Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 November 2023


Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023; Second Reading

6:11 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023. Before I get to the substance of the bill, I have to say that this is a completely missed opportunity. I'm going to move some amendments that will give the bill some substance. I hope that the government senators and other colleagues will support them.

After a decade of neglect, we desperately need bold, transformative reform from the highest level of government in this country to protect animals. We need an independent office of animal welfare and a strong, uniform, properly enforced national legislative framework for the protection of the welfare of animals. More than that, though, we need to rethink our entire relationship with animals, and that starts with recognising and enshrining in legislation the reality that animals are sentient beings who feel pain and pleasure and deserve our care and respect. They have intrinsic value beyond the needs and desires of humankind. Animals aren't just commodities or property. They have every right to live, exist and thrive on this planet, just as we do. And they have every right to live lives free of pain, suffering and fear, just as we do. We need a relationship with animals and the natural world which is driven by and based on compassion and respect, not profit and exploitation, and that requires us to challenge the extractive and exploitative incessant-profit driven system that we live in.

Just as we cannot save the planet without ending the excesses of capitalism and neoliberalism, we cannot achieve animal justice without challenging the mindset which views the natural world as something that must be commodified and controlled. We need to challenge the arrogant notion that we own the natural world, rather than being part of an ecosystem and perhaps one cog in its wheel.

Australia is shamefully behind when it comes to caring for animals. Across the nation, grotesque systemic abuse of animals continues. Sheep, cattle and other livestock are shipped across the ocean in horrific conditions, often packed so tightly in heat that is so sweltering that they cook from the inside in a trade that can never be made safe for any animal. Hens suffer in tiny, dark and filthy cages where they spend their entire lives struggling to move or stretch their wings. Pigs live their lives in metal crates they can barely lay down and spend their final moments grasping, shrieking, frothing at the mouth, thrashing around and in absolute terror as they suffocate in chambers. Cows are kept in a permanent state of pregnancy and milked beyond normal capacity with their tiny calves removed and killed.

Around 700,000 poddy calves are killed in their first week every year. Horses are whipped and raced to exhaustion then slaughtered mercilessly at abattoirs when they are no longer winning cash for their owners. Greyhounds suffer thousands of injuries on Australian tracks every year. So many have died cruel and premature deaths on Australian racetracks this year alone. These are just some examples that show these cruel practices have to end. And, of course, Australia's weak policies and lack of strong laws to protect our environment and climate result in immense suffering to animals as well as their habitats and homes being destroyed by land clearing, forest logging and climate induced bushfires. Nearly three billion animals—mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs—were killed or displaced by the devastating 2019 and 2020 bushfires. This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.

Time and again corporations, whether they be in the racing industry or the live export companies, cover up, lie, mislead and find excuses for the horrific brutality they inflict on animals. And time and again successive Australian governments and ministers from both sides wilfully ignore the systemic abuse and look away as brave whistleblowers and animal welfare organisations go to great lengths to shine a light on the torture and terror being meted out to animals in slaughterhouses, on live export ships, in greyhound racing, in horse racing and elsewhere. I do want to thank the animal welfare activists and advocates who are growing in number every day for their courage and for their love for animals.

The sad truth really is that the Greens are the only party in here with a genuine commitment to animal welfare, and our record speaks for itself. We have fought long and hard to ban the cruelty that is the live export trade, which—and I say this again—can never be made safe for any animal. We have worked tirelessly to expose the cruelty which lies at the heart of the horse and greyhound racing industries, and we have pushed to shine a light on the brutal, horrific and torturous realities of factory farming. The coalition and Labor really are out of touch when it comes to the importance of animal welfare. Independent polling shows that more and more people care about animal welfare. Over 80 per cent of Australians are concerned about animal welfare, and 64 per cent of Australians agree that racing animals like horses and greyhounds for gambling and entertainment is cruel, and that number has been growing steadily over time. It was 59 per cent in 2022 and 55 per cent in 2021. Almost 60 per cent of Australians that are eligible to vote are more likely to vote for a candidate who advocates for stronger animal welfare standards for farm animals.

People want a government that has the courage to recognise that animals have rights and deserve protection, and that government should deliver that protection. While this bill is a tiny step forward, it really demonstrates that Labor lacks the courage to take that full step towards animal protection. Like with so many other policy areas, Labor has presented a solution which is completely inadequate to address the scale of the problem. They have offered tinkering around the edges when we need big, bold shifts. While it was good to see Labor moving towards ending live sheep exports, they went to the last two federal elections with this policy and are moving at a snail's pace. Labor has refused to commit in this term of parliament to legislating an end date for the phasing out of live sheep exports, so I don't know how long we will have to wait, how long those sheep who faced this cruelty will have to wait. Again, independent polling shows that 59 per cent of people want to phase out live exports within two years. Over 43,000 Australians have signed a petition calling for an end to live sheep exports as quickly as possible, and this was tabled in the House by a member of the government just a couple of months ago.

I do urge the government to listen to the community and to members of its own party and in this term legislate an end date for the phase-out within the shortest possible time frame and to support a transition to local processing systems for chilled and frozen meats. Given we are on the way to shutting down live exports to better protect animal welfare, why are Labor refusing to improve sheep welfare in the meantime? Labor voted against my disallowance motion to overturn the Morrison-era changes to the Northern Hemisphere summer ban, sealing the fates of thousands of sheep who will continue to be shipped across the ocean at some of the hottest times of the year, against the advice of animal welfare experts. Until this trade is ended, the government should commit to implementing a full Northern Hemisphere summer ban from 1 May to 31 October to ensure that sheep are not put at an unacceptable risk of heat stress.

It should also ensure that basic transparency measures to keep exporters accountable and protect animals, like the deployment of independent observers, are operating, as they should, on every ship. Currently, independent observers are being deployed on only a handful of ships, with exporters treating their deployment as an optional extra. The department should be forcing exporters to make space available because independent observers are critical for monitoring heat stress and animal welfare.

Another of Labor's key election platforms was to establish the office of the independent inspector-general of animal welfare and increase accountability and transparency for reporting of animal welfare breaches. Labor claimed that the inspector-general of animal welfare's role was to include reporting to parliament on any allegations of breaches of animal welfare standards and investigations undertaken, as well as any sanctions or other actions taken for breaches of Australian animal welfare standards. Animal welfare advocates were rightly excited by this. Sadly, though, this is not what Labor is delivering with this bill we're debating today.

This bill merely tweaks the role and scope of the current Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, and this is really disappointing. Animal welfare experts have rightly observed that most of the proposed functions under the bill could be carried out by the existing inspector-general and that this bill is a very small step and more about rebranding than about substantive reform.

We heard loud and clear in the inquiry on this bill that the model created by this bill falls short of the expectations of animal welfare advocates, who are demanding an independent, new statutory office with the power to improve animal welfare across all Commonwealth regulated fields, not just in relation to live animal exports. Animal welfare experts emphasised that , at a time when Australia is facing increasing international pressure from trade partners to lift its animal welfare standards, limiting the scope of the inspector-general to live exports is a significant missed opportunity. The government's excuse for delivering such a limited model, despite its ambitious election promises, is that the Commonwealth's power to regulate animal welfare is limited. But that excuse doesn't stack up. The Parliamentary Library has confirmed that the Commonwealth can legislate extensively on animal welfare under several constitutional heads of power, including trade and commerce with other countries, and, among the states, taxation, quarantine, corporations and external affairs. So there is a huge category of animals the Commonwealth could and should be protecting but has chosen not to in this bill.

I will be moving an amendment to extend the scope of the inspector-general to include welfare oversight for these categories of animals. Animal welfare stakeholders, including Australian Alliance for Animals and the RSPCA, strongly support this amendment. I will also be moving Greens amendments to require that the person appointed to the inspector-general role actually has animal welfare expertise, because, believe it or not, there is currently no such requirement. How is it justifiable to appoint someone to a role with the key responsibility of animal welfare and not require them to have that expertise? What a farce. It defies all common sense.

We will also be moving amendments to require the inspector-general to declare any conflicts of interest which may prevent the proper performance of their functions. This is a really crucial amendment because conflicts of interest have for far too long plagued and undermined the Commonwealth's ability to protect animals. The department of agriculture has a long history of failing to prioritise animal welfare because it is fundamentally conflicted, given that it is also responsible for promoting the interests of the industry. Animal welfare will always come second to industry profits, so we must make sure that that's not the case for the inspector-general.

Finally, I will be moving amendments to enshrine the sentience of animals as a guiding principle for the inspector-general. Animal sentience is the reason that animal welfare matters, and it's already recognised in the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement. So why not recognise that in law? Recognising animal sentience isn't theoretical or an abstract concept. We must accept that animals can feel pain and distress. We must accept our moral responsibility to minimise the harm they suffer because of human activities. Many other nations like New Zealand, Sweden, Peru, France and Spain have recognised animal sentience in their laws and it's high time Australia did it too. The Australian Capital Territory recognises it and Victoria has just made moves to recognise animal sentience in their laws. Animals deserve that at the very least.

In addition to the amendments the Greens will move in the Committee of the Whole, I move the Greens second reading amendment on sheet 1975:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that this bill:

(i) barely expands the functions and remit of the existing Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports, and

(ii) is a wasted opportunity to provide transformative improvements in animal welfare; and

(b) calls on the Government to:

(i) recognise that animals are sentient beings that deserve our care and respect,

(ii) recognise that animals have intrinsic value, separate from the needs of humans,

(iii) in this term of Parliament, introduce legislation to specify the end date for the phase-out of live sheep exports within the shortest possible timeframe, and

(iv) establish an Independent Office for Animal Welfare which provides oversight of animal welfare standards to the full extent of the Commonwealth's power".

This amendment calls on the government to recognise that animals are sentient, establish an independent office of animal welfare and in this term legislate an end date for the phase-out of live sheep exports within the shortest possible time frame.

6:25 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023 in the knowledge that we will not be opposing it. However, some of the nonsense that has been put on the public record must be countered. Farmers care about the welfare of animals. People who work along the supply chain care about the welfare of animals, and those in this place who to say otherwise are, quite frankly, a disgrace. It is a disgrace that people come into this chamber and talk about what farmers do to feed and clothe the world, and the way that they address those issues of animal welfare is a disgrace. The fact is, farmers and all those along the supply chain care deeply about the welfare of the stock that they put so much effort into raising.

I myself, as many in this place know, have been involved in a farming family, including the raising of sheep and including the raising of sheep that have been sold into the live export market. The accusation that people in that industry do not care about the welfare of animals is just truly horrible and it's disproven by the facts. The fact is that that industry has done more, certainly more than any radical animal activist group, to improve animal welfare outcomes globally than any other part of society. The fact is that the industry has taken extraordinary steps to improve animal welfare outcomes, not just in Australia but globally. In fact, Australia withdrawing from the global market of animal exports will worsen the situation of animal welfare globally. We are the world leaders. That is widely acknowledged, not just by people in this country, even people in the department who are closing it down, even I believe by the minister. We are world leaders when it comes to animal welfare. We export those standards to the world through our Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, or ESCAS. Australian farmers are part of the supply chain, but so are the transporters, the shippers and the receiving countries, who have all adopted Australia's highest standards because we are part of that market. If we leave that market, they will not continue to use those standards. They will continue to source animals. The live export market of Saudi Arabia, which we have not been part of the decade, is some eight million animals, half of them sheep.

Now that Australia is potentially re-entering that market, hopefully in the very near future, the Saudi Arabians have adopted our ESCAS level of animal welfare. We have a concrete example of how Australia's being in the market actually improves animal welfare standards globally. We can see it happening today. Yet instead of listening to the farmers, instead of listening to the vets, the feedlot operators, those in the supply chain and the shearers, this Labor government wants to listen to groups like Animals Australia—praised to high heaven by the Greens. Animals Australia is a group that has, quite frankly, a despicable and warped moral compass and a completely warped set of ethical standards. In the West Australian today:

The founder of one of Australia's biggest animal rights charities—

That is, Animals Australia—

has thrown his support behind the idea that people can have a sexual relationship with animals, insisting it's a better fate for them than being farmed and eaten.

I mean, I just find that completely extraordinary.

And there are plenty of other examples of why Animals Australia's moral compass, their ethical standards, should not be tolerated by civil society. There is ample evidence on the public record that Animals Australia paid a deckhand to procure the footage that caused such a problem for the industry—the Awassi Express incident a few years back—and that in discussion about that footage being paid for the suggestion was made that the ventilation could be turned off. Think about that for a moment: an extraordinary amount of money, in excess of $100,000, paid to a relatively low-paid ship worker from a developing country, including the suggestion that, in order to procure the footage, ventilation to those sheep could be turned off. That's Animals Australia. That's despicable, disgraceful—no moral compass at all, no ethical standards at all.

It's an organisation that should lose its charity status tomorrow. It's an organisation that should never be talked to by the Department of Agriculture again. The fact that they have a privileged place at the table with the Department of Agriculture is an absolute disgrace. And every Australian farmer should know that fact. Every Australian farmer should know that Animals Australia have a privileged place at the table with the Department of Agriculture in discussing the future of their industry. It is an organisation that has amply been demonstrated to have a warped moral compass, to have no ethical standards.

Their business model is entirely around procuring, by the payment of cash, photos of suffering animals. Think about the moral hazard that is involved in that transaction. They are willing to give a relatively low-income-earning person from a Third World country large sums of money to procure footage of suffering animals. And guess what? They get footage of suffering animals, and then they show them on social media in Western countries to raise money. What kind of a business model is that? It's an absolute disgrace. They deserve no status in this country. They deserve no serious consideration in this place. They deserve no consideration from the Department of Agriculture. It's an absolute disgrace that they have any voice at all in civil society. I urge all Australians not to listen to groups who have that as their business model.

Think about that: paying low-paid workers from developing countries large sums of money for that. In the case of the Awassi Express, from records it looks like it was in excess of $100,000—three or four years of wages for a deckhand. Is that an acceptable way for a civil society organisation in Australia to act? No, it's not. I call it out for what it is: an absolute disgrace. How could anyone in this place quote that organisation as an organisation that should be listened to, an organisation that is considered virtuous?

It's not just Animals Australia; that's the trouble. So many of these radical animal activist organisations have similar business models. They don't want to close down just the live export of sheep. Don't think that for a moment, if you're listening to this debate. They want to close down the live export of cattle. They're against what they call factory farming, which is basically any modern agriculture. They want to stop horseracing. They want to stop the production of kangaroo meat and the use of kangaroos for leather. They're opposed to so many things that good Australians support.

These organisations work by showing pictures they have procured, in an underhand, disgraceful manner, through the payment of large sums of money. They show people a picture of a suffering animal and—guess what?—people are touched by it. Of course they're touched by it, and so they donate. That's the business model. These organisations don't actually help any suffering animals. They have a business model that is based around the showing of animal suffering to make money. Think about that, Madam Acting Deputy President. Not just Animals Australia but other radical animal rights groups have a business model based on making money off showing pictures of animals suffering. That is how they operate.

These organisations don't care about farmers. They want to see them close down. They want to see all animal production close down. Well, we're not going to stand for it. We on this side of the chamber stand with farmers. In particular, we stand with the sheep farmers of Western Australia, who are currently directly threatened by the Labor government's policy, driven by Animals Australia's disgraceful campaign. That's where it all goes back to. It all goes back to the Awassi Express. It all goes back to those photos procured in such a disgraceful way. On the back of listening to these radical animal activist groups and on the back of a few votes in inner-city seats in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, the Labor government is going to close down a significant part of the Western Australian sheep industry. Well, we won't stand for it. My colleagues from Western Australia—and Senator Smith and Senator O'Sullivan are in the chamber—won't stand for it. We stand with Western Australian sheep farmers. We stand with farmers right across Australia. We stand for exporting the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We stand for selling important sources of protein to our near neighbours and to the Middle East.

In particular, we stand with the Western Australian sheep industry, which is the most directly threatened at this point, but don't think those radical animal activist groups will stop there. The cattle industry will be next in line, and then the wool industry. They've already attacked the chicken industry and the pig industry. There is no part of animal production in this country that they will not target next because they will always be able to procure a photo, or they will always be able to buy one if they spend enough money. They will always be able to pay someone enough to engineer a situation where animals suffer, so we've got to stop listening to Animals Australia. We have to stop listening to those groups. Their moral compass disappeared a long time ago. They have no ethical standards. They do nothing to help any animals. They have a business model that is actually based on animals suffering. Those organisations should not have a place in Australia's civil society.

6:40 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to commend the words and the thoughts of my colleague from WA Senator Brockman, a passionate defender of our agriculture industry and, more importantly, a passionate defender of the sheep industry in WA and the many thousands of people who are going to be detrimentally affected or, in plain English, very badly hurt by Labor's policy to phase out the live export of sheep. As a Queensland senator I can speak with a little experience about what happened in Queensland when a previous agriculture minister, Senator Ludwig, a Labor senator from Queensland, on the basis of a TV program, banned the live export of cattle. Senators from WA—Senator Brockman, Senator Dean Smith and Senator O'Sullivan—would know what that did.

Senator Smith is correct; it is still in the courts because what that did to family businesses across Queensland means that people in those businesses are still hurting today. I know people don't want to hear about this. They want to talk about the suicides—plural—of countless men and women who were involved because they worked in the live cattle trade out of Queensland. We are not talking just about those who might have worked on the ships; we are also talking about the graziers. If you know anything about farming, which those on the left don't, you'd know that the biggest defenders of the welfare of animals are those who raise them. So many farmers and graziers have grown up around poddy calves. They have grown up around orphan lambs being fed on the hour in the kitchen or in the laundry. They understand the sanctity of life, and they are the biggest defenders and protectors of animals. And yet we have a Labor minister, on the basis of a television program by our friends at the ABC, cancel the live cattle trade out of Queensland and out of Australia. The ramifications of that one decision by that minister, as Senator Smith pointed out, are still before the courts at the moment.

If you understand anything about the agriculture sector in Queensland, it is that these families can cope with droughts to an extent. They understand because often these families have been on the land not for two years but for 20 years, 50 years or 100 years. They understand the land. They understand that there are droughts. They understand that there are floods. But they will never understand the madness of decision-making that comes out of Canberra. I am with them because I don't understand the madness of decision-making that would lead a Labor minister, on the basis of a television program, to destroy such an important part of Queensland's economy.

So what happened to these men, women and their families is that they suddenly lost their business. People went broke. The banks moved in. For those that survived, we had a drought. For those that survived what Minister Ludwig did and survived the drought, we then had the floods in north-west Queensland a few years ago. These graziers, these sentinels, these guardians of remote, regional and rural Australia keep getting punched down by so many factors. We're seeing now, with Labor's proposals, Labor's policy to phase out and ban the live export of sheep, is a stunning and rather depressing example of Labor's failure to understand how the market operates. What's going to happen is that, without the sheep farmers of WA having a market for their sheep, these businesses—and they are businesses; they're small businesses, family-run businesses—will go broke.

Not only will these businesses go broke; for every farm that stops operating as a sheep farm in WA, there is a flow-on effect across regional WA. When the farmer and their family are not making money, it means they're not employing casual labour during peak seasons. It means that they're not going into town and spending money, so it means the small towns, villages and communities across WA are going to be hit, because suddenly money isn't being spent in town. This is what happens. This is a drought that is being forced upon the sheep farmers of WA. When a drought hits part of Australia, those who live in the small towns are hurt just as much as those who live on the land. This is something that those on the left side of politics don't understand about how natural disasters impact our rural communities. The effect is twofold: those on the land and those in town. What is going to happen in WA because the left side of politics is captured by the extreme left of politics, by these groups that use tactics that are beyond the pale to fundraise, who use lies to raise money—because the Labor Party and their coalition partners, the Greens, are captured by these people and by their ideology—the sheep industry in WA, because of Labor, will be cooked.

This is where Labor come in with their failure to understand the market. If you look at the prices for lambs in my home state at the moment, they're going down, because the market is being flooded, because people realise that one outlet for sheep is being phased out, because of Labor. This means that you're having all these lambs and sheep flood the market. On the eastern seaboard, the price of lambs and sheep has plummeted. If you go into a supermarket, the price of lamb hasn't plummeted, because our good friends at Coles and Woolies haven't passed on the reduction in prices to the consumers, even though there are so many sheep farmers on the eastern seaboard who—Acting Deputy President Hughes, you will appreciate this, as someone who is across regional New South Wales—can't actually afford to shoot them at the moment. This is the tragedy.

The same thing is going to happen in WA. Those Rhodes Scholar runners-up over on the left side of politics think this is a genius idea—they're going to save all these sheep. Well, guess what? Because you're stopping them being exported overseas, and because the eastern seaboard is already seeing a massive reduction in the prices for sheep and lambs, what's going to happen to these sheep in WA? Well, they're going to be shot, aren't they, if the farmer can afford to shoot them. They can't take them to market, because there is no market. There is no demand. The dream factory that is Canberra has once again, thanks to this Labor government, come up with a policy that will destroy the sheep industry in Western Australia, with unintended consequences—because they don't understand basic market economics—that will damage and destroy the sheep industry across the rest of the country.

This is where, as a senator, as a politician speaking here in the Senate chamber, you get so frustrated, because we on this side of the chamber can see how this movie ends. We know what's going to happen. You've heard Senator Brockman. You'll hear other WA senators. Senator O'Sullivan is following me. We're telling you how this movie is going to end. It is going to end up with the deaths of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of sheep—put down by sheep farmers. If you don't think that has an impact on the men and women who farm in WA, and their children, then you are having a kid of yourself.

Mental damage was done to the grazing community across Queensland—those on the land and those in the towns—because of what Labor did to the live cattle trade out of Queensland. Those mental scars are still there today. Those families live as much as they can, knowing that their mum or their dad took their life because their mum or their dad hit a cul-de-sac because they could not go on any further because those animals they loved so much had to be put down because of a policy decision made here in Canberra. It was one of the worst policy decisions made by an elected government since the formation of this country in 1901.

You would have thought the Labor Party would have learnt from the ramifications and the scars of that decision, but they didn't. They didn't learn at all, because they're making the same decision again over in WA, destroying the sheep industry, destroying families and destroying communities over there. But they don't care.

This is actually about raw, ugly politics. It is about ensuring that the Greens preference Labor at the next federal election. This is what this is about. It's not about the good people of WA. It is about the preferences of those Australians who vote Green, because the Labor Party can only ever win elections in this country with the preferences of the Greens, and that is sad for Australia.

6:56 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023. Before Senator McGrath moves off, can I just say thank you very much, Senator McGrath—through you, Acting Deputy President Hughes—for your contribution. It's terrific to have that sense of solidarity from senators from other states. My good friend and senator from Queensland knows all too well how onslaughts and attacks on particular industries impacts the lives of family run businesses. I very much appreciate his thoughtful words.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank Senator Brockman for his contribution. Senator Brockman always delivers very thoughtful and powerful speeches on every topic, but, Senator Brockman—through you, Acting Deputy President—that was one of the more powerful presentations that you've ever brought into this place. I think it's not because Senator Brockman has farming in his blood—it's in his family; he's run a farm and his family still has a farm—but because he's dedicated his entire career to working in this space. I've learnt an enormous amount from him since coming into this place and having visited many of the agriculture areas across Western Australia, often with Senator Brockman. I've learnt so much. His connection to the families, the workers and the businesses that are attached to the agricultural industry is, frankly, second to none. When he speaks with that passion that he brought into this place here tonight—sometimes there are people that come into this place and you can spot them as a fake from a mile off because they bring in confected outrage. What you saw tonight was genuine outrage because this is impacting upon families.

I went with many colleagues to the Woolorama Wagin show earlier this year. We had a petition there against what the Albanese Labor government is doing in relation to the banning of live sheep exports. I've never seen a more popular petition. Sometimes you're disappointed that people don't quite get what the issue is, and you wish that you could get more signatures—if people only understood exactly what was going on. Not a person walked past that booth that we held at the Wagin Woolorama in the Liberal Party tent. I suspect a lot of those people may not have voted for us at the last election, hence the result that we had. But not a person walked past without signing that petition, because it was impacting people. There were many people that approached it with real emotion as they signed. There were young people that knew that this ban was going to cost them their job. There were parents that knew that the decision of this government was going to cost them their family farm and their kids' future.

The government will say that they have a mandate because this is what they said before the election that they would do. Well, explain to me why in those key seats of Western Australia, where there actually are sheep farmers, the Liberal Party won? We won those seats of O'Connor, Forrest and Durack. They might have had a mandate from some of the inner-city seats over here on the east coast, but in Western Australia this is a real issue. Even people in the city seats understand that this is an important issue for Western Australians.

We're going to support the passage of this particular legislation. I would be far more enthusiastic about my support for it if I knew that the government were actually supportive of this industry and farmers across Australia—and, indeed, Western Australia—but we know by their actions that they're not. The Albanese government have declared war on the Western Australian agricultural industry by banning live sheep exports. We've seen it before. Like Senator McGrath was saying, they will come after the cattle industry, like they've done before and like I'm sure they'll do in the future.

When the coalition were in government, we were concerned about this bill overreaching into state and territory government responsibilities, but since an inquiry has been held we've sought clarity to ensure that this would not be the case. The coalition government was strong when it came to supporting the agricultural industry. Unlike those opposite, we worked constructively and consulted broadly with industry. It was the former coalition government that established the office of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports through the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Act, which we passed in 2019.

The live export trade is a large industry in the Australian economy; make no mistake about it. In 2021-22, Australia exported a total of just over a million livestock, 1.1 million livestock, which included 615,000 cattle and 489,000 sheep. The total value of livestock exported from Australia in 2021-22 was approximately $1.3 billion—$1 billion for cattle and $85 million for sheep. This government thinks that the sheep trade is an easy target because it's maybe not as big as the cattle export trade, but do you know what? To those working families, to those family run businesses and farms across Western Australia, it means a heck of a lot. It's a big deal to them. You're coming after them.

I remember the ad campaigns. I remember the slogans. I remember the billboards you had up in Western Australia saying: 'Vote Labor. Stand up for WA.' You wouldn't dare go to any of those farms or those families right now and prove to them that you're standing up for them. They would laugh straight in your face because they know exactly who you stand up for. You're just standing up for the inner-city lefties over here on the east coast. Why don't you stand up for the Western Australians? They fight hard for their businesses and work themselves to the bone to provide a living for their families and to provide a great future for generations to come, and you're cutting it. The government needs to support this important industry, but we know that Labor is weak when it comes to supporting the agricultural industry. If only they had a minister that was serious about standing up for them. Labor and the Greens have it out for farmers, especially in WA.

With little to no consultation, the Albanese government announced that they would ban live sheep exports. Don't worry—at least they're consulting on the industry's demise. They've appointed a panel that's going around and having engagement with people after the fact. They've got a horrible job. Imagine fronting up to those families. Imagine fronting up to those consultations. They're just consulting on how they're going to close it down, not about what they could do. I know they've done a heck of a lot. I've been on the ships. I've gone and had a look. I've gone to inspect them myself. I've gone with Senator Brockman down to the feedlots to see how they prepare the animals, how the vets come in and check them before they're put on the ship.

I'm just talking about the exporters here, those that are handling the export. The care that they've taken is unbelievable. I was blown away at how they have embraced animal husbandry and animal care and protection to support that industry. It's amazing. In fact, fewer sheep die on the ship in that process than they do out in the paddock in the nice, green, open fields. The steps that the industry have taken is amazing. So here is the government, out consulting with them about their demise. What a shame.

The four-person panel consulting with the industry on the best way to close the trade have clearly found themselves overwhelmed by the calls to open it. The update recently provided by the government's panel said:

An overwhelming majority of those people who attended our public meetings voiced their opposition to the government's decision to implement its election commitment and phase out live sheep exports by sea.

The only people who want the government to ban sheep exports, as I've said, are those inner-city left and vegan activists, particular those over here on the east coast, because if you had the guts to actually engage and reach out and understand the view of Western Australians then you would know that Labor is not standing up for WA. It's obvious with their attack on the livelihoods of Western Australians that is in this bill.

Never mind about the livelihoods of those employed making their living working with sheep, like Stephen Bolt, a Corrigin stud merino breeder. He said:

The industry is improving voyage-on-voyage and with Australia leading the way that flows across the globe to other live exported animals.

The result of pressure from activist groups is that the government is making a decision—

listen to this—

that's not based on the science and the evidence.

Go and have a look like I have. I know my colleagues have done it and taken the opportunity to go on to a ship and see the ventilation, the big fans. You start at level 1 where maybe the sheep that have just been loaded on in the last hour or so are standing. They're in a new environment, so it's going to be a little exciting for them. As you go up the levels, to where they have been there for several hours or maybe a day, you see that they're literally lying on the ground, seated on the ground—very comfortable. There are ventilation shafts with big fans blowing in cool air. The steps the industry have taken to protect the animals is unbelievable.

The live sheep trade is almost exclusively a Western Australian industry, and that's why I'm saying that this is an attack on Western Australia. It's important to the Western Australian agricultural economy. Banning the industry would directly cause the loss of over 3½ thousand jobs across the supply chain, with about 80 per cent of them based in WA.

I commend a member of the WA upper house, Mr Steve Martin. He is also someone I have learnt an enormous amount from. He's a sheep farmer himself and also a wheat farmer. I've learnt an enormous amount from him as I've gone out to field days with him. He has introduced me to many, many farmers and families that this decision of the Albanese government is affecting. He and his colleagues Rick Wilson, the member for O'Connor; and Senator Slade Brockman have received over 10,000 signatures to stop the phasing out of live sheep exports consult with industry. Maybe you haven't signed it yet. I encourage you to get on there and sign it—I've signed it; I know my other colleagues here have signed it—because it is important that we show solidarity with those family run businesses in Western Australia, those 3½ thousand people that are working across the supply chain—again, 80 per cent of them in Western Australia.

Australia has some of the best animal welfare standards in the world. The foolishness of this policy that the government is taking is that the market that we are supplying to will just fill it with supply from other countries that don't have the standards that we have. I spoke about the incredible standards at the feedlot, let alone actually on the farms, let alone out on the fields and in the paddocks, and even on the ship—the fact that there's a vet and an inspector on every one of those voyages. It's just going to export it.

This is the lunacy of this policy that the government has. It is such a shame. Why don't you stand up for Western Australian businesses and Western Australian farmers and support them, rather than kowtowing to the inner-city Left?

7:11 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023 and the issue more widely. First of all, I commend a number of my colleagues here this evening. I commend my good friend and colleague Senator Brockman for his impassioned and very coherent summary of the issue that is now confronting us, the impending ban on the live export of sheep. There is no-one who knows more about the issue and there is no-one more passionate about the farmers and the communities across Western Australia that will be impacted so negatively.

I also congratulate other federal colleagues—obviously, Senator O'Sullivan; Rick Wilson, who has been an incredibly passionate advocate because the majority of the 3½ thousand farmers and supporting communities that will be devastated are in his electorate of O'Connor; and, of course, Melissa Price, who has also been a tireless champion for her farmers and for the industry. I would also particularly like to note my state colleague Steve Martin MLC, who has done an extraordinary job on this issue. Not coming from a farm myself or from the land, I've learnt a lot from my colleagues, and I'm incredibly proud of how as a Liberal team we have stood together in support of Western Australia, standing up against this outrageous knee-jerk reaction by the Labor Party yet again.

This is not only appallingly bad government policy. It's also, as Senator Brockman has pointed out, a pattern of behaviour by Labor when in government. Their knee-jerk reaction which is still having ramifications across Australia, including Western Australia, was their ban on the live cattle trade. As Senator Brockman has said, you can be absolutely certain that more will come. I'll come to the bill in the moment, but I want to talk about one aspect of this philosophical approach by Labor which has been informed, as Senator Brockman so eloquently said, by extremists and radicals who are incredibly misguided and selfish.

Australia plays an important role not only in feeding the rest of the world but also in ensuring that nations who have protein deficiencies can get the protein that they need. In denying this protein to some of our poorest nations who we support with its provision, nobody has stopped to think about the implications for them.

Now, why do we have live meat and animal exports? Firstly, for cultural and religious reasons, and secondly, because the countries who most need our source of protein quite often don't have cold chain infrastructure, and certainly many of their houses do not have refrigeration. So it is essential that we get the livestock there so that it can be slaughtered locally and provided to the people who simply don't have the cold chain provisions.

Protein is an important part of human diets, but an estimated one billion people today still suffer from a serious protein deficiency. The problem is most severe in Central Africa and South Asia, where about 30 per cent of children consume far too little protein. While work is being done globally—scientific work on new forms of protein or artificial forms of protein—these are probably decades away. And this ideological deception—criminal actions, in some cases—not only is hurting many Western Australians and other Australians but also is incredibly selfish. You will be denying the export of animals and meat that comes from a country that now has the highest animal welfare standards in terms of transporting animals, and consumers will go elsewhere, to countries that don't have the same standards that we do here in Australia. It's a bit like the way those opposite think in terms of minerals. Nobody mines minerals in a more environmentally friendly, slavery-free and ethical way than Australia does. But they think: 'Hey, that's okay; we'll just let people get it from other countries, where there is human slavery in the supply chain, where mining is far dirtier on the environment. But hey, I feel okay about this.' That's exactly what those opposites are caving in to in this circumstance.

Let's look a little bit further at the impact on Western Australia, and the independent panel that Minister Murray Watt introduced. He first announced in a Sky News interview in June 2022 that he would end live sheep exports but that it was justified on the basis of evidence. Well, as we've heard time and time again in the inquiry and also in this chamber, there is no evidence, because the evidence demonstrates that we have made significant improvements in how we deal with live animal exports. So he's not been able to point to any of the evidence, and in fact if anybody reads the West Australian today they will find—and, again, I won't go over the ground, because Senator Brockman very effectively went through that—that the Emanuel case, after several years, completely collapsed, because there was no credible evidence. So, what evidence is Minister Murray Watt talking about? We don't know.

But the independent panel on the phasing out of live sheep exports was appointed, as I said, by Minister Watt. He mentioned it in 2022, and he appointed the panel in March 2023. Now, this panel conducted consultations with stakeholders and received more than 4,100 submissions. The panel also received submissions from international live animal export trading partners. And together with feedback from public consultations that were conducted throughout rural Western Australia, these submissions make it absolutely clear that ending this trade will hurt not only farmers but the entire ecosystem that supports them. It will certainly also damage our international reputation, because we have the reputation as the best supplier of clean, green sheepmeat that is humanely farmed, transported and exported according to Australia's now incredibly stringent animal welfare requirements. The value of this trade has recently been assessed as $143 million, and it supports, as we've heard, about 3,500 regional jobs, the majority of which are in Western Australia.

There are also other pressures currently on the industry. The shortage of labour in abattoirs, coupled with the Qatar Airways decision made by the Labor government, means there is very little capacity for the over half a million sheep that will no longer be exported after this ban takes effect. It's also worth noting that the types of sheep ordered for the Middle East market are lighter in body condition and older than is the preference for the Australian domestic market. So what is going to happen to over half a million sheep?

Since the panel was formed in March 2023, WA farmer confidence has plummeted and sheep prices have scandalously dropped, to $1 to $2 per head, per sheep. This time last year, they were worth between $150 and $180 a head. Recently a WA farmer advertised 600 sheep to give away for free, and he's now facing the prospect of having to shoot the remainder of his sheep. Fortunately, the live sheep trade has just resumed after the summer moratorium, with over 100,000 sheep already shipped from Fremantle port, somewhat relieving the current glut that is predicted to create an on-farm feed shortage later this summer.

While both Ministers Watt and Farrell maintain the live sheep export phase-out will not affect the cattle trade, if anybody here believes that is true, they are dreaming. What the ministers haven't acknowledged publicly is that some Middle East markets receive their cattle in co-shipments with sheep. For example, on the day the conflict broke out in Israel, 5,000 cattle and 3,000 sheep arrived from Fremantle to Israel. Prior to this year's northern summer moratorium, 4 out of 11 vessels had sheep and cattle on board shipments out of Fremantle.

While the opposition will not be opposing this bill, I think the context and the scandal of what this government has done should be yet another stain on those opposite. Somewhat humorously, Senator McGrath stood up just before question time to talk about all of the Labor government's achievements, and he couldn't think of a single one. Sadly, in just 18 months, the list of things the government has got wrong—turning the nation's economy backwards very quickly, releasing violent offenders out into our streets—goes on and on and on. Sadly for Western Australia's farmers, for our economy, for food security and for protein deficits to be filled, this will go down as another completely outrageous, unnecessary and punitive acquiescence to the animal welfare groups, who are incredibly selfish, who lie, and who do not care one jot about the impact they have on food security elsewhere. They certainly do not care as we on this side do, particularly my WA colleagues, about the families and lives that they are ruining. All I can say is shame on you.

7:24 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With the limited time I have, I want to indicate that the opposition won't be opposing the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023; there are relatively minor changes here. We did have some concerns, when I sat on the Senate committee inquiry into this bill, about ensuring that these changes would not mean that federal government powers would begin to intrude onto state or territory responsibilities on animal welfare. We've received assurances from the government and some clarity that that won't be the case. As I say, this is rather administrative than otherwise, and the coalition won't oppose the bill.

But it is important, I think, in this space to put on the record that we remain very concerned about the government's policies with regard to live sheep exports, primarily because of the impact on human beings. The government has given very little consideration to how its policy will impact on Australians, especially hardworking Australians in the sheep industry. Primarily, the impact will be on the Western Australian sheep industry. The most shocking thing here from the government is that they've announced that the closure is going to happen, yet they have given no thought to or indication of what support they would provide to people affected by the government's decision.

It's hard for me to think of a more callous act or of a previous Australian government that has taken a decision like this to shut down an industry and not even provide any indication of support to the industry that is being affected by the government's decision. There have been other industries the government has shut down in the past. For example, the tobacco industry was shut here in this country. Parts of the dairy and sugar industries were shut. Some farming activities in the Murray-Darling were shut as a result of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. In all of those instances, there was significant government support provided to the farmers or other affected industries and, in many circumstances, to the broader community that was affected by the government decision. To take a more extreme example, governments across the country shut down industries during COVID for a pandemic. We provided enormous levels of support to those affected by a government decision, in that case, to protect the public health.

We have a decision here where the government are saying—although I don't accept their rationale—that they want to project animal health and animal welfare, yet they're not standing behind their decision. They're not providing support to address the consequences of the decision for Australian families. This is a shocking absence of duty of care to the Australian people. Of course sometimes there are going to be government decisions that not all Australians support. Of course sometimes in government you might not expect support from certain sectors of the economy or society. Clearly the Labor Party do not think they need the support of Australian farmers, given their many actions at the moment attacking the Australian farming industry. But farmers are Australians and, even if they're not voting for you and you don't think you need them to vote for you to stay in government, you should be providing them with support as Australians, and you're not. You're failing in your duty to support Australian farmers and Australian farming families. By taking a callous action like this and shutting down someone's industry and livelihood, you are effectively taking away their property and the hard work by which they put themselves in a position of strength for their families, and you are not providing them with any compensation whatsoever. You're just leaving them out to dry.

As we've heard from other senators already, the impacts of the government's decisions are being felt today. The ban is not due to take effect until sometime in the future. We don't yet know when. There's a massive amount of uncertainty that the government's created here for the sector. But the impacts are happening today, and that's because people in the market aren't silly and the countries that take our product aren't stupid. People who operate currently in Australia are making decisions based on what might happen in the future. Markets are forward-looking. Because there's a major decision coming forward about the closure of a whole industry, already we're seeing countries, primarily in the Middle East, seeking to buy sheep and get product from other nations. So they're taking demand away from Australia already. It is going particularly to South America, where they'll still get their product. I would suggest that probably the animal welfare standards will be reduced because of this decision, but that's what's happening. At the same time, some Australian farmers are taking the decision to get out of the industry early. Particularly in the breeding sector, where their exposure is over many years, they're starting to sell. Breeders are putting their animals onto the market.

So you have a situation, because of a government decision, where demand for Australian sheep is down and supply of Australian sheep is up. What's going to happen to the price? It's going to crash, and that's exactly what we've seen over the past year. We have the ludicrous situation of a government minister, the agriculture minister, refusing to believe that this could be possible. He misconstrued the evidence from Senate estimates the other week, trying to suggest that ABARES somehow analysed this and decided, 'No, no, there wasn't any impact from government decisions.' When you go to the report, there was no such analysis at all. The government has done nothing. They have left Australian farmers high and dry, and it is an absolute disgrace. I'll have more to say about this when we resume.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for debate has expired. Senator Canavan, you will be in continuation.