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Speech: Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018: Second Reading

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 20 Jun 2018

Monday, 18 June 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (11:15): I'm very pleased to co-sponsor the Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018 today with Senators Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer. This bill sets out a framework over five years to transition away from the very worst of the live-export sea voyages, those long-haul live sheep and lamb shipments that sail into the Northern Hemisphere summer months and into the riskiest of shipping routes through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Our priority in preparing this particular bill has been to end the shocking cruelty that tens of thousands of sheep must endure when they are exported for overseas slaughter. We've been working closely with animal welfare organisations, the meatworkers union and other stakeholders to create a transition plan that is better for animals, better for Australian workers and better for farmers and local economies. We stand with the majority of Australians in wanting to end the live-export trade. An independent poll commissioned by RSPCA Australia and conducted this year found that three in four Australians demand an end to live exports. This confirms previous polls, and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have taken actions to let their demands be known.

This issue is being debated now because of the actions of a courageous young Pakistani trainee ship's officer. His name is Faisal Ullah. He filmed the death and suffering that occurred on the Awassi Express. I express my thanks to him, and I believe he needs to be acknowledged. He took that action of filming the horror so the world could see the reality of the live-export trade, because he knew how important it was to end this cruelty. He follows in the footsteps of courageous live exporter vet Lynn Simpson and others who have borne witness and have revealed their evidence. I acknowledge the massive contribution of Mr Ullah and the extensive work of Animals Australia, the RSPCA, and many other animal welfare and animal rights groups and individuals who have campaigned for decades on this issue.

The solution is to start transitioning away from the trade, and this bill before the Senate offers a fair pathway to achieve that. The trade must end. As we know, attempting to regulate the trade has failed time and time again. That individual exporters are profiteering from the profound suffering which is the live-export trade is unacceptable enough, but let us not forget that successive Australian governments have explicitly supported and facilitated a continuing cruelty that would see any Australian farmer prosecuted and possibly imprisoned if they had engaged in actions that resulted in such cruelty. The exporter Emanuel Exports, whose ship the Awassi Express caused the death of 2,400 sheep in last year's August voyage, illustrates the extent of this failure. That live-export ship passed official inspections 39 times in the last five years, and the company was granted the permit to continue sailing with sheep on board without sanctions. This is despite 3,000 sheep dying on one of its other ships, the Al Messilah, on the same long-haul route the year before, in 2016. This same company was found guilty of animal cruelty under Western Australian animal welfare laws in 2008, but had to be acquitted because state animal welfare legislation is suspended by federal laws that take over when the live-export ships and their suffering cargo leave Australian shores.

The Australian government has refused to prosecute or sanction any breaches of these federal laws, and those breaches are so clear. Evidence collected from live animal shipments continues to show extensive breaches of Australian regulations and international World Organisation for Animal Health standards, known as OIE standards, as well as the WA Animal Welfare Act. These breaches have resulted in systemic and extreme suffering for thousands of sheep. Significantly, the evidence demonstrates that Australian producers, MPs and the wider public have been deceived by the government and corporate interests in the live export industry.

The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council, the peak body responsible for setting industry policy, has publicly stated that their social licence to operate is based on their no-fear, no-pain animal welfare commitment. The Awassi Express vision clearly shows that export companies are breaching this commitment. The level of heat stress and its consequences are business as usual and reveal why this industry does not have a social licence.

I want to put on record the level of breaches occurring, as this is one of the key reasons why we have brought this bill before parliament to end the live sheep trade over the next five years. The following standards have been breached: the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Standards) Order 2005, the Export Control (Animals) Order 2004, the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002 and the OIE guidelines.

Clearly enough is enough. The live sheep export trade has been given too many chances. Let's remember that this latest horrific scandal is not the first incident of mass suffering and deaths inflicted on thousands of exported animals. Other examples abound. In 1980 one crew member and 40,000 sheep died on the Farid Fares. In 1996 one crew member and 67,000 sheep died in the Uniceb disaster. In 2006 live exports to Egypt were suspended after footage of animal cruelty was aired on 60 Minutes. There were mass protests after footage of cruel treatment of live exports in Kuwait in 2010 and in Indonesia in 2011. The list goes on and on.

The scale of suffering is hard to visualise. Government agencies extract these figures into visually cleaner and smaller percentages that render the terrible reality more publicly palatable. For example, the total of 15,591 sheep that died during live export voyages in 2011 is rendered into a tidy industrywide mortality rate of less than one per cent—0.86 per cent, in fact—for one year. If less than two per cent of the total livestock die during a voyage, this can mean hundreds of thousands of deaths, but when portrayed as two per cent it doesn't sound very much. It's a way to gloss over it for business to continue as usual.

The animal export legislation amendment bill before us will end this suffering. The bill immediately prohibits shipments of live lambs or sheep through or to any place in the Persian Gulf or Red Sea both during the worst of the baking Northern Hemisphere summer months of July, August and September and if the voyage is 10 days or more. These are the worst of the live export voyages, which usually include multiple unloading ports. The suffering of sheep is increased on voyages of 20 or 30 days in hot and humid temperatures that consistently reach levels where bodies begin slowly shutting down, and the death rates are some five to 10 times the usual mortality rates on Australian sheep farms.

After a five-year transition period the bill will prohibit absolutely all live sheep and lamb long-haul ships to or through the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea regardless of the time of year or the length of the voyage. This allows plenty of time for governments to support a transition package, as has been done in the past for other dying industries. This bill also reaffirms the government's own stated support for the international minimum standards for animal welfare established by the World Organisation for Animal Health—that is, the OIE standards.

The government repeatedly states not only that the OIE standards inform its Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System—that's the ESCAS framework—and the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock but that Australian standards, in most instances, exceed the OIE standards. However, Australia's ESCAS and ASEL frameworks are meaningless, given the continuing horror on live export ships, without governments using their available powers to sanction all breaches. As the government's own accepted standards, they must be embedded in law as a bare and uncontentious minimum. This bill thus requires that live exporters must adhere to the OIE's code for the transport of animals by sea. As per the House of Representatives bill, any suspected breach of the bill requires that the livestock export licence holder must be issued with a written 'show cause' notice by the secretary.

The bill's prohibition of live sheep long-haul export voyages will remove the well-considered major risks to the exported animals. Live export voyages of 10 days or more constitute long-haul live export voyages, on which significantly increased numbers of sheep or lambs suffer and die during the voyage. The longer periods at sea compound endemic shipboard sheep illnesses, resulting from failure to eat manufactured pellets that are so far removed from the fresh growth of paddocks, and related enteritis and salmonella syndrome. The prolonged confinement of the animals in accumulated masses of faecal and urine matter further increases animal welfare, morbidity and mortality risks. If the fact of the barbarism that is the live export trade isn't enough, the cruelty is also a clear reputational risk to Australia and its domestic chilled meat trade.

Thirty-three years ago a Senate inquiry recommended phasing out the live export industry on animal welfare grounds alone, to be replaced by a supported transition to the chilled meat trade; 33 years ago, a Senate committee made that clear recommendation. It really is time we caught up. In 2013 New Zealand ended the live export trade, with its peak farming body, the Federated Farmers of New Zealand, stating the scale of the industry's cruelty was too great a reputational risk for its important chilled meat industry. Just last year the Victorian state director of the government's own export finance credit agency revealed that the agency did not fund the live export trade because it involved too much cruelty. Not surprisingly, those comments were quickly buried by the agency.

Let's also remember that this cruel trade across all live export is also cannibalising Australian jobs and rural economies by exporting processing and supply chain employment overseas, when people load their ships with frightened animals. In 2004 a Western Australian ministerial task force described the growth in the live export trade as coming at the expense of the domestic meat-processing industry. In 2010 a report by SG Heilbron, The future of the Queensland beef industry and the impact of live cattle exports, found:

The rapid and unchecked growth of live cattle exports is inflicting significant damage on Queensland's beef processing industry.

…   …   …

Live cattle exports are cannibalising Queensland's beef industry striking at the heart of its value chain.

Pity Senator O'Sullivan isn't in the chamber to hear those comments! Really, it makes you wonder whose interests Senator O'Sullivan represents. The 2012 ACIL Tasman economic analysis of the inputs and outputs of live cattle export farms in Australia's Top End shows they are financially sustainable over the long term regardless of the live export market and are problematic from a whole-business perspective.

As long as 12 years ago, a 2006 Hassall report into the live export industry forecast sheepmeat imports progressively displacing live sheep in Middle East markets, and demand for chilled meat growing. This is in fact happening, with halal-certified carcasses and meat processed in Australia increasingly sold in Middle Eastern supermarkets as a preferred clean, green option. With the shocking vision of faecal matter covering and killing so many animals, you have to wonder if we are going to be able to keep that image of our other products.

Middle Eastern demand for fresh and chilled sheepmeat is now three times greater than live exports and it's expanding, resulting in a 60 per cent decline in live exports to that market in just over a decade. Here the economic figures from the export trade show that the change is occurring now, and, by not driving the change, this government is actually jeopardising the future for farmers and jeopardising our own economy because they are beholden to some of the very rich pastoralists in this country.

In fact, trade figures confirm that, for over 10 years, the average value of chilled sheepmeat has been worth around 11 times more in export dollars than the live sheep export trade. As the number of live sheep exported has declined, the price of sheep has risen in Australia. Recent analysis by Pegasus Economics finds just six per cent of Australian sheep are sold into the live export trade, with 80 per cent of those animals coming from Western Australia. Live sheep exports represent 0.1 per cent of annual income for most farmers. Even specialist sheep farmers find 0.5 per cent of their income from live exports. Again we have to ask the question: who are the Nationals really representing when they don't get behind the trade that can really benefit the farmers of this country?

Not only this; Western Australian and South Australian abattoirs have enough capacity right now to absorb more than the numbers of sheep currently live exported and create the extra regional jobs to deliver that capacity. Government just needs to invest in the extra supporting infrastructure, transitional processes and job training to make this happen. It has done it before, providing over $2 billion in structural adjustment packages for other struggling agricultural sectors such as tobacco, sugar and the dairy industries. Additionally, international market factors beyond Australia's control present a constant threat to the sustainability of the live export industry. One clear and present risk is when Middle East governments end their food subsidies that prop up the dying live export industry. Australia has a responsibility to remove this certain risk for those few farmers who supply the export companies. Consider when live exports to Bahrain stopped because it removed its food subsidies: Australian chilled meat took over the market completely.

There is only one answer here. This bill will end the barbarism of the Australian live sheep export trade. It will benefit the domestic meat-processing industry and create more Australian jobs. I wish to warmly congratulate Sussan Ley, the member for Farrer, for introducing a bill to the House of Representatives to transition out of the live sheep export trade—a bill that will end the mass cruelty. Our bill mirrors the groundbreaking work Ms Ley has undertaken. The Turnbull government should back this bill. The Prime Minister and the minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, should admit that their response to the Awassi Express has failed.

The independent review for the conditions of the export of live sheep failed to make any recommendation that will guarantee that the mass deaths of the sheep on the live export ships will truly end. The minister effectively set this inquiry up to deliver recommendations that suit the interests of the live export industry. We have no doubt that the review's author, Mr McCarthy, conducted his investigations in good faith; however, by not allowing the review to countenance a complete transition away from the trade, the minister has ensured the review worked in the interests of those who want the trade to continue. Nobody seriously believes more ventilation will end the cruelty of heat stress and long-haul travel.

The boxed, chilled meat trade is a win-win. It's a way to end the cruelty and boost jobs in regional Australia. I congratulate the meatworkers union for their work in this year and over many years, and I particularly thank Grant Courtney from that union for his advice on how to the transition plan can be managed so it delivers jobs for regional Australia, ends the cruelty of the live export trade and brings certainty to farmers in managing their stock. The Greens' five-point plan to end the live export trade, launched in 2012, was launched with the support of the meatworkers union and many animal welfare groups.

The government needs to face that the tide has turned on the cruel live export trade. This bill provides certainty for Australia's agriculture industry, and we do urge that all members support it.


Animal Export Legislation Amendment (Ending Long-haul Live Sheep Exports) Bill 2018

Explanatory memorandum

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