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Estimates: Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee: Agriculture and Water Resources Portfolio: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 2 Jun 2017

Wednesday 24 May

Senator RHIANNON: Dr Clegg, I want to clarify some of the points that you were just discussing with Senator Hinch. I am trying to understand where it is at with regard to the formulation of regulations. Is there a draft equine amendment order that is being inserted into the current regulations that cover these matters?

Dr Clegg : No. The first step for us is to have agreement that this is a policy proposal worth pursuing. Then, if it is agreed, we would put forward draft regulations to the minister.

Senator RHIANNON: There was an impression—I think Senator Hinch picked it up as well—that there could be space for saying that the animals are not exported. I am not sure if that is actually what you said?

Dr Clegg : No.

Senator RHIANNON: Or are you more looking at it in terms of ESCAS? Could you clarify that? Is that purely where you are looking—ESCAS?

Dr Clegg : That is right. In Australia we slaughter horses at abattoirs now. We slaughter horses for human consumption in Australia now. What we are requiring exporters to do, if the policy is approved, would be to make sure the arrangements in place met international animal welfare standards for the handling, transport and slaughter of any equine species that was exported for slaughter.

Senator RHIANNON: So the only thing that you are giving advice on, and possibly regulations, is about the actual export—

Dr Clegg : The process and the management.

Senator RHIANNON: Coming to ESCAS, how many livestock animals died on the export ships in the past year?

Dr Clegg : I would need to check the records and get back to you on that. I could do that during the day.

Senator RHIANNON: I hope that someone has it here, because it regularly comes up at estimates. Does somebody here have those figures about how many livestock animals died on export ships in the past year?

Dr Clegg : I will need to go back and get that information, but I can get it before lunch.

Senator RHIANNON: I am surprised that it is not here. It has probably been about five years that it has been a regular topic. The figure that I have, according to your own reports, is 17,098 Australian animals died on live export ships during 2016. Could we check if that is correct and, if not, could that be corrected, please?

Dr Clegg : Sure. That is happening.

Senator RHIANNON: In terms of your visiting this quite sensitive issue, I am also interested in what does the science say about the stresses that equine animals experience when they are transported? Is that something you are looking into?

Dr Clegg : The transport arrangements that will need to be made would need to be consistent with international obligations. If you are exporting any animal, you want to arrive at its destination alive, and you will handle it accordingly. You do not get paid for dead animals.

Senator RHIANNON: But we know from the experience of exporters that they factor in that many animals will die, and thousands have died. That is part of their business model, that they will write off a lot of animals. We are talking about donkeys, horses and ponies. They are used to eating fresh food and their circumstances are quite different in terms of their natural environment. Are you looking at whether this should even happen?

Dr Clegg : The exporter would need to set out all those factors about how they are going to manage the transport of the animals from Australia to another destination, whether it is just a short hop to New Zealand a long haul to another country.

Senator RHIANNON: I imagine that you are probably aware that the market in donkeys has been largely wiped out in parts of Africa because of the export trade. Is that something you have been looking at?

Dr Clegg : No. I have not been looking at donkey populations around the world. The question I am looking at is what the conditions of export should be.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that the trade is booming—

Dr Clegg : We have not exported any horses for slaughter.

Senator RHIANNON: I know we have not, but considering that there have been various reports, and you yourself said that there have been inquiries about this matter, and there is a booming international trade and Australia appears to be targeted, I would think that you would also have a responsibility to be considering the welfare of the animals when you are coming to consider whether this should be approved.

Dr Clegg : Yes. That is part of all of the ESCAS arrangements. That is right. And the management on land in Australia.

 Senator RHIANNON: Considering that the ESCAS system has really failed—we have had so many examples—

Senator BACK: It has not failed. Senator Rhiannon, there is nothing factual that accounts for what you have just said. It should be withdrawn.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, we are quite liberal here with the commentary and the editorialising, but you do need to stay very close to the facts. If you want to make a point, you can interrogate the witnesses and produce the evidence to support your thesis on that. So leave the commentary out and just ask questions, if possible.

Senator RHIANNON: It was not commentary, chair. It was question.

CHAIR: It was a statement.

Senator RHIANNON: It was a question that was not finished. The ESCAS system has failed, as shown by numerous reports that the department itself has had to produce about the number of animals dying in transit and the appalling conditions—

Senator BACK: I challenge that again, Chair, and I will produce evidence to counter what Senator Rhiannon has said.

Senator RHIANNON: It will all be on the record. Let the answer come.

Senator BACK: She cannot come in here and make those statements without support. It is not right. It is wrong

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, perhaps with some guidance you should extract from the officers the names of these reports and interrogate them on what the contents of the reports are. Then people can arrive at their own conclusions. We are not going to get into this editorialising, particularly around these controversial and sensitive issues. Just interrogate the officers about the reports, what is in the reports, the facts, and people will form their own view.

Senator RHIANNON: With all due respect, I did ask the question, and the officers said that they did not have the figures here, so I do look forward to coming back to that.

CHAIR: Okay. Well, that is the time to—

Senator RHIANNON: Coming back: why is the department allocating resources to the development of the amendment order, considering that you have not actually had requests but have had only what sound like loose inquiries?

Dr Clegg : At the moment I am not able to imply ESCAS arrangements. I am therefore trying to have us work as fast as we can on having something ready to go in the event that an application actually arrives.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if the secretary is satisfied that an ESCAS for horses, ponies or donkeys will ensure that the animals will be transported, handled and slaughtered in accordance with the OIE standards, the department would then have no legal basis to prevent the export. Isn't that the case?

Dr Clegg : Well, if we have export arrangements in place for equine species for slaughter then yes, you would say that the exporter has met that test. There are other tests, of course. You have to meet the importing country requirements. But yes, that part of the export application would have been fulfilled.

Mr Quinlivan : Just for clarity: that would be in the event that the government agreed to apply the ESCAS regime in this case, which it has not yet done.

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry—could you say that again, please?

Mr Quinlivan : This scenario we are discussing here is relevant if the government chooses to apply the ESCAS regime to this class of exports. But it has not yet made that decision.

Senator RHIANNON: So, there is an exposure draft around it, about the amendment?

Dr Clegg : No, not at this stage.

Senator RHIANNON: You do not even have an exposure draft. So, when you get to the exposure draft stage, who will that be discussed with?

Dr Clegg : Before providing the policy proposal requests through to the minister's office, we have been discussing this issue with the animal welfare groups and with the exporters. Just to go through it, we are considering this; we have had the odd inquiry; we can see that there is a gap here; and we are proposing—one way of remedying this gap would be to make it the same as for all the other species of animals that are subject to ESCAS if they are going to another country for slaughter.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you just take on notice to supply us with a list of those people who have been consulted?

Dr Clegg : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: And when it will be released for public consultation?

Dr Clegg : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator BACK: Perhaps I could just ask one question in relation to this, to correct the record of Senator Rhiannon. I have in front of me, Secretary, a report to parliament which states that every six months the minister must table in parliament a report detailing livestock mortalities. I am going to ask that it be tabled. But I am going, with the chair's concurrence, to read out the annual mortality percentages for cattle and sheep, to refute the statement that Senator Rhiannon has made. From 2009, before ESCAS came into existence, it was 0.1 of one per cent. In 2010, it was 0.14, and then 0.15, 0.11, 0.11, 0.12—

Senator RHIANNON: Can you talk about the animals? Percentages are meaningless in this—

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon—

Senator BACK: Senator Rhiannon, in the past, your stupid statements about how the number of mortalities of the animals on ships per week equate to the number of humans who die per day—

Senator RHIANNON: Seriously, stop verballing.

Senator BACK: Your figures about numbers of animals are irrelevant.

Senator RHIANNON: Just talk about the animals. It is not irrelevant.

Senator BACK: The point to be made, Chair, is that when we are speaking about mortalities we need to be speaking about the percentage of animals. I have previously provided information to the effect that fewer cattle die on ships than die on the rangelands each year in Northern Australia. It is safer, on the basis of that statistic, to be on a ship than it is to be on the rangeland. And you are nodding your head, which Hansard cannot see. So there has been no change at all to mortalities, and they become, in 2016, 0.13. Sheep mortalities have also remained unchanged: 0.9 of one per cent, 0.89, 0.74, 088, 0.74, 0.71, 0.62, 0.86.

CHAIR: Senator Back, have you—

Senator BACK: I will just finish if I may, since Senator Rhiannon asked me to speak about mortalities. I will also speak about the live weight of consignments that leave our shores. As the officer said a moment ago, there is no value in dead animals arriving at the market at the other end. The simple fact of the matter is that more than 100 per cent of the live weight of animals that leave Australian ports arrives—

CHAIR: Do you have a document that we can—

Senator BACK: I do.

Senator RHIANNON: More than 100 per cent?

CHAIR: One moment, Senator Rhiannon. I am not going to let this—

Senator RHIANNON: Seriously: more than 100 per cent?

Senator BACK: Simply because—if Senator Rhiannon listened, rather than rushed out of the chamber every time—animals gain weight.

CHAIR: Order! Let us not have a debate amongst the senators. We are here to examine—

Senator BACK: I am not going to stand by and see this—

CHAIR: No, you two need to concentrate on extracting that information by questions to the committee. Now, with the consent of the committee, this document will be tabled. Is there any dissent? No dissent. Perhaps we can have a copy circulated to the senators.

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Senator RHIANNON: Minister, does the government weigh up the benefits in terms of jobs created in northern Australia between the live export trade compared with the trade in box-chilled meat, where the animals are being slaughtered in abattoirs in northern Australia?

Senator Ruston: I will take all questions in relation to this on notice. I would only be speculating if I gave you anything here.

Senator RHIANNON: You will take that on notice?

Senator Ruston: Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: Dr Clegg, is the department aware that donkeys are sledgehammered to death when they are being exported to China and will methods of slaughter be considered when you are determining if approval is given?

Dr Clegg : At the moment what happens after the animals are exported is an irrelevant consideration about the export and this why we have put this proposal forward. It would be a consideration under an ESCAS arrangement, just as it is in Vietnam. Facilities that are slaughtering animals in Vietnam need to use stunning methods that are similar to the stunning methods used here in Australia. That will be the same for horses and donkeys.

Senator RHIANNON: Have these investigations been undertaken about the method of the slaughter?

Dr Clegg : No, but we have abattoirs in Australia that are slaughtering donkeys and horses for human consumption, so there are methods available that we are using that we can use.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you repeat that last bit again please?

Dr Clegg : There are standards and guidelines available to us to review the slaughter practices of other countries for horses and donkeys should that proposal to add ESCAS into the export requirement be approved.

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CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon has a request for some documents, going back to the exports.

Senator RHIANNON: We spoke earlier about the equine exports. I have it on reliable information that the department is working on a draft equine amendment order. Please provide by the close of business the exposure draft equine amendment order which inserts into the current regulations Export Control (Animals) Order 2004 that equine animals such as ponies, horses and donkeys are to be included in the ESCAS system.

CHAIR: I may have misunderstood. You are calling on the secretary to supply that by the close of business today?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, please.

CHAIR: The committee has resolved in relation to discovery here. If there is a question that secretary cannot help you with now, he may choose to do it in the next hour or two, but if you have to take it on notice, we have a date for questions on notice, being 7 July. But look, you can manage this, Mr Quinlivan.

Mr Quinlivan : We can have a look at that, Senator, but I think we managed to establish in the conversation with you earlier today that the government has not made it a policy decision to apply ESCAS to the export of horses and donkeys. It may do in the future, but it has not done so yet, so if I understood what—

Senator RHIANNON: I certainly was not asking about policy; it was that you are working on an exposure draft equine amendment order. That is all I am asking, for that to be released.

Mr Quinlivan : But you said that was to apply ESCAS to the export of horses and donkeys.

Senator RHIANNON: Which inserts into the current regulations—

Mr Quinlivan : I am not sure we are doing any work at the moment, because the government has not made a decision to ask for that work. I think the answer to your question is that the government has not made a decision to change the policy. It has not made a decision to ask for that work, and so if there is any work going on in the department, it does not have any formal status. There might be some individual who is helpfully thinking ahead to a possible contingency, but it has no more status than that, so I would put that qualification on anything we might find.

Senator RHIANNON: The way you have responded sounds like there is an uncertainty. Could you take it on board to investigate where that exposure draft is and then release it to the committee?

Mr Quinlivan : No, what I am saying is that the government has not made a policy decision that would bring that work into the formal work program of the department. So if an individual person in the department, in their spare time, is working on something in the expectation or hope that the government will change policy and that it is needed, that is not a formal document of the department. It does not have any status.

CHAIR: So in effect, Senator, the answer is that the document that you pursue does not exist.

Mr Quinlivan : As far as I am concerned, if there is such a document it does not have a formal status as a departmental document because the policy decision that would need to be made to require that document has not been made.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are leaving the door open that it might exist, so therefore can you investigate and release it if it does exist?

Mr Quinlivan : No. What I am saying is that if any such physical document exists it is not a document of the department. It is just something—

Senator RHIANNON: It is not a document of the department?

Mr Quinlivan : No, because government policy at present is not asking for that to be done.

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