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Estimates: Meat and Livestock Australia

Video & Multimedia
Lee Rhiannon 1 Nov 2012

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 1 November 2012

  • Dr Conall O'Connell, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Dr Peter Barnard, General Manager, Trade and Economic Services, Meat and Livestock Australia
  • Senator Bill Heffernan, Liberal Senator for New South Wales

Senator RHIANNON: Were MLA employees present at Cibinong abattoir in Indonesia on 28 September when Australian cattle were slaughtered traditionally—in a manner that was in breach of ESCAS standards?

Dr Barnard: MLA staff and consultants were at Cibinong. I cannot attest as to the date. But I can take that on notice. They have certainly been to Cibinong and done an analysis of the abattoir at Cibinong.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that this breach was not reported to DAFF?

Dr Barnard: I am aware that an allegation has been made of breaches in ESCAS compliance at Cibinong. That alleged breach is under investigation by DAFF and we are assisting DAFF in those investigations. 

Senator RHIANNON: But are you aware if a report was made to DAFF?

Dr Barnard: Our role is not as a policeman or regulator. Our role is to assist supply chains with ESCAS compliance and we conduct that role diligently.

Senator RHIANNON: When will that report be finalised and will it be made public?

Dr Barnard: I have no doubt that it will be made public, but you would have to refer that query to the secretary.

Dr O'Connell: I will have to take that on notice, Senator. I do not know the stage of the investigation.

Senator RHIANNON: Have MLA senior management been informed of other breaches of ESCAS in importing markets by MLA employees or consultants that have not been reported to DAFF?

Dr Barnard: Senator, I repeat that our role is not to act as a regulator or a policeman; our role is to assist exporters and supply chains with ESCAS compliance.

Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that, but in response to my first lot of questions you did say that there were investigations into the alleged breaches. So, if there is an investigation there, obviously you have a mechanism to follow through. I am just asking if there are any others.

Dr Barnard: Senator, I indicated that DAFF were investigating the alleged breaches and that we were assisting them in their investigations.

Senator RHIANNON: Were you assisting DAFF in any other investigations into other alleged breaches?

Dr Barnard: No.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Were you asked to appear on the Four Corners program that will be screened on Monday night?

Dr Barnard: I am not aware; I certainly was not. There might have been others in the company that were, but I certainly was not.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware if anybody else at MLA was asked?

Dr Barnard: I am not aware, no.

Senator HEFFERNAN: They haven't asked Chris Back either.

Senator RHIANNON: I have been advised that the MLA and LiveCorp were crucial players in the industry-government working group that delivered the ESCAS regulatory framework. Considering what happened with Pakistan and Bahrain, will you be suggesting any changes to improve animal welfare standards?

Dr Barnard: Yes, we participated in the working group and are participating in the implementation work. ESCAS regulations I think are really groundbreaking regulations, placing responsibility on an exporter for animal welfare outcomes to the point of slaughter. No other country in the world has legislation anywhere near approaching ESCAS regulation in terms of placing responsibility on exporters right through to the point of slaughter. I think they have delivered remarkable results. Whether they need further modification going forward is largely a policy issue, and that policy issue will no doubt be addressed by DAFF and by the peak councils. MLA is not a policy body; it is a service provider for industry and we assist in that process through research and expert advice, but the issue of whether ESCAS has changed or further modified is a matter for the regulator on peak councils. 

Senator RHIANNON: You have described how you are a service provider. What feedback have you been providing the government on operational issues regarding ESCAS?

Dr Barnard: Our feedback has generally been positive. 

Senator RHIANNON: Even after Pakistan?

Dr Barnard: Can I just finish, please. I think ESCAS has been embraced by industry to a remarkable extent.

It has led to remarkable results. The fact that in Indonesia you have over 80 per cent of animals there now stunned is a remarkable change in that country in the period of—what is it?—just over a year. So the feedback that we have been giving government is generally positive.

Senator RHIANNON: Hasn’t what you call positive in Indonesia been enormously undermined by what happened in Pakistan? To be realistic and balanced, are you providing feedback that there are problems?

Dr Barnard: The issue in Pakistan was not an issue with ESCAS, as the department has pointed out to you. The issue in Pakistan was a loss of control by government authorities coming in and taking control of the livestock.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that comment, have you received any feedback and have you been in any of the discussions in the industry-government working group on the impact that has had on our relationships with Pakistan and other governments in the region with regard to the live export trade?

Dr Barnard: I think the issue in Pakistan has to be viewed as a very isolated issue. We have had stable trade to the Middle East for many years. Our livestock trade to the Middle East goes back to the 1970s. There are few areas where we have had such long history of trade, and almost universally during that time, that trade has been stable and led to good relationships between Middle East countries and Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: The report from LiveCorp about sheep exports is that they have dropped. You can see that very clearly on the graphs. And the cattle, too, are down 21 per cent on 2010 figures. The number of sheep are down, I think, 17 per cent on 2010. So there is a shift in the trade here. To say that it is stable does not actually reflect the trade reality, does it?

Dr Barnard: Certainly there is a switch-over in the trade. I think that that has been witnessed over a long period of time. If I go back to 1995, we were shipping about six million sheep to the Middle East. I think that last year it was about 2.5 million. In 1995 we were shipping about 8,000 tonnes of lamb. Now it is 40,000 tonnes.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, so there has been a shift.

Dr Barnard: Yes, of course there is a shift. I think as markets mature and become more advanced there is a shift. There is always a shift from live product to boxed product. But the live product often gives us an early entry into these markets, which places the entire industry on a favourable footing.

Senator RHIANNON: I am still surprised at the emphasis you give, considering the key role that is played here and considering we have had such a huge problem. Don't the incidents in Pakistan, which seem to go clearly to authorities there—I think you acknowledged that—show that ESCAS can never fully guarantee the animal welfare of exports from Australia? That cannot be guaranteed.

Dr Barnard: I repeat, the problems in Pakistan were not problems with ESCAS. The supply chain in Pakistan—both the feed lot and abattoir—were of high standard. The problem in Pakistan was lack of control through government intervention.

Senator RHIANNON: Precisely because of that government intervention, isn't that identifying the problem with ESCAS, where you have people at desks in Canberra? The audit is after the fact so it cannot actually stop these measures. You can say that it is not a failure of ESCAS but the ESCAS system has been put in place and it does not stop the animal cruelty.

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