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Live Exports Bill: Lee Rhiannon's speech

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 11 Oct 2012


Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012, Thursday 11 October 2012

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:01): Events of recent weeks involving the cruel treatment of the live export shipments from Australia and the failure of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System highlight yet again why it is time to ban the live export trade. The Greens' Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 would achieve that.

Relevant to this issue are some of the reports on the live export trade that have come out over the past six weeks. On 6 September we saw images on ABC's Lateline of the cruel slaughter of Australian sheep in the Kuwait market. The footage showed practices that represent flagrant contempt of Minister Ludwig's supply chain assurance system. Now remember this system, ESCAS, was what the government based their promises on, that they were confident that they could clean up and control this trade so that the cruelty would end. The Kuwait footage gives further support to the growing belief that ESCAS was in fact designed to provide the government with a political fix and is actually a bankrupt solution to the suffering of Australian livestock. Both the exporter involved and the government failed to inject the resources on the ground necessary to ensure the sheep were sold, handled and slaughtered in accordance with the minister's own new system.

Around the same time that this story broke, we were starting to hear about the tragedy unfolding for about 20,000 sheep shipped out of Western Australia. This was the shipment that ended with the brutal killings in Pakistan. In early September two ships were stranded off Bahrain for many days and the sheep were suffering under sweltering summer temperatures. We know about this not because the ESCAS was able to provide information back to Australia, or the minister's office informed the animal welfare groups, but because Animals Australia picked up a brief media report in a Bahrain newspaper that these ships were stranded and the sheep were not allowed to be unloaded. Throughout this whole appallingly cruel saga it has been the welfare groups that have brought the story to the public's attention. They are the ones doing the job that most would expect the government's department should be doing.

What we have seen is that at every step there has been a failure of the ESCAS and the memorandum of understanding. With regard to this shipment—again, it is the shipment that ends up in Pakistan—those sheep should have been unloaded, according to the memorandum of understanding, once the ship docked. They should have been unloaded within 36 hours, but that did not happen; they sat there for a number of days. What we are starting to gather is that the government and the exporter were looking around for a country to take them because the news had come through that they could not land them in the Middle East. This story has not been fully told, but it needs to come out.

On 17 September I called on Minister Ludwig to come clean about the fate of the 21,000 sheep that we were now hearing were waiting in Pakistan. There were conflicting reports coming through that all of the sheep would be, or maybe had been, killed and that they had been positively tested for salmonella. At that time there were no clear statements from the minister and one had to conclude that either the minister had no idea of the fate of these 21,000 sheep or was deliberately staying tight-lipped and was refusing to publicly disclose what he knew. Whichever way it was, it was clearly an embarrassment for the government and again shows the breakdown of the ESCAS. The supply chain just does not work.

The images coming out of Karachi at that time showed holding pens that were so crowded the sheep would have had to struggle to reach food and water. What we said at the time was that if the cull went ahead it was unclear how the sheep would be killed and whether it would occur in facilities approved under the ESCAS. This was particularly important because by then we knew that the sheep were not destined for human consumption. We understand that sometime during the next 10 days thousands of those sheep were brutalised, were slaughtered cruelly and some were buried alive.

There is a very important statement that was given by the exporter, Wellard. This was reported on ABC Radio, and I will read the statement. It said:

The sheep—

this is referring to the sheep that ended up in Pakistan—

have been discharged into a state of the art, modern, Australian-designed supply chain, which is ESCAS compliant and meets World Animal Health Organisation standards.

That is Wellard's statement about how the sheep would be handled when they got to Pakistan. But gradually news is coming out that, indeed, something quite shocking was happening.

We know so little from the authorities in Australia. This report comes from the International Herald Tribune of 11 October. It reports on the independent inquiry committee that was set up by the Pakistan Ministry of National Food Security and Research. It looked at the import of what they have now named as 'possibly diseased' Australian sheep. The committee found that the rules laid down under the Pakistan Animal Quarantine Act 1979 were violated. It is a concerning report. It identifies that the importer had most likely concealed the fact from the Pakistani ministry that the consignment had already been rejected by the veterinarian authorities of Bahrain. Further, it questions the authenticity of the certificate of health issued by the Australian veterinary authorities. Clearly, now that the report is in the public domain, it is the minister's absolute responsibility to disclose what he knows about it and to get to the bottom of these very worrying developments.

The report from the independent committee states:

The certificate of health, bearing No 612-000891, signed by the authorised Australian veterinary officer on September 1 at Perth—about 27 days after the ship had left Australia—seems to be fake and bogus …

That is the end of their quote. The report adds:

… a thorough examination and verification of documents, such as the health certificate and the commercial invoice, had not been carried out on the vessel.

Further, the report said:

… the premises where the sheep were stationed were not approved by the competent authority.

Committee members said they found that the sheep were kept in the open without—and this is a direct quote from the report—'the basic facility of shade or shelter'.

There are so many aspects to that report, particularly what it states about possible abuses of the reporting system in Australia. It clearly needs to be urgently investigated and reported on in a very transparent way. As this is such an ongoing process, it is very relevant to share with members that I also understand that the High Court of Sindh is expected to hold an urgent hearing of this case tomorrow. So there are many aspects to this story that are clearly bad news—bad news for Australia's livestock and bad news for Australia's reputation in this trade.

The Greens' bill that we have before us would ban live export, and that can turn this bad news story into a very good story. We can have a win-win here. We can have a win to reduce animal suffering and a win for regional Australia. There would be more jobs and a boost to Australia's economy. These advantages, these improvements, have been set out often by the meatworkers union and most recently by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The WSPA have identified that building one or two large abattoirs in Northern Australia—interestingly, there are currently none north of a line drawn from Townsville to Perth—would more than double the profits for local cattle producers.

In this debate we have often heard about huge job losses and farmers losing immense amounts of money. Those statements are baseless; in fact, the reverse is the case. Economic consultant, ACIL, commissioned by the WSPA, found that 1,300 full-time jobs would be created if 400,000 head of cattle were slaughtered locally rather than being shipped live to Indonesian feedlots, and this would add $204 million a year to the economy in Northern Australia. Interestingly, the ACIL report also found that Indonesia this year increased its purchases of processed frozen beef from Australia to avoid meat shortages. This is a theme that you see coming through this trade when you look at the details. There is a shift going on internationally with more countries moving over to processing meat in their own country and then boosting their trade in the export of chilled and frozen boxed meat.

What is significant here is that in 2009 Indonesia announced its own aim to move to self-sufficiency in livestock production by 2014. Again, this country is moving away from importing livestock and is looking to be self-sufficient. When our neighbours can move to ensure that they are strengthening their own food security, it is something to be congratulated, and it is a timely message to Australia that this trade has to change. It is changing and Australia needs to be part of that change. Importing countries, as I said, are shifting away from the live export trade, and a responsible Australian government should be working with industry on the transition from live export to the export of chilled and frozen boxed meat.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals have put forward the actions the government should take to facilitate this transition. The government should undertake to work with the governments of live animal importing countries to negotiate an end to tariffs, subsidies, quotas and other market-distorting actions that favour the live trade—governments whose arbitrariness creates great uncertainty for Australian farmers. Further, the government should assist potential investors in a Northern Australian processing facility by adopting a broad economic development plan that encourages investment and employment in Northern Australia.

And then there is the all-important aspect of marketing; marketing initiatives to promote Australian meat exports in response to the world's growing demand for protein need to be stepped up. Again, this is how we can boost the trade enormously.

I did want to give more emphasis to the expansion of jobs that can occur if the government takes a wise course of action and helps the transition that this industry is crying out for. It is often claimed that the jobs would be lost if the live trade were to end. There is no question that many jobs have been lost in the meat-processing industry over the past 20 years due to plant closures and industry rationalisation; to blame everything on the live trade would clearly be wrong, and I am not doing that. But we need to note that a 2010 report by SG Heilbron Economic and Policy Consulting Pty Ltd claimed that the live export trade could be costing Australia around 10,500 jobs.

This is where we need the government to be working with the industry to ensure that we achieve these benefits in our own country. Otherwise Australia will be left behind, as too often happens when we have a government that does not accept its responsibilities. In 2012 ACIL Tasman estimated that the construction of an abattoir in northern Australia, which would provide Australian cattle producers with an alternative market for their cattle, could create up to 107 jobs directly and 1,300 jobs indirectly in the region. Further, this consultancy's research indicates that the domestic processing of sheep has a higher multiplier effect than that associated with the live sheep trade. In other words, for every dollar spent on domestic processing expenditure, elsewhere in the economy there will be greater than that for every dollar spent on the live trade. The value added per sheep processed locally—that is the difference between the sales price and production costs—will be greater, and the overall contribution to, for instance, WA's regional economy, and hence Australia's national economy, will be greater. These benefits need to be acknowledged and they need to be acted on before we lose them.

It is also interesting to compare the benefits from the chilled meat trade with the live export trade. Last year chilled meat exports earned some $5.7 billion while the export of livestock earned $845 million. Those are very telling figures that come from ABS and ABARES.

It is also worth noting that in fact many beef cattle farmers have already diversified and that they are not completely reliant on the live export trade. Working on the transition here will not really be hard but it certainly needs government involvement in terms of those points that I raised before about negotiating with overseas countries, assisting with marketing and encouraging investment. ABARES projects that northern Australian beef cattle farm incomes would increase from an average of $122,720 per farm in 2010-11 to an average of $161,900 in 2011-12. I share those figures with my colleagues because they underline that this trade is healthy at the moment and that the tough times are not occurring, but that the benefit could be even greater with the transition.

The recent cruel treatment of Australian sheep has distressed so many Australians. By far the majority of Australians want this trade to change. Seeing sheep stranded at sea and slaughtered in such a cruel way has caused many people considerable angst. What we have seen, and I think it has added to the concern and the public distress—particularly from many of the emails and messages that I have received—is that the government had promised that they could clean up the trade, but we now see that the supply chain mechanism is worthless. No amount of regulation can end the cruelty that is inherent in the live export trade. The transport alone of sheep and cattle puts these animals under enormous stress. Thousands die every year just in the transport alone. The Labor government must respond to the mounting public concern over the cruelty involved in the live export of Australian livestock. It does need to move quickly to end the trade. That is why we have brought forward this bill.

I do urge government and coalition MPs to look closely to these many detailed reports that are now available from very respected economic consultancy groups that have detailed the benefits, because the public is right behind the need for change here. The big rallies that occurred around Australia last week were called within less than a week and attracted thousands of people. Sam Mclean, the director of GetUp!, reported at those rallies that their petition has attracted more than 350,000 supporters. Support from organisations is very varied; as well as GetUp! there is the AMIEU—the meat workers union—Animals Australia, the RSPCA, Animal Liberation, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and so many other community groups that are backing this call.

It is time that it changed, and the Greens bill will achieve that. I commend the Greens bill to the Senate.


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