Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Regulations and Determinations

Export Control (Animals) Amendment (Northern Hemisphere Summer Prohibition) Rules 2022; Disallowance

6:17 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

News this week that the Labor government would ban live sheep exports sent a shiver up the spines of every grazier in Australia. There is absolutely no doubt that banning sheep exports would open the door to banning live cattle exports, crippling the $2 billion live export industry and the 10,000 jobs it supports.

Animal welfare is at the forefront of our live export trade. We banned the shipment of sheep to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer. And the official mortality rate of sheep being transported is just 0.2 per cent, and dropping each year; for cattle, it's 0.1 per cent.

Research is already being conducted into using cameras on ships to enhance monitoring of animals on their journey. Animal health is the top consideration at every step of the supply chain, from the farm to feedlots to the ship. Participants in the live export trade are constantly scrutinised and face exclusion if they fail to meet the high standards set by industry.

Another consideration ignored by activists is that, of the hundred countries exporting live animals, Australia has the highest standards in the world. Not only that, we're the only country in the world that demands animal welfare standards from our customers. So we are holding our own people to higher standards and we are exporting these high standards around the world, training receiving countries to improve their own practices.

If Labor removes Australia from the world live export market we are condemning animals in other countries to exceptionally poor outcomes. After Labor banned live exports in 2011, the backlash from the beef and sheep industries was immense but that hasn't stopped the party from plotting to do it again. In fact, it was left up to animal activists to reveal Labor's plans show the live export ban was being orchestrated to avoid scrutiny before the election. This policy by stealth is disgraceful and entirely in keeping with Labor's campaign strategy of 'we have a plan but we won't tell you the details until you vote for us'. Also concerning is Labor's plan for the demise of live exports without consulting with industry, relying instead on the emotion-charged biased arguments by activists.

Live export has enormous benefits for all of Australia, not just regional areas. The Townsville port is Australia's largest live export hub, supporting hundreds of jobs in Australia's unofficial northern capital. Live exports also go through Broome, Darwin and Fremantle. The northern cattle industry supports city based transport companies and truck drivers. Graziers spend their incomes in cities, and the taxes they pay benefit us all. Primary production is hugely important for all of Australia. It is sustainable and it is in demand by scrupulous foreign customers, but Labor treats it like an afterthought. Without a strong ag sector, Australia will go backwards and that will affect everyone, no matter where you live. For Australian graziers, life will not be easy under Albanese.

The live animal export trade is important not just to Australian graziers and farmers; it is terrifically important to our near neighbours. The overnight banning of that export market has damaged our relationship with Indonesia beyond repair. Over 10 years later, that country still treats us with distrust. It resulted in an over $2 billion bill for this incoming government, both for damages at the time to graziers, transport operators and other businesses in the north, as well as the growing interest bill that needs to be paid to those people. We saw poor animal welfare outcomes because of the overnight cancellation, not to mention the massive mental health bill that was inflicted on all sorts of businesses, graziers and families in the north. It was just a horrific time. It was certainly devastating to see how those people who attended those public forums had been affected.

Live animal export fills a portion of the market that is not just about exporting food, which is so incredibly important. Food security has been identified by the US Secretary of State at the recent UN world peace conference as being one of the most significant issues facing us in our time. Food security for Australians and for our near neighbours is of critical importance, and the part we have to understand about live animal exports is that it is not just about receiving the best quality food that we grow here in Australia. It is also about being cognisant of religious requirements in those countries. This is something that we don't have to understand here, but in those countries, to receive live animals suitable for their markets to be killed and eaten in an appropriate way is significant and that is part of the exports we consider when we have a live animal trade. It is not just about food; it is about cultural and religious beliefs. In some parts of the world, it is about the economic conditions. They don't have the electricity and the reliable power to enable them to have the refrigeration and the cold store chains that we enjoy in this country.

So when Australia exports live animals to other countries, there is a number of issues that we are contemplating for our near neighbours and our trade partners. It is important to the relationship that we understand culturally their challenges, economically their challenges and, most importantly, their food requirements, because there is nothing more important in the world than it growing and providing food and fibre. That is the human condition. Everything else we do adds to the quality of life we have, but without food we don't survive. So I'm very proud of the work that particularly the sheep industry of Western Australia does, as well as the cattle industry of northern Australia, because they have developed relationships that are beyond just that simple provision of food to suit the human condition. They are relationships and friendships that have now developed over generations as we have done that, and it's important, particularly in this uncertain geopolitical time we live in, that we have strong relationships with our near neighbours.

That's why it was so distressing to see during the close of the last government, when we were negotiating the ag visas so important to agricultural businesses right across this country—whether they be in horticulture, animal production, piggeries or feedlots—that our relationship with the sorts of workforces who were skilled in these expertises, from Indonesia, from the Philippines and from other near neighbours, was damaged, and it wasn't damaged by activists; it was damaged by the AWU, the Australian Workers Union, who went and lobbied those embassies and said, 'Australian farmers will exploit your people.' What an outrageous thing to do, so un-Australian. It showed such a lack of understanding of the requirements during the post-COVID environment, where workforce shortages have been so difficult that farmers have had to let crops rot on the ground or in trees and not plant as much food as they possibly could, because they didn't feel confident in being able to harvest that at the end of the year.

Instead, poor behaviour from some contractors meant the AWU was calling Australian farmers exploiters and saying it was part of business as usual for them. It is shameful, and it has shaken me to the core to understand that people who advocate for Australians, Australian businesses and Australian workers could so wilfully undermine our industry, our own people—and not just Australians but our near neighbours—who do the important work of growing food and fibre. How shocking it is to hear Labor continue these outrageous claims that the reason the ag visa did not get up was anything apart from their own henchmen going around lobbying and bullying embassies and calling our farmers exploiters. It was truly a very dark day in Australia's history and certainly in agricultural history.

I support the work of Australian farmers as they not only export food and fibre to our near neighbours but understand and are sympathetic to the cultural differences of our near neighbours and understand the economic environment, where there may not be good cold storage chains for the people we're supplying food to. There are a whole lot of businesses that also spring up around live animal exports. Once the animals arrive in those countries, farmers might take two or three head to fatten in their own mini feedlots. These are important parts of the industry and commerce of those towns. Then Australia does the most important thing of all: we export our very high animal welfare standards. Our closed supply chain in those countries means we demand the same export standards in our receiving countries as we demand in our own country. Whether it be in the way animals are cared for or whether it be in the process of slaughter, we demand they stand up to the same rigorous requirements we have in this country.

For anybody to suggest that's not the case just flies in the face of the science and the research that has been handled both by the department of agriculture and by industry groups, and the fact that we had whistleblowers being paid for their photos, their evidence, is just extraordinary. If in any other situation you discovered the person giving evidence was being paid to provide evidence, you would call into question the whole credibility of that complaint. That's exactly what we've relied on in this case. We don't know if they were actually intentionally trying to hurt those animals or trying to make them distressed in order to provide footage for activists' intentions to shut down the very important work that Australian farmers and Australian exporters do in providing food security to these countries, allowing them to eat in a way that is culturally appropriate and in a way that suits the lack of cold store supply chains.

I oppose this particular motion because I know that Australian farmers and Australian exporters do hold very high standards. We should feel proud of them. In fact, I would welcome any of these activists or any of the members opposite to go and visit a live export ship, to go and visit with the farmers and graziers who take their stock there, to travel on the ship and to see just how excellent and expert the ships, the staff and the inspectors are. I think the advent of trialling having remote cameras on ships is an extraordinary development because it shows how transparent the industry can be. Right around the world, we have just lived through a period of remote everything—remote schooling, remote meetings, remote leisure activities—and now we can even remotely watch stock as they travel across the seas to our trade partners, and we can be assured of the high standards under which they are being looked after.

I just can't believe this, with all the work that is done in this regard, with the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, with the independent observers and of course with those very, very important trade relations with our near neighbours in this time when food security is the No. 1 issue that is affecting countries. We know that when people feel insecure, when food supply is threatened, it is the most dangerous thing we can do to our trade relationships. We saw it in Indonesia, and that trade relationship has barely recovered. I fear for the outcomes that would happen if we were to close down this very appropriate live export industry with sheep, this very high standard of export, the very tight restrictions that we have on weight and standards. Anybody who thinks we're killing the sheep has never been on a ship and has never been to see in the standards. They are so poorly informed that they should hang their heads in shame at their criticisms of the standards that we uphold. I can only ask them: please, go on a ship. Go out and see what actually happens. Stop listening to poorly informed activists.

6:32 pm

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

I move:

That the question be put.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the question be put.

6:40 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Leave is granted for one minute.

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

For all of the previous occasions on which we heard from Labor and the Greens how outrageous it was to shut down debate, we now have the remarkable situation where the Greens have just voted to guillotine debate on their own disallowance motion, where they will now sit there and watch Labor come over this side and defeat their disallowance motion. That is how much the Greens are willing to contort themselves in these matters. The Greens are now contorting themselves to shut down debate, in defiance of everything they've have had to say along the way. The Labor Party is shutting down debate on an issue when there are only two speakers left on the list. They couldn't allow another two speeches to proceed before they had to come in here, shut down debate and close things off, in defiance of everything they used to say. (Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that business of the Senate order of the day No. 3 be agreed to.