I accept that this may not be the answer Senator Roberts wants to hear, this information remains accurate, as it was when I provided it to the chamber last week.
With respect to the second aspect of this motion, I have listened, and will continue to listen, to the advice of experts, including Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer, regarding the government's response to foot-and-mouth disease, including with respect to vaccines. I note that the shadow minister, David Littleproud, said exactly the same thing when he was the minister for agriculture. When the outbreak first reached Indonesia, Mr Littleproud informed the public that he would listen to the advice of Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer. Sadly, it seems he abandoned that view when he went into opposition.
Should an outbreak occur in Australia, time will be needed to determine the extent of the outbreak and logistics for vaccination, if it is indeed agreed to vaccinate. I am advised that, for some outbreak scenarios, vaccination may not be used, and regaining disease-free status may be quicker without vaccination. These are complex issues, and I am being advised by the world's leading experts on the most appropriate approach. I am advised that the choice of vaccine is dependent on the strain of foot-and-mouth disease virus. For example, should we hold a prepared vaccine which was effective against the strain of virus in Indonesia, and a different strain of virus occurred in Australia, any prepared stocks may not be suitable. This is exactly why the vaccine bank contains a number of antigens which are effective against different strains of the foot-and-mouth disease virus. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the previous government. The most effective use of vaccines at the moment is in assisting our Indonesian neighbours in managing their outbreak. While Senator Roberts may not like these facts, these are the facts.
With respect to the final aspect of the motion, in direct response to the emergence and spread of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia, the Albanese government has strengthened biosecurity measures to protect Australia from a foot-and-mouth disease incursion. These include: for the first time ever, deployment of sanitation foot mats across all international airports in Australia for passengers returning from Indonesia; for the first time ever, declaration of biosecurity response zones in international airports in Australia which empower biosecurity officers with stronger powers than they've had before; biosecurity profiling of 100 per cent of travellers, including extra assessment for passengers who have recently been in Indonesia; 100 per cent screening of all mail items coming from Indonesia; redeploying biosecurity detector dogs to priority ports, like Cairns and Darwin; and one million vaccines to Indonesia.
It's worth mentioning—because this has been misreported before—that the redeployment of those biosecurity detector dogs to Cairns and Darwin does not mean that we don't have detector dogs in other airports; we do. Those airports were judged as requiring supplementary detector dogs. That's why the dogs have been relocated, and, as some people may have seen in the media this week, they're already doing a terrific job. Again, while I accept that these facts may not be what Senator Roberts wants to hear, these are the facts, and I'm not in the business of changing facts. I'll leave it for others to decide whether they want to do that.
The government takes the threat of foot-and-mouth disease extremely seriously. That's why we've taken unprecedented actions to protect Australia's biosecurity. We will continue to listen to evidence and the advice of experts, including the director of biosecurity and the Chief Veterinary Officer, to inform our evolving response.
Having dealt with the motion, I might just add a couple of other things by way of update. As I have said repeatedly, the response that the Albanese government has put in place to this outbreak is the strongest biosecurity response Australia has ever seen to a biosecurity threat. It is stronger than anything the former government put in place, despite the outbreak reaching Indonesia while they were still in power. No sanitation foot mats were placed in airports by the former government, despite the outbreak reaching Indonesia. No sanitation foot mats were even ordered by the former government, despite the outbreak reaching Indonesia. The former government did not declare biosecurity response zones in international airports at any point over the last seven years, despite them having had the power to do so for seven years and despite the fact that we've seen 70 active foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. That is followed by the range of other measures that this government has put in place, which the former government did not choose to do, despite its having the power to do so.
It is disappointing that One Nation and coalition senators continue to play politics with this issue, despite the repeated pleas from industry for them to drop their political activities and their politicisation of this matter. As I mentioned to the chamber last week, a number of industry leaders have come out publicly on this. Patrick Hutchinson from the Australian Meat Industry Council has said that Australia should 'absolutely not shut the border' to Indonesia:
The continual politicisation of biosecurity in the media is unhelpful.
Jason Strong from Meat and Livestock Australia said foot-and-mouth disease is 'one of those things you can make sound really bad' and that some of the recent commentary has been ' unnecessarily alarmist'. Ian McColl, the NSW Farmers Biosecurity Chair, said:
I see some people out there using this outbreak as a weapon to further their own ends, and frankly it's pretty disappointing. Farmers have argued for stronger, sustainably-funded biosecurity systems for years—this isn't something that's just happened overnight.
… … …
Those people out there suggested we need to slam shut travel to Indonesia don't understand that would only give a false sense of security, which could actually increase the risk of FMD coming from elsewhere.
… … …
Fanning the flames of fear will not help one little bit.
I would encourage subsequent speakers on this motion to reflect on those comments from some of our most significant livestock industry leaders. That's before we get to the comments that numerous farm and meat industry leaders have made supporting the government's response. Jason Strong from Meat and Livestock Australia said the federal government's response to date has been 'very coordinated and collaborative'. Patrick Hutchinson said:
AMIC is very supportive of the Australian government's measured response and believes such a response is necessary in order to maintain strong relations with Indonesia, who need to manage this outbreak with our assistance, not our intervention.
Fiona Simson, President of the National Farmers Federation, said, 'The NFF is working with the agriculture minister, Murray Watt, and the Australian government to make sure that we can do whatever it takes, whether it is in Indonesia or here in Australia, to make sure that we can stop the spread of this terrible disease.'
As I said, the politicisation of this matter is already damaging our international trade reputation. Senator McKenzie, among others, knows that because she, among others, has received the same calls I've had from industry leaders. But, unlike Senator McKenzie, I am listening to those industry leaders. It is ironic, and it's very telling, that Senator McKenzie and her colleagues only began to be interested in this issue after they lost the election. As I pointed out yesterday—
As I pointed out yesterday, Senator McKenzie said absolutely nothing on social media or anywhere else about the outbreak until 19 July. She didn't say anything when the outbreak reached Indonesia, when she was still in government. She didn't say anything about it for another 2½ months, until 19 July.
Senator Roberts didn't comment on this matter publicly until 28 July, again playing politics. This demonstrates that the opposition and One Nation aren't serious about this issue and are only about playing politics. While those opposite continue to play politics, despite the pleas from industry to stop doing so, we are acting. We are acting in ways that they never did in their nine years in power. We have done more in nine weeks than the former government did in nine years, and we'll keep acting after this.
That the Senate take note of the minister's answer.
I have to say that the minister, Murray Watt, is so out of his depth with regard to this. He could have had more to say on the opposition benches, but, now that he's actually on the frontbench and he has to respond to this in his ministerial role, he's so far out of his depth. He lives on the Gold Coast. He's possibly never even looked a cow in the face. He's never birthed a calf. He wouldn't have a clue what he's talking about.
Talking about advice, we've all been through the COVID pandemic. He says he's listening to the experts. Well, experts have actually shut down our country and stopped people from having jobs. He thinks that he knows best what's right for this country. He actually said yesterday that it is the strongest response by any government. Again, he doesn't know what he's talking about.
This has not been the strongest response that we've seen from any government to any biosecurity threat in our national history, as the minister said in this chamber yesterday. He's forgotten about the COVID-19 pandemic, where we actually closed the borders to protect our country from COVID. Apparently the minister has no knowledge of history: in Australia's response to the influenza epidemic a century ago, ships were quarantined, schools were closed and millions of vaccine doses were produced here.
In his efforts to deflect attention from his misleading the Senate, he's misled us yet again. Foot-and-mouth vaccines stored in the United Kingdom cannot be used to inoculate animals in Australia until they are brought to Australia. Bring them now. That needs to be done. He talks about how there are apparently one million vaccine doses. That is not enough for these figures: 74 million sheep, 26 million cattle, 2.6 million pigs and 1½ million dairy cows in Australia. We knew how many doses of COVID vaccine we had in the country. Why don't we know how many vaccines we have for the animals? Why isn't he telling us that? Oh, for security reasons. Why? I don't understand security reasons here. He doesn't want to be seen to have such a minimal amount of vaccines for the number of cattle, sheep and pigs in this country, because we have nowhere near the vaccines needed to protect us.
Let me also tell you that, if this gets out, we have over 24 million feral pigs in Australia. Probably none of you know that pigs are virus factories. When it comes to foot-and-mouth disease, they produce 3,000 times the quantity of the virus that a cow does. They're everywhere. National parks—you shut the national parks down. You haven't culled them; you've done nothing about the pigs. If the virus gets into the pigs, you actually have a real problem in this country. Then you've got the camels. We have over a million feral camels in Australia. We have about 2.3 million feral goats and about two million wild deer. All of these can be carriers of the virus. Yet you're not talking about this.
This is an important matter. The minister tells the chamber that he has support from these industries. The NFF? Really? Do they really support and speak on behalf of a lot of these farmers? I don't think so. They don't. I will tell you another thing. I just finished speaking with the dairy corporation here in Australia. They are really concerned about this. They said that, if it gets into the dairy herd, it's worse than it can be for beef cattle, because they will not be able to put dairy cattle on properties for three years. It is very hard to breed the dairy cattle that we need for the production of milk. It takes a lot longer. You have no idea of the damage that can be done to this country if we get foot-and-mouth disease in here.
Also, think of the exports. We are, regardless, clean and green. If we get foot-and-mouth disease in here, Japan and other countries won't take our produce. We will lose the dairy industry. Then there's the export of meat. But that's right up your alley—right up the Greens alley and probably the Labor Party's alley too. The fact is that you want to—
Deputy President, I ask you to direct the senator to direct her remarks through the chair. There've been a few opportunities this week for people to shout 'you' across the chamber. I don't think that's appropriate in this circumstance.
Sorry, Deputy President, but my response has been nothing other than referring to what is before us on this issue. Anyway, they didn't like the fact that I'm referring to the Greens and the Labor Party; they haven't been supporters of the agriculture industry. Never. They haven't supported it. It's been One Nation and the coalition, with the National Party, that have really fought for the agriculture industry in this country. If it were up to those on the other side of this chamber, they would shut down our agriculture industry. They want to see dairy cows and beef cattle destroyed in this nation. They want to see emissions reduced, whichever way it comes about, because it's going to make them look good. Well, they're going to destroy our food security. This is a pathetic response from you. And I'm sick of hearing: 'But what did you do about it? You didn't speak about this.' What a ridiculous response that is. You're in government now and all you can do is throw it back: 'What did you do? What did you do?' It's like when I move into a house and the electricity bill isn't paid. Do you know what? I have to pay the bill if I want the electricity on. And I just go and do it. So it's got nothing to do with it—blaming the other side because of their response to it.
I'll tell you another thing. You say foot-and-mouth is around the rest of the world. That may be the case, but Bali is totally different to other countries, because cattle roam the streets; cattle shit on the ground. People walk in that shit. That shit is then brought back in their clothing and on their person, back into this country. There is a hell of a difference with what happens in Bali, so close to us. Bali is one of the biggest tourist destinations for Australians.
Yes, foot-and-mouth disease does need to be considered and looked at on the grounds of the damage it can do this country. The minister said yesterday, 'Well, if it gets into Australia'—if—'then we'll deal with it at the time.' That's going to be too late. Once it gets in here, we will have lost our biosecurity forever. We will not be able to eradicate the disease. You can't just say, 'Well, we'll compensate the farmers.' If that's your answer, then that's ridiculous. The Australian people have had a gutful of picking up the pieces with their tax dollars and with compensation and remuneration paid to so many people because of the bloody mistakes that were made in this place.
If we can close the borders to COVID, then we can close the borders to this disease until it is eradicated. Yes, by all means, we are fully supportive of stopping it from coming into Australia. But we also must ensure that it doesn't get here—and it can be brought in very easily. Actually, travellers can carry it up their nose, in their nostrils, for a period of 26 to 28 hours. It can be brought into the country that way. What is the problem with closing borders when we did it so easily for COVID? Why not for this? Why not, until it is eradicated or under control in Indonesia, for a short period of time?
Another question I must ask is: why aren't we giving heavier fines at airports for people bringing produce into this country? They make the excuse, 'Oh, I couldn't read English; me don't understand no English.' Yet we just wipe it and give them a chip: 'Oh, well, that's okay.' Or: 'No, my wife packed the suitcase; I didn't know what was in it.' Until we get serious about border security and start charging these people and really being hard on this matter, nothing's going to change, and we are taken like bloody fools and idiots—they can do and say whatever they want to do and say, and we just accept it.
The other side, Labor and the Greens, have no idea how serious this issue is. It is so important. It will destroy a lot of our farming sector—the cattle, the industry that we have. And I'd just like to say: if we're propping up Indonesia with this, I hope it is coming out of the foreign aid that we give them—the foreign aid that's well over $650 million. It was about $650 million. It could have been reduced to about $400 million. I'm not sure, but anyway, I hope this is coming out of the foreign aid that we give to Indonesia and is not another handout to them.
I'd like to say that One Nation does support this. And we have been cut back in our staff of course, saving moneys and everything like that—$1½ million to save moneys to the taxpayer—but you've just given $100 million to Ukraine; you've given $50 million to Sri Lanka; you've given moneys to the South Pacific. So, for us to actually do our jobs is extremely hard for One Nation— (Time expired)
Thank you, Deputy President. I'm very fortunate to be speaking on this important matter in the Senate today and to be able to correct a few factual mistakes from the senator who's leaving the chamber, not caring to listen about the truth of what's going on. It's important for the facts to be laid on the table.
Yes, the point of order is well taken. It's not appropriate to reflect on the absence of a senator or their leaving or coming into the chamber. I'd ask you to restrain yourself, Senator Green.
I'd just like to make a note that the minister left the chamber prior to any response. So the senator is not going to listen to your ruling, Chair—
Senator McKenzie, we take the point. I've asked the senator to reflect on the comments. Senator Green, if you're reflecting on their interest in a broad sense, that's fine. To reflect on whether they're in the chamber or not is not okay.
I understood your ruling, and I will maintain that in the chamber here. It's important to reflect the facts that have been so clearly lost in the previous contribution. Members on this side care about the agriculture industry. In Queensland, we understand fully that 46 per cent of the national head of cattle are placed in Queensland. There are 11 million head of cattle in our home state, and beef manufacturing is the largest manufacturing sector in Queensland. We understand what is at risk. I don't know how many times those opposite have visited our beef manufacturing industries and spoken to workers in that industry, but I'm very, very aware—
You've never known a manufacturing job you wouldn't want to casualise. We on this side of the chamber know that there is a lot at stake. That is why we are taking this issue incredibly seriously and ensuring that we deliver on the things that need to be done to make sure that we protect our beef industry in Australia.
We understand that, as Senator Hanson raised, there are many factors to this. The senator may be inclined to take up the report of the Senate Environmental and Communications References Committee from last year about our feral pig industry—I know Senator Roberts probably did have a read of that—because this is an issue where we need to do our research and we need to collaborate.
I would encourage the mover of this motion to accept the briefings from the minister, to work collaboratively with the minister, to ask the questions. I appreciate that this is an area of interest for Queensland senators who care about our industries, but we need to understand what the facts are and not listen to the people on the other side of the chamber who did nothing when it came to biosecurity, who did nothing to protect or prepare the resilience of our biosecurity measures. I am sure that the chamber will join—
We know now that the members opposite are showing an interest in this issue, but for a very long time they didn't say anything about foot-and-mouth disease, they weren't interested in the facts. So now I'm here to correct the record, to make sure that people in Queensland understand that we are taking the steps to protect the industry and that we have been taking the steps to protect the industry since this started.
Now, let's remember that this outbreak began under the former government, and we are accepting our responsibility of stepping up as the new government. We know that on Thursday 21 July the minister facilitated a briefing on foot-and-mouth disease for the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. That's how seriously we are taking this. We are working collaboratively with those who want to work collaboratively with us. Last week the minister hosted a briefing with officials, updating members of parliament—working collaboratively, making sure that people know the facts and understand where we're at. Just last Thursday, the minister also updated the chamber on the measures to protect Australian farmers.
In direct response to the emergence and the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia, the government is ensuring that we have measures in place to protect our industry. For the first time ever there is deployment of sanitation foot mats in international airports. For the first time ever, the declaration of biosecurity responses and zones have been put in place in international airports, and biosecurity profiling of a hundred per cent of all travellers, including extra assessment for passengers who have recently been in Indonesia is happening. There's a hundred per cent of screening on all mail items coming in, and we're redeploying biosecurity detector dogs to priority ports, like my home of Cairns, and in Darwin. Biosecurity is the responsibility of all Australians, including those who sit opposite.
I refer to the comments of the senator who spoke before me, Senator Hanson, with regard to fines for people who break the rules at airports and bring in items that are not allowed. Just this week a passenger coming back from Indonesia was heavily fined—a very expensive McMuffin, as it was referred to at the time. He was fined for breaking those rules, which shows that the system is working.
Unfortunately, while this government has sought to be constructive and transparent, making sure that briefings are happening and that people have the information they need, those on the opposite side have chosen to be unnecessarily political on an issue of grave importance for our country. I take this opportunity to remind those opposite that, while they are happy to accuse us of not caring about this issue, of not understanding the fact and of not appreciating how important our industry is, what they are saying isn't actually correct. We know that we are taking further steps. We are considering what actions need to be taken, we are implementing those actions and we are thinking ahead, because we need to be prepared. We are making sure that all options are on the table. We are considering how we prepare our industry for this threat. This disease is something that we need to work on together to oppose.
Farmers and the broader Australian community will be watching this place very clearly to see what is happening here. What we saw during COVID-19 in particular was an expectation from the community that the people in this place would work together to overcome threats to our health, our economy and our country. That is what the community expects now. The community, and particularly the agriculture industry, expect people in this place to work together. Of course, the hard questions should be asked. Senator Roberts, I understand why you are asking the questions and making sure that we are being transparent and accountable, but I would encourage you not to listen to the noise from the opposition—who literally did nothing when they were in charge—but to understand that this is something that we are taking incredibly seriously. We are making sure that when the minister is given advice he is sharing that advice with the people who need to understand what measures need to be put in place and he is then putting those measures in place. Unlike those opposite, the measures have been put in place. Under those opposite, there were no foot mats, no powers, no plan—nothing. When they were in power and there was an outbreak, no measures were put in place. But on this side of the chamber, when the minister understands the threat, he takes the advice and ensures that measures are appropriate, are constructive and are not alarmist, and he then puts those measures in place.
I know it's very uncomfortable for those to hear, but we do have the support of the agriculture industry—from the National Farmers Federation, and people who know this industry better—
I think it's fair—
I take that interjection, and I ask the chair to bring the chamber to order so I can finish my contribution in the small amount of time I have to make it clear to all Australians that the agriculture industry supports the measures that this side of the chamber is taking. The industry is telling those opposite that they are wrong, that they are not helping, that making this a political issue is unhelpful to the problem and that it wants to see everyone work collaboratively and make sure that we do everything in our power to protect our important industries. That is what we on this side of the chamber are doing. That is what the agriculture industry is supporting right now.
We know that it is difficult to be over there on that side of the chamber. You're trying to find reasons to stand up and beat your chest, but the truth is that you didn't do anything when you're in power. You didn't have a chance. You didn't put in foot mats. You didn't put in biosecurity zones. We have taken that action. I'm sorry to say— (Time expired)
Before I call Senator Price, I will remind senators that interjections are always disorderly, and, if we could try and listen to the contributions of other senators without making interjections, that would be appreciated. I recognise that this is an emotive debate.
I rise to support Senator Roberts's motion. I absolutely and utterly reject accusations that we on this side of the chamber are politicising this issue when this current government has sought to scrap the committee for northern Australia which deals with supporting issues exactly like this.
As a representative of the Northern Territory, I find it deeply insulting. It's insulting to suggest that such an important issue is something that we would play politics with. I would also like to remind the President—through the chamber—that, prior to being sworn in as a senator for the Northern Territory, I was very proudly part of a coalition announcement on 23 March that we were providing funding of $61.6 million to boost our biosecurity efforts in northern Australia, which would take our commitment to $1 billion. I also reject comments from Senator Whish-Wilson made yesterday. I certainly would not support his comments around the fact that we're behaving childishly in front of children in these chambers, given that they are a party that supports drug use and actually encourages our school leavers to smoke marijuana, noting the effects that that has in terms of marijuana induced psychosis. So I don't take to those sorts of comments very kindly, nor the government's accusations that we're not taking this issue very seriously.
Again, as a representative of the Northern Territory, I'm very, very aware of how important this industry is for the Northern Territory. In the Northern Territory, the cattle industry and related services industries contribute $1 billion annually to the Territory economy. There are 2.2 million cattle across 45 per cent of the Territory's land mass. The Northern Territory pastoralists manage up to 700,000 square kilometres of the land mass. The average Territory herd size is 8,000 head of cattle. The average Territory cattle property is approximately 3,000 square kilometres and, on average, around 600,000 cattle are turned off Territory pastures annually. And let's not forget the fact that the port of Darwin is the busiest live export port in the world. So these measures are very, very important. It alarms me that Minister Watt is more concerned about governing through social media than he is about governing through his portfolio, claiming that senators on our side of the chamber didn't make mention of this issue through their social media and that that is enough of an argument to show that we don't care. I reject that. I utterly and absolutely reject that.
I would also like to remind the chamber that, on 15 July, Minister Watt made the following public statement. He said, 'Foot baths are not particularly effective.' This is laughable considering that now they are claiming that they are the champions of foot baths. He went on to say: 'Often people have got more than one pair of shoes. The chemicals for effective foot baths are dangerous to human skin.' These are his very own comments made on 15 July. On 15 July, I happened to be at the Katherine show, speaking directly with members of our pastoral industry, who are gravely concerned about this issue and who, as a result of these comments, were extremely fearful that this government was not taking this issue seriously enough. They were so concerned.
And it is not us pushing this fear agenda; it was these very comments that sparked action by the pastoralists, members of the Northern Territory cattle association, whom I haven't heard the minister refer to at all as someone he's had consultations with. Perhaps he has, but he's failed to mention them in this chamber, probably because northern Australia isn't important to the government. Hence we had to move a motion yesterday to refer the scrapping of the committee to an inquiry. But his comments created a reaction whereby the pastoralists, the Northern Territory cattle association, then, at the showgrounds themselves, established foot mats for the purpose of demonstrating to this government—well, the fact that they really don't have a clue about the importance of this issue—that foot mats and foot baths are not dangerous to human skin. Comments were made to me directly that they were gravely concerned that we need to jump on this, that we need to bring to the attention of the wider community of Australians that citric acid is a naturally occurring acid. You can use it in your everyday households. But clearly the government doesn't have any idea about the fact that this could certainly be a biosecurity measure to support the industry and that it is an effective tool when used in this way and is not harmful to human skin—or to animal skin, for that matter.
I would like to give a reminder—obviously the minister is not here, but I'm sure he will catch up with these comments later—that it was these very comments, made on 15 July, that prompted the industry to demonstrate, out of fear and out of deep concern for the industry, that he was wrong and that they needed support. It demonstrated that the government was not taking this seriously enough. That was on 15 July. Since the minister is more concerned about governing through social media, he might want to join my Facebook page and view the post I made on 15 July about speaking to a vet who delivered a session on the biosecurity concern that day, at the show in Katherine, on the importance of this government acting promptly to deal with this issue.
So I will not accept that we on this side of the chamber and those of us who represent northern Australia and the interests of those within the industry are playing politics with this issue. We are gravely concerned, because it is our backyards that are in the direct firing line should this get out of hand. It is our backyards that will suffer. It is those within our industry. And we know this will have further effects within our industry. When our pastoralists, when our agriculturists, when our farmers are down on their luck, it's not just about the industry and how it'll affect the wider Australian economy. This is about people's livelihoods, this is about their lives, this is about their ability to care and look after their families. When people feel so destroyed under these sorts of circumstances, it can very well lead to issues such as suicide. We don't want to see that occur for anyone within our pastoralist industries, within our cattle industries. So I find it deeply insulting that it would be suggested that we're playing politics on this issue.
Again, I ask this government to take very seriously the issues relating to northern Australia. We need a voice in these chambers just like everybody else. We are affected by decisions made and decisions that aren't made by this government going forward. It is our responsibility to hold this government to account, and that is exactly what we are doing on behalf of these industries, on behalf of the little people and on behalf of those who would be affected.
I saw Senator Roberts before I saw Senator Whish-Wilson, but, before I call Senator Roberts, I remind senators that, under standing orders, they shouldn't make reference to whether or not other senators are present in the chamber. Senator Chisholm, on a point of order?
Yes. On the longstanding convention of the rotating of the call, the Deputy President acknowledged that earlier and gave the call to Senator Green over Senator Nampijinpa Price. I'd encourage you to reflect on that now.
Indeed, Senator Brockman, that was disorderly. My apologies, Senator Chisholm, I take your point. I will give the call to you, then to Senator Roberts and then to Senator Whish-Wilson, if I'm still in the chair by then. Senator McKenzie?
You were standing for a point of order. It was Senator Ciccone behind you, Senator Chisholm, who stood for the call. Senator Whish-Wilson stood for the call and Senator Roberts stood for the call. Senators Davey, Brockman and McKenzie still want to make a contribution in the limited time we have in this debate.
I'm going to try and make everybody happy here, and I will undoubtedly fail. I did rule on giving the call to Senator Roberts first. I will do that because I gave it to him first. Senator Chisholm, I take your point: if you can seek to be quick on your feet next time. I'm giving the call to Senator Roberts now and then to whoever is next up. Senator Chisholm, a point of order?
It's been pointed out to me that you also did a similar thing last night, in not rotating the call when it was appropriate. We've got form again today. It isn't acceptable for you to not rotate the call.
Thank you, Senator Chisholm, I take the point of order. I am rotating the call around the chamber. We just had a contribution from a National Party senator. I'm now going to a One Nation party senator. If you are quick on the call next time, Senator Chisholm, I will get in your eyeline. Senator Roberts, you have the call.
In serving the people of Queensland and Australia, my intention in advancing this motion was to protect the people's interests from the economic devastation that will result from foot-and-mouth disease if it enters Australia. There is no time to waste. It is a distinct possibility that, given the substandard response from this government, foot-and-mouth may be in Australia before the next sitting. Suspending standing orders to debate this matter today was essential, and I thank Senator Gallagher and the government for this.
Senator Whish-Wilson yesterday suggested that this matter could wait for discussion at the inquiry into the government's foot-and-mouth response. No, it can't. That's weeks away. We need to act now to get these vaccines into Australia.
I know the minister appeared on radio earlier this week and alluded to the 'scaremongering' coming from some people around this issue. It is not scaremongering to want to save the lifeblood of hundreds of communities in rural Australia. It is not scaremongering to want to preserve $80 billion in exports. It is not scaremongering to want Australia to provide our beautiful red-meat protein into the international market to feed the world. It is not scaremongering to want to protect the thousands of jobs, including union jobs in transport, that the livestock industry supports.
Why on earth did the Prime Minister give the job of agriculture minister to an accountant and lawyer from the city? That decision was a gross insult to the Australian agriculture sector. The minister's actions in his very first test show that the minister hasn't a clue. The minister misleads and uses false slurs to cover up his own deficiencies and to divert attention from his deficiencies.
The minister misled the Senate and the public when he answered my question on bringing vaccines to Australia just in case. The minister replied that this would cause Australia to be considered as 'having foot-and-mouth disease'—rubbish! Having the vaccines here is not considered having foot-and-mouth. Using them is, and clearly these vaccines would not be used unless we had an actual outbreak. I've repeatedly called on the minister to correct his reply, and he continues to ignore that request. Truth doesn't matter.
The minister misled the Senate when saying vaccine production had to wait until we knew the strain that had arrived in Australia. That specious reply ignores the likelihood that the strain we could have in Australia is going to be the same strain present now in Bali. If we're making vaccines for Bali, make some more for us and store those vaccines in Australia, ready for any outbreak that comes here from Bali. Minister Watt's answer ignores the simple question: if we need to know the strain before making a vaccine, what are the million doses of foot-and-mouth vaccine Australia is storing in the UK right now that he told us about?
The minister called into question my support for vaccines yesterday in another diversion. The minister was clearly not listening. In my question last Thursday, I did reassure the public that these vaccines are safe. The first thing I did in drafting my questions was to check that and to add the fact that it does look after people's safety. I have never spoken against vaccination. I have spoken strongly against, and will continue to speak strongly against, experimental gene based treatments for humans, with grossly inadequate safety testing. Experimental vaccine injections have caused so many horrendous human injuries and deaths the government has had to implement a compensation scheme. In contrast, the foot-and-mouth vaccine is not an mRNA gene based vaccine. It is a normal vaccine, a real vaccine. According to New Zealand health authorities, it's safe to consume meat and milk from a vaccinated animal.
So once again for clarity, before the minister misrepresents me again, I'm suggesting we get these one million doses of vaccine that we already own, and any others we need to produce for this strain, stored here in Australia, ready to vaccinate 48 hours after a foot-and-mouth outbreak occurs, should one occur. Taking this precaution will meet the procedure in the minister's own manual. It's on page 18 of the foot-and-mouth AUSVETPLAN edition 3 manual, in case the minister wants to look it up.
I asked the minister to explain why these vaccines are being stored in the UK rather than Australia. The minister has failed to explain this very strange decision, despite repeated requests. In the event of an outbreak, it will take seven days to get the vaccines here from the UK. Yet vaccination is supposed to start after 48 hours. After one week it will be too late. The livestock industry will be done for. He said he had tabled a response. He did, but it was scant and did not answer my basic questions. Was he really badly advised or did he lie? We need the truth. People need the truth. There are two issues now thanks to Senator Watt: foot-and-mouth and trust and truth, because of what he has done and not done and what he's said and not said.
The minister's briefing on foot-and-mouth last Tuesday appears to have made a factual error. It was in a casual reply, so I'm only going to mention this in passing. The comment was made that foot-and-mouth disease stays resident on hard surfaces for hours. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists briefing sheet on foot-and-mouth puts the residence period at one month. Between hours and one month, there is a hell of a difference—a huge difference. If it's indeed one month then the protocols we're following for foot-and-mouth need to be much stronger, more like the disinfectant protocols the government rushed to implement for COVID.
Some of these issues can be covered during the Senate inquiry. Vaccines, though, cannot wait. We must have them here now. We must have stronger airport screening now. How can it be that, after all these weeks the virus has been in Indonesia, we still have several international flights arriving directly from Indonesia all at the same time and then no flights for hours? If you do not have the staff to check every passenger from infected areas, Minister, here's an idea: work with the airlines to stagger their arrivals so we can screen every single person.
I have no confidence that this minister, in being in charge of the department, is working from a set of protocols that are designed to stop foot-and-mouth. Rather, these protocols seem to be about looking as if government tried to stop foot-and-mouth. Perhaps this has something to do with the Left's policy to reduce livestock to save on carbon dioxide production. A 43 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide output below 2005 levels by 2030 must include substantial reductions from agriculture. I'll speak to this absolute nonsense, this garbage, on many occasions in the years ahead. For today, let me say that cows are not climate vandals. Graziers are wonderful custodians of the land, as Senator Nampijinpa Price just pointed out. The government is not a wonderful custodian of the land.
I'm aware there is work that suggests that foot-and-mouth will not spread amongst feral pigs and other feral animals that can get foot-and-mouth because of the sparse population. What utter rubbish! These researchers-for-hire clearly have not been to the national parks I've have been to. Nobody in the government seems to care that infestations of pests in national parks encroach on farmland, putting hardworking farmers under enormous strain, when all they want to do is grow food and fibre to feed and clothe the world. Why the political Left want to stop farmers feeding and clothing the world is beyond me—and it's clearly beyond Senator Nampijinpa Price. I know your climate gods need the ritual sacrifice of farmers to reach a target that makes no scientific sense, no moral or ethical sense, no human sense. And, really, how can rewilding productive farmland be more desirable than feeding and clothing the world and the people on our planet?
This agenda dovetails very nicely with Premier Andrews's recent agriculture bill, which allows the Premier to declare quarantine on part or all of rural Victoria based on the threat of a disease outbreak. Animals can be culled on the threat of getting a disease. Farmers can be told what they can and can't produce. Lockdowns can be hard border lockdowns extending for years. Victoria is coming for their graziers in the name of sustainability. All it will take is one disease outbreak. What could that outbreak be? If every rural media outlet in the bush is not getting onto their local Labor member or Greens candidates and asking them, 'What is the go here?' then I don't know why they're not doing it.
There's a story here. It's a story that is so much more than an inexperienced minister with no knowledge of his portfolio tripping over the first hurdle. It's more than a minister who refuses to accept he's made a mistake and, as a result, refuses to fix it. That's not honest. It's more than Australian farmers being thrown under the sustainability bus by wealthy city dwellers anxious to make others pay for their climate religion. It is about the very future of our Australian agricultural sector, and that's terrifying.
Minister Watt made this an issue by misleading the Senate. Quoting others about foot-and-mouth disease does not change a thing with what's happening with the government. Continually derailing the discussion and diverting the discussion onto what other people are doing or not doing does not answer questions. It shows the man lacks accountability and responsibility. And I will continue to do my job for the people. I've been elected by the people—not the people that Senator Watt quoted.
It's easier to get a human being vaccinated in this country than to get a cow vaccinated. We have one flag above this parliament. We are one community and we are one nation. Labor, in its policy on foot-and-mouth disease, is a clear and present danger to agriculture.
nator CICCONE (—) (): I do have a lot of respect for Senator Roberts in this place, but I must say that some of the line of questioning that's been put to my friend Senator Murray Watt as the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is quite questionable. It's fair to say I don't agree with the line of inquiries that Senator Roberts has put to Minister Watt. It is important to note that Minister Watt, time and time again, for the last two weeks in this place has been open, has been honest and has put all the facts on the table in this chamber, before all senators, before the Australian people—and not just here in parliament but outside this building as well—on numerous occasions. But, with the greatest respect, I think Senator Watt has tried to answer Senator Roberts's questions and no doubt will continue to answer his questions as they come to him.
The Australian government is not pretending that this is an easy issue. But what we have said for the last two months that we've been in power—and it is important to always put things into context; context is so important in this place. It is so interesting to see that those opposite, particularly the opposition, have all become experts in foot-and-mouth disease. For 9½ years, they had many opportunities to fix our biosecurity arrangements, particularly around how we fund biosecurity in this country. I know Senator Whish-Wilson has been a longstanding member of the rural and regional affairs and transport committee, which has held several inquiries into all things agriculture, and I look forward to his contributions later this morning. The government of the day failed to seriously address the issues.
This is not just Labor saying this. This is not the Australian Greens saying this. These are peak bodies from agriculture, like the National Farmers Federation. Supposedly, those opposite don't represent farmers now, but they did 2½ months ago. GrainGrowers have come out and congratulated this government for finally establishing an inquiry into biosecurity. AgForce have come out and congratulated this government on finally doing something about addressing the inadequacies of our biosecurity funding arrangements. There is a list of other peak bodies around the country—cattle, the Red Meat Advisory Council and so many others that, quite frankly, I could spend the next seven minutes of my time listing them.
We hear from those opposite that there are some farmers who are quite concerned: yes, and rightly so. But it hasn't helped that those opposite have created a bit of a political campaign for their own internal purposes. They have created this hysteria, this panic, this sense that the sky is going to fall in if we don't do something now, without actually being honest with the constituency that they claim to represent—Australian farmers—about the fact that we are actually doing something. The Australian government is actually doing something to address the foot-and-mouth disease threat. Touch wood, we have not had that outbreak here in Australia, and we are working very strongly with our friends in Indonesia, particularly in Bali, to ensure that foot-and-mouth disease does not come into this country.
It is also worth putting this on the record about these foot mats. The opposition talk about these mats like somehow they're going to stop everything from coming into the country. If they were so concerned about these sanitation foot mats—not foot baths too, for the record, Deputy President, but foot mats—why didn't they put an order in and actually bring these foot mats into the country? Just like with the vaccine rollout that we had during COVID, you can't expect these foot mats to just arrive overnight at our front door. You've actually got to plan and put the orders in to get these mats from overseas. We don't actually have a domestic manufacturing sector in this country anymore; therefore, we can't produce these mats in the country, so we are reliant on overseas supply chains.
What did the National Party do for 9½ years, when they had the portfolio of agriculture, in terms of these foot mats? Nothing. Same old business: 'Wait till an outbreak occurs, and then we'll see and assess what the situation is.' They had the opportunity to actually address the concerns that they are now raising and blaming this government for. This government has only been in for two months and is now trying to fix their mess, which they have left us with.
It's important to put the facts on the table. Having the vaccines—well, we do have enough vaccines to address the initial shock should that virus get into the country, but I think it's also important to get the vaccines overseas into Indonesia, where there is a threat to our agriculture industry. I'm not going to cop the scaremongering, the political stunt, that the opposition—the National Party particularly—have collectively put on today in this place, and neither are other Labor senators.
It is interesting to ask the question: when are the opposition going to listen to the experts? The experts that they relied on when they were last in government are now criticising them. When are you, as the opposition, going to listen to the same experts that government is relying on and listen to the peak bodies—the National Farmers Federation and the many other peak bodies—that have said: 'Labor, you are doing the right job. You are doing what we have been calling for: consulting, working with Indonesia, working with industry'—
I'll take the interjection from across the aisle that we've been too slow. We haven't been too slow. We've actually been doing what industry expects of us and what industry has actually called on us to do, and we now have the strongest biosecurity measures ever in the history of Australia. So well are our measures working that foot-and-mouth has not arrived here. In fact, we picked up a traveller recently, as senators across the aisle would know, who had a dodgy cheeseburger. So well are our measures working that people are saying, 'Yes, we do have products that we should not be bringing into this country.' We've now got new ads on aeroplanes warning travellers to Australia that, should they arrive here with such products, they will receive a hefty fine. Someone who is bringing back a Big Mac or a Happy Meal will cop a $2,600 fine because they brought in some products they should not have brought into this country. Again, Senator Watt should be commended for the work that he has been doing, his department has been doing and our biosecurity officers have been doing to protect our borders and our agriculture industry, because it is so important that we protect our agriculture industry.
I also put on the record that we are now screening every single piece of material—mail, that is—coming from Indonesia and China. That should also be noted in this place. We've also reviewed the import permits of Indonesian products that may carry foot-and-mouth disease. The Australian government is now providing direct support to the Indonesian government to purchase vaccines to control the outbreak over in Indonesia. We also acknowledge that Meat & Livestock Australia deserve additional funding. That is why we are providing the additional funding that it deserve to help coordinate industry's response to the outbreak.
There is advice about our biosecurity responsibilities that I also want to flag in this place today. New biosecurity laws were enacted back in, I think, 2016, yet this is the first time an Australian government is using them. The same powers that the Liberal and National parties had but chose not to use in 2016 are now being used by the Labor government for the very first time. When those opposite had the chance to actually fix the mess that our biosecurity arrangements were in, they did absolutely nothing. That is why I'm so very proud that this Senate, with the support of many in this place, agreed to my motion to have an inquiry into our biosecurity arrangements, and I look forward to working with all senators in this place to actually address our biosecurity arrangements once and for all.
It would be nice for you to listen too, Madam Acting Deputy President. I've been on my feet three times now and I haven't had the call. I know that's at your discretion, but the Labor Party have spoken, you've been to the other side of the chamber; I think it would be fair for you to allocate the Greens a spot in this.
This is a very serious issue that the country confronts, and Minister Watt has been detailing the thorough and urgent actions that he has taken as the minister responsible in the Albanese government. But it's also 'exhibit A' in evidence that the opposition have learned nothing from this election campaign. The way they have come into the chamber today and the way they have done this over the first two weeks of sittings show that they have learnt nothing from the election result. They've also observed nothing over the last three years in how the Australian people react to these sorts of issues.
With the opposition, all we have seen is politics. They have played politics with this issue consistently since they've been in opposition and they have actually done nothing constructively, have offered no solutions, to help the country get through it. I think it goes to show that they've learnt nothing from their time in government and nothing from the election campaign, and they're going to continue on. Well, we are not going to fall into that trap. We are going to do the right thing by the Australian people. We're going to act in the national interest, and we are also going to do the right thing by the country and work collaboratively with the industry as well. There have been numerous quotes that my colleagues have raised about them being supportive of the action that we are taking. But we all remember what the government was like. We all remember that they were rejected at the last election campaign because, on any issue that confronted them, they always played politics with it. It was always politics first; the national interest played a very distant role in that regard.
Minister Watt has continuously answered questions in this chamber, answered questions through the media and explained the actions that this government is taking to deal with this issue. It's really disappointing that the opposition, teaming up with One Nation, have learned nothing from the last election campaign and are going to continue to play politics with this issue when we actually need a national response to this with everyone working constructively together and putting the national interest of the country first.
Again, I ask senators to reflect on the fact that, when this debate started this morning, in a committee room only 50 metres away those who were interested were receiving evidence from department officials as to exactly how they are conducting their response into both the varroa mite outbreak in New South Wales, which is very serious, and the measures put in place to reduce the risk of a potentially very serious foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. I'd also like senators to reflect on the fact that I understand that it's important to put pressure on the government, to needle them, to make sure there's transparency, so they know they're being watched closely in acting to do everything they possibly can. That's a critical part of politics, but it's sounding to me in this chamber this morning, when we've had debate ranging from marijuana psychosis, through to mad Mal's vaccine denial and a whole range of other—
I did specifically withdraw that comment. I'll say: Senator Roberts's and One Nation's vaccine denial, as pointed out by the minister yesterday, is hardly the political party you want to be taking advice from. There has been a complete disregard of experts and there have been the comments that somehow the experts who have given evidence to senators and MPs about the risk of this being spread by a feral species are scientists for hire—really? It's almost sounding like the opposition wants some kind of foot-and-mouth outbreak so they can make political advantage out of it, which I think is appalling. I think it is absolutely appalling. You would be forgiven for thinking, if you'd listened to the quality of debate we've had from these people on the other side of the chamber yesterday morning and this morning, that actually they want an outbreak in this country so they can turn it to their political advantage.
It has been pointed out continually that this kind of fearmongering, raising anxiety and alarm, is not helping anyone; it is counterproductive. I'm all for holding a government to account. The Senate is going to do that. The National Party and Liberal Party will be chairing that inquiry. We will look at this very closely, but do not make this situation worse to your own political advantage. (Time expired.)