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Estimates: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Animals)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 13 Feb 2012

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 13 February 2012

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

  • Senator Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Senator Bill Heffernan, Liberal Senator for Victoria
  • Dr Conall O’Connell, Secretary
  • Mr Tom Aldred, First Assistant Secretary, Climate Change
  • Mr Dean Merrilees, Assistant Secretary, Animal Export Operations Branch, Animal Division
  • Dr Colin Grant, First Assistant Secretary, Biosecurity Plant
  • Mr Greg Read, First Assistant Secretary, Biosecurity Food Division
  • Ms Jackie South, Assistant Secretary Acting, Animal Import Operations Branch, Animal Division

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, on your trip to the Middle East with industry representatives did you see any animals slaughtered?

Senator Ludwig: I went to a range of abattoirs and feedlots and processing was in place and was going on at two of them.

Senator RHIANNON: You saw processing of the meat but you did not see the animals slaughtered?

Senator Ludwig: I said the processing was operating so the abattoir was operating.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you see the animals slaughtered?

Senator Ludwig: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: I understood that in previous reports it was said that you and the other representatives did not see animals slaughtered. Are we correcting that?

Senator Ludwig: You asked a question, I answered it.

Senator RHIANNON: I would like ask about the people who accompany you on the visit. You travelled with industry representatives. Were there any representatives of animal welfare groups as part of your delegation?

Senator Ludwig: No.

Senator RHIANNON: Why did you choose not to take animal welfare experts, considering this trip has largely arisen because of the concern about the welfare of the animals that are being sent overseas for slaughter?

Senator Ludwig: It was an industry delegation.

Senator RHIANNON: If that is your response, could you elaborate? Do you mean by that, that the industry initiated it or it was your decision just to take industry representatives?

Dr O'Connell: Perhaps I could give some background to the purpose of the visit. It was essentially to look at the process we had in place for the regulation of exporters. So the accompaniment of the exporters was pertinent to the issue. The trip was intended to assess readiness and communicate with the other relevant governments what the regulatory framework was and to have alongside us the industry representatives, the exporters and their representatives in order to ensure that they linked up with their importers and governments and we had a common set of messages. It was related to the implementation of the regulatory framework on exporters so it was reasonable to have the exporters along with us.

Senator RHIANNON: Did an objective of the trip also include improving the animal welfare aspects of live exports?

Senator Ludwig: I think what you miss is that the system itself is about doing that. In other words, the implementation of ESCAS with the exporters is about improving animal welfare outcome. It is about meeting the OIE standard. It is about putting in place the control, the independent auditing and the traceability of the sheep, in this instance, in the Middle East. So the purpose was to see how the new system was going to operate, speak to government and speak to both exporters and importers about ESCAS—about the new system itself.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. Minister, how many abattoirs did you visit and in what locations?

Senator Ludwig: There were two abattoirs and three feedlots. The two were in Qatar and Bahrain. We can correct that if we are wrong.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you see animals slaughtered at both the abattoirs and could you inform the committee if it was sheep and/or cattle that you saw slaughtered?

Senator Ludwig: We only saw slaughter at one of the abattoirs.

Senator RHIANNON: Was it sheep or cattle?

Senator Ludwig: Sheep.

Senator HEFFERNAN: And a goat.

Senator Ludwig: One sheep, one goat.

Senator RHIANNON: In light of the public demands from some live exporters for an extension to the end of February deadline for Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait to meet the new ESCAS system, did government officials and yourself observe anything that would jeopardise meeting this deadline?

Senator Ludwig: What I have asked exporters and importers to do is work through the industry-government working group to have a look at what issues have arisen, what matters that they see and advise me accordingly. I am now advised that that advice is going to come to me tomorrow.

Dr O'Connell: We hope tomorrow.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, I just want to return to the issue about the slaughter. When you observed the slaughter of the animals, what method of restraint was used and was there any pre-slaughter stunning used?

Senator Ludwig: There was no pre-stunning of the animals involved. As to the rest of the detail, I will take that on notice and see what I can usefully provide.

Senator RHIANNON: Could any of the people who were with you on the delegation, because I imagine that must be quite—

Senator Ludwig: I am sorry, I missed the beginning.

Senator RHIANNON: I was after was the method of restraint. I am after what you saw when you see the animals being slaughtered in terms of method of restraint.

Senator Ludwig: Yes, and I have answered that.

Senator RHIANNON: I beg your pardon?

Senator Ludwig: I have said that I will see what I can usefully provide. I will take that question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering it must be still quite fresh in your mind and in the minds of the people from the department who went there, could you to share the description of that with the committee, please?

Senator Ludwig: As I said, I will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I would like to move on to the money that is allocated to assist farmers. This is with regard to when the live exports to Indonesia were suspended. I understand a large proportion of the money has not been claimed. Could you tell us the amount that has not been claimed and what has happened to that amount of money?

Mr Aldred: I can provide an outline of the funds that have been provided. Under each of the elements under the income recovery subsidy there was an amount of in the order $60,000 that was spent. Under the business assistance package—there was a $5,000 business assistance payment—there has been $3.9 million. Under the business hardship payment—that is the $20,000 grants—$7.9 million. Then for the other elements you would be aware of the subsidised rate of interest program. Essentially applications closed on Friday. With that one payments are made six-monthly in arrears, so we are unable to give a precise figure at this time.

Senator RHIANNON: When will you be in a position to provide information to the committee on what portion of this money has not been claimed?

Mr Aldred: We can, as I have just done, provide the actual expenditures against those. It will be, I suggest, a couple of weeks before we would have any reconciliation of the subsidised rate of interest through from each of the jurisdictions who are administering that on the Commonwealth's behalf.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice for that information to be provided when it becomes available.

Mr Aldred: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Minister, maybe this comes back to you. With regard to this money that is not claimed or any other money, are there any plans to assist farmers transition away from live exports to local processing or training for other industries?

Senator Ludwig: The money is not available as a lump lot to the department to do as it would; it would be handled under the usual budget arrangements for that pool of money. If the department wants to indicate what would occur in respect of that, I am happy for them to answer that. What happens is that the money that is provided for a certain outcome is provided under budget rules for that outcome.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are saying—

Senator Ludwig: Let me finish. So if there is any unspent moneys then it would be handled in accordance with the usual budgetary rules. Then what I indicated is that the department can then expand on that if they choose, as to what those budget rules would provide for in respect of that money. What you then effectively asked is: can that residual be used for any other purpose that the department sees fit? The short answer is: we can only use the money according to budget rules.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Dr O'Connell: Which fundamentally means that it would return to the budget. Mr Aldred will clarify.

Mr Aldred: Any unspent funds are returned to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. It would be a future decision of government to then reapply any funding from the CRF.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much for explaining that. Minister, the AQIS investigation reports are obviously of great interest. In No. 38 and No. 40 there was considerable information supplied about mortality. However, No. 39 is not available. When will it be available and why was it not released prior to No. 40?

Dr O'Connell: Mr Merrilees can answer that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Just while the officer is seeking the information you require, Senator Rhiannon, I would remind you there is only a couple more minutes to go, so I urge you to put the rest of your questions on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Mr Merrilees: Could you just repeat the investigation number?

Senator RHIANNON: It is about the AQIS investigation report No. 39.

Mr Merrilees: No. 39 is yet to be finalised. We expect that to be finalised—

Senator RHIANNON: Why has it not been released, considering and 40 has been released?

Mr Merrilees: We release them as they are completed. No. 40 was completed prior to No. 39.

Senator RHIANNON: Why is it outstanding, given it has now been more than six months since the mortalities that I understand it will report on occurred?

Mr Merrilees: As part of those investigations we seek information from a range of sources. We seek it from the exporter, from the AAB, from the registered premises, and from AMSA in relation to ship infrastructure and services. An relation to that particular report some of the information was not provided to us in the timeframe that we would like to enable us to complete that report. I can confirm that all the material for that has now been received and the report is currently in the process of being finalised.

Senator RHIANNON: When will it be released?

Mr Merrilees: I would expect it would be very soon—in the next couple of weeks.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much.

[Other Senators continued the questioning]

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, could you elaborate on the government's plans to establish the national independent animal welfare office? I was interested in what powers the office will have, when it will be established and in what department the office intended to sit—or will it have its own department?

Senator Ludwig: This is from the national conference? We will continue to look at that issue.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you elaborate on what 'continue to look at this issue' means?

Senator Ludwig: I am not sure we have got the right people here at the table. We have just left that area and gone to a new area—biosecurity.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take that on notice?

Senator Ludwig: Yes, I will take it on notice as to what range of matters we already deal with in this issue.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. With regard to the kangaroo trade, could you inform the committee what is the status of the discussions with the Russian government and the Russian industry in respect to the resumption of the kangaroo trade?

Senator Ludwig: Again, it is trade and market access, but Greg Read might be able to answer it.

Mr Read: Sorry, the question was the status of the kangaroo trade with Russia?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, please.

Mr Read: The status of the trade currently with Russia is presently suspended and it has been suspended since late 2009. We have been endeavouring to work through a particular range of issues with that market since that point. There were prescriptive issues that Russia had concern with in relation to the kangaroo trade, particularly around the harvesting and some of the verification procedures and storage of carcasses et cetera. We have worked extensively with the industry and the state regulatory authorities to develop a program that now clearly meets the requirements of Russia. I met with my counterparts from the Russian Veterinary Authority in Berlin in January. We are endeavouring to seek to secure a technical visit from Russia later this year to look at that revised system with a view to recommencement of that trade.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you also inform the committee about discussions with China with respect to a possible opening up of the kangaroo trade with that country?

Mr Read: Again, with China there are current restrictions on the supply of kangaroo meat to that country. We currently have a protocol in place with China. We have now had an audit of the export plants—the game plants that would be providing the meat to that market. My reading of their report is that that audit review has been very successful in terms of those plants. A little bit of the issue with China revolves around the communication in terms of the sensitivity with this product and animal welfare concerns. We are working through with our counterparts in China, providing information to address their particular concerns in that regard. Again, later this year we will be having further discussions with China in relation to the issues that they have.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very, much. I would like to go back, Minister, to DAFF's overall departmental objective. It is set out for 2011-12:

To improve the productivity of Australia's agricultural industries.

Then there is another program objective:

Assist primary producers to develop a more competitive internationally focused and self-reliant meat and livestock industry.

Could you inform the committee what will be the impact of the imperative to productivity and competitiveness on animal welfare, given that the program has identified also that another requirement is to improve animal welfare outcomes? How do you balance that?

Dr O'Connell: We see animal welfare issues as being front and central to productivity issues and competitiveness as well. We do not actually see these things being separate. As we see from the issues that the minister raised early on about the ESCAS arrangements providing greater certainty and robustness in the regulatory framework, having that in place is a bulwark against shocks to the system. So we see these things as being knitted together; we do not see them as being a particular tension between animal welfare outcomes and productivity of the industries.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering intensification in the meat and livestock industry to achieve increased productivity and competitiveness seems to be a key objective but intensification of the industry clearly brings animal welfare issues. Is it acknowledged that there is a contradiction there, and will you attempt to balance out these contradictions by providing assistance to develop say free-range organic systems within the industry?

Dr O'Connell: I do not think we have seen any inherent tension between intensification and animal welfare. Animal welfare requirements have to be met in intensive or extensive industries. Treatment of cattle or sheep in extensive industries requires good animal welfare, just as much as it does in intensive industries. So the animal welfare imperative is not reduced simply because they are extensive or intensive, from our perspective.

Senator RHIANNON: Dr O'Connell, I would like to move on to the issue about primates for use in research. I understand that Australia is importing primates from Indonesia and that we also have three government funded primate breeding facilities for the purpose of research.

Senator Ludwig: Just to clarify, this is reports you have read in recent media, as I understand it. I would just clarify whether or not it is within our sphere. It may fall within another portfolio. Hopefully I am going to be ably assisted on my left.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, because you would be aware that there is a concern that when you source primates from a country like Indonesia it can actually drive the illegal trade in wild caught primates. So I would like to understand why these animals are being imported.

Ms South: The department issues import permits to manage the biosecurity risks associated with the importation of species such as macaques. The CITES matters associated with those species are actually the purview of SEWPAC.

Dr O'Connell: Senator, the issues that you are raising are really ones for the Environment portfolio that looks at the endangered species in CITES.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for clarifying that. I would like to move on to issues to do with the dairy industry. Going back to DAFF's objectives, I understand one of your objectives is to assist primary producers to develop a more competitive internationally focused and self-reliant dairy industry. Does DAFF' s assistance to primary producers extend to intensive dairy farming or super dairies? Is that where you see the industry needs to go to achieve that DAFF objective?

Dr O'Connell: I am just not quite sure of the specific question.

Senator RHIANNON: I was asking the question with regard to the DAFF objective, which is:

Assist primary producers develop a more competitive internationally focused and self-reliant dairy industry.

Where does that take your department in terms of the direction you are giving to the diary industry? Is it one of intensification and super dairies?

Dr O'Connell: I will pass over to Mr Grant. We do not provide direction to industry. We essentially support market based approaches, which means that they make their commercial decisions but we do provide information.

Mr Grant: As Dr O'Connell said, we do not provide direct assistance or encourage industry into any sorts of operational arrangements that determine the efficiency or the effectiveness of those concerns. However, we do, as you are aware, fund the research and development corporations with government matching money and we collect levies on their behalf. And I am sure that Dairy Australia would, as part of its research and development, be providing information to the industry to determine the efficient operations of a dairy and whether the intensive operations that you talked about are more efficient, more productive for the industry or not.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you elaborate on that? Is efficiency as it is defined by the department equate to intensifying dairy operations?

Mr Grant: We do not define efficiency for the industry; that is really up to the industry to determine. If the industry determines on the basis of information and research and development and experience that it can produce higher profits at greater productivity from more intensive operations or less intensive operations then really that is the industry's judgment to make and to determine what investments it might make in changed arrangements.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are saying you actually give no advice to the industry, again weighing up those assessments of how to be a viable industry with animal welfare responsibilities?

Mr Grant: As the secretary said, animal welfare is one concern about productivity, and the industry will need to take into account issues associated with animal welfare in the development of their proposals and investments. B direct information or targets for industry about the sorts of operations that they might operate on other than the they have to adhere to the laws, both federal and state and territory. Information, as I said, is provided through the research and development corporations to assist in making those judgments and decisions.

Dr O'Connell: Just to be clear, we do not distinguish between an intensive dairy activity aimed at commodity milk products compared with say biodynamic herds organically in terms of their animal welfare outcomes. In both cases they need to manage themselves to deliver animal welfare outcomes that meet legal requirements.

Senator RHIANNON: So even though it has been well documented that an intensive dairy operation results in reduced animal welfare standards because of the factory nature of the enterprise, you are not taking that into consideration in promoting those two different directions the dairy industry can take?

Dr O'Connell: I understand in your question there is an assumption that intensive animal husbandry has less good animal welfare outcomes than extensive animal husbandry inherently. That is probably a premise that we could not easily just say is reasonable in the sense that it depends on the handling and behaviour, whether it is extensive or intensive. So in itself it is not obvious that one or other is necessarily bad or good.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Thank you, Dr O'Connell. I would like to go back to an issue about kangaroos relevant to Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. How much funding does RIRDC allocate for the marketing, promotion and development of Australia's kangaroo industry in Australia and overseas?

Dr O'Connell: RIRDC was not called for today, but we can have a question taken on notice for them.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, thank you. Minister, I thought I did need to ask you about the issue with the abattoirs, considering it was so much in the news last week with very disturbing images that were again on our televisions. There has been the call from various quarters for mandatory CCTV in all Australian abattoirs. Could you share with the committee what consideration you have given to this matter, considering the story broke last week? Is it something that you believe needs to be advanced and will you be working with your counterparts in state and territories to advance this?

Senator Ludwig: I do note that, at this point in time, the New South Wales government, through the Department of Primary Industries, and I think the minister is Katrina Hodgkinson, has made a range of statements in respect of that matter. At this juncture, I note her comments.

Senator RHIANNON: So you only note the comments? Have you, your office, the department, given consideration to this issue in terms of a need for an Australia-wide consistent approach?

Senator Ludwig: At this juncture, what I have said is that I note that the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, has this matter. It really is a matter that you should at first issue ask what the New South Wales government is doing. I have noted what her statements are. I am sure you have read them as well.

Senator RHIANNON: So that means you are confident that in other states and territories, we do not have—

Senator Ludwig: No, do not put words in my mouth.

Senator RHIANNON: No, that is why I am asking the question—questions do not put words in the mouth.

Senator Ludwig: It is not a question of whether I am confident or not. Primarily, animal welfare for the states and territories is a matter for them. At this juncture I note that the New South Wales government has this matter in hand.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Minister, back to some details about DAFF's budget and some of the comments that are made. I want to pick up on some of the climate change issues that are addressed.

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Rhiannon, but we will be doing climate change later this afternoon—and doing it in depth.

Senator RHIANNON: This is with regard to animal welfare issues. I am still on animal welfare issues. Is that okay, Chair?

CHAIR: Dr O'Connell?

Dr O'Connell: We might be able to help, but just a reminder: this is the biosecurity function; it is not the animal welfare function.

CHAIR: Climate change will be on at six o'clock this evening going through til 9 pm.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that. I will try and get back this evening. Also in the DAFF budget, you set out your key performance indicators for sustainable management. Actually, Chair, I will come back to those later. I will pass to my colleagues.

CHAIR: You have got time if you want to ask more.

Senator RHIANNON: No, I will pass to my colleagues now.

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