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Speech: Disallowance of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Repeal Order 2014

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 16 Jun 2014

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:30): I move:

That the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Repeal Order 2014, made under section 17 of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997, be disallowed.

The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Repeal Order 2014 is short-sighted and cruel and it should be disallowed. This regulation undoes the 2008 prohibition on exporting live sheep to Egypt. It takes a backward step on the conditions that cover the handling of these animals in Egypt. It removes the requirement that exported cattle to Egypt must be individually tagged with a functioning radiotracking device, such as an ear tag, for the purpose of tracking the animal through the export chain.

In a further weakening, which one imagines has been taken on the orders of Minister Joyce, the regulation removes the requirement that, at least 214 days before the cattle are exported to Egypt, the exporter must give AQIS—the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service—a written statement by a competent Egyptian authority or the specified operator-manager of the port, feedlot or slaughterhouse that quarantine space is available for the expected weight and number of cattle in the proposed consignment.

Anyone thinking of voting against this disallowance and therefore retaining this regulation needs to be very clear on what they are setting up here. This goes far beyond just re-establishing the live export trade with Egypt. It is also about weakening animal welfare standards, opening the door to more gross cruelty and making it harder for such criminal abuse to be tracked and opposed.

There are compelling reasons why the export of Australian livestock to Egypt was banned by the Howard government in 2006. Animals Australia had revealed footage of terrified cattle having their tendons slashed and eyes stabbed in an Egyptian abattoir. Later that year, along with British investigators, they again documented routine cruelty inflicted on Australian sheep in the days of the Eid al-Adha, which is the festival of sacrifice. The sheep were dragged by various body parts, trussed, shoved in car boots and tied onto roof-racks. Many people contacted my office about how distressing they found these images.

The reopening of the trade has been justified by successive government ministers because of the creation of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, or ESCAS. I note that Minister Barnaby Joyce has recently been in the media talking this system up. This is a tactic to help justify reopening the trade with Egypt, but the reality is that the weak standards in place—which are supposed to provide some protection to Australian live exports—are in fact to be weakened, not strengthened. And, despite what the minister might say, ESCAS is not a solution to the inherent cruelty involved in the live export trade.

That is why the Greens have spent a long time working to end the live export trade, and there is a building public understanding of why this trade must end. The ESCAS standards themselves are very rudimentary. While it is presented that they are a solution to animal cruelty, it is worth remembering what they actually are. They are in fact prepared for developing countries, not for Australia. They are recommendations only, and they offer less protection for animal welfare than the standards enforced in Australia. For example, there is no requirement to stun animals pre-slaughter. As a First World country, we should require higher standards than those provided by ESCAS.

Minister Joyce argues that you can control the welfare of animals through the ESCAS with the creation of a closed-loop system, which dictates which abattoirs we export to. Yet, as recently as March this year, the government's own investigations have confirmed that systemic cruelty is being inflicted by inadequately trained or supervised staff and management working within these systems—inside these very systems that the minister makes out will solve the problems. This is in an Egyptian facility that is ostensibly, we are told, tightly controlled and is frequently visited by industry and government officials. Within what is supposed to be the very best, we see this breakdown.

Continuing revelations in receiving countries show that the ESCAS does not work. We know this because of the tireless investigations by animal welfare organisations, such as Animals Australia, and because of some courageous workers who speak up against cruelty to animals. In Vietnam, we have seen two incidents where cattle have leaked from the supply chain and are likely to have ended up in local slaughterhouses, where animals are often tied to the floor and hit with sledgehammers as a means of stunning them. In Jordan, Animals Australia has noted that there is deliberate, widespread and systemic on-selling of Australian sheep in contravention of the ESCAS. Last year, footage from Animals Australia showing extreme cruelty to animals that had been exported to Egypt again led to a brief ban. We have seen that the industry is unable to follow through on the promises made under the ESCAS, and the trade becomes an on-again, off-again arrangement.

In response to these systematic problems, Minister Joyce does not move to address the animal cruelty issues. Instead, he explicitly removes the minimal requirements we now have. The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Repeal Order removes our ability to track the animals through the export chain to ensure that they are being treated within any standard of welfare. This tracking ability has actually been one of the ways that Animals Australia has been able to reveal the failure of the ESCAS. So it is not hard to see why Minister Joyce would have wanted that aspect weakened. Essentially, in putting forward this regulation, Minister Joyce is attempting to reduce scrutiny and assist cover-ups of animal cruelty. This is not a good move for farmers. It does not bring certainty or secure a reliable trading partner.

Minister Joyce might get away with this within the Nationals and in the Abbott government, but we know that, if this regulation is retained, in time the export industry will unravel, the abuse will happen again and public concern will intensify. We know that the current government does not care about animal welfare. But you would think they would pay attention to the economics.

The live export industry has directly impacted local jobs; as abattoirs in Australia are overlooked for the cheaper options overseas. In 1972 there were 550 abattoirs in Australia. By 1992 the number had dropped to 223. That is a loss of thousands and thousands of jobs. A number of reports from industry and government bodies have found problems with the live export trade. A Western Australian ministerial taskforce in 2004 'found compelling evidence that competition from the live export sector for the limited supply of animals at the farm gate, as well as for foreign markets for animal products, has damaged the processing sector'. A 2000 Heilbron report estimates that 'live exports cost some $1.7 billion in lost GDP; around $280 million in household income and about 12,000 jobs'. A 2010 report found the live export industry 'is inflicting significant damage' on Queensland's beef processing industry and seriously risking assets of $3.5 billion, a direct turnover of $5 billion and some $36,000 jobs.

Remember, these are not the Greens' figures. These are government and industry reports that show how wrong this current live export trade policy is. This lays bare the National Party policies in this area. In fact, what you conclude when you read these reports is that the National Party policy is a jobs killer for rural areas. Restarting the live export trade with Egypt is bad for animal welfare and bad for rural communities.

The 2010 IBIS World Industry Report shows that meat processors alone employed 29,000 people in 2010. On top of this, an estimated 200,000 people are employed along the red meat industry supply chain, with 80 per cent working beyond the post-farm supply chain, including in retail butcheries. A state-of-the-art meat processing facility in Northern Australia could create more than 800 direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs, with significant flow-on effects to regional communities.

We do have an alternative to the live trade, and this has been tried and tested. Australian chilled meat exports have consistently been worth between seven and eight times more than live exports, with chilled sheep and cattle meat exports worth some $6.43 billion in 2012-13, compared to the live sheep and cattle trade worth $533 million. Those are telling figures, and that is why we say that the Nationals are selling out rural communities and that their own policy in this area is a jobs killer.

The question needs to be asked: why do Minister Joyce and his party resist taking steps that would benefit many more farmers than the small number that profit from the live export trade? Making changes would bring enormous benefits across Northern Australia to communities large and small. When trade to Bahrain was suspended in 2012, Bahrain totally replaced live exports with chilled meats, importing more sheep meat in 2013 than they had ever taken in live animals. Sheep processed in Australia are now worth 20 per cent more to our economy than those transported live. In 2013, Australian lamb, beef and veal exports hit new records, with growing preferences for high-quality, safe and convenient meat products sold in modern urban and regional retail outlets throughout the Middle East and Asia.

Many farmers, livestock exporters and others associated with the trade are sickened by the brutality and cruelty perpetrated on exported Australian livestock. I have been to many protests, rallies and public events about the live export trade, and often I share a platform with farmers who raise their concerns. Many of them speak out about the welfare of their animals. They work hard to ensure that cruelty is not perpetrated. But many of them acknowledge that, once their cattle, sheep and other livestock leave this country, it is not possible to control their welfare from behind a desk in Canberra. That is in fact one of the great cons that has been perpetrated by both the coalition and Labor governments on the people of Australia—making up that they have a system that works.

Hundreds of thousands of very ordinary Australians are calling for an end to the system that allows this to continue to happen. No amount of regulation, no form of ESCAS, will ameliorate the horrific conditions and suffering that livestock are exposed to during transport and when slaughtered. We should end the live export trade and support the development of an industry in a sustainable, cruelty-free framework that maximises jobs within Australia. The Greens have a plan for this. We would develop new meat processing facilities across Northern Australia, invest in skills and education for industry workers, and work with the industry to ensure that the infrastructure is there so this industry can continue throughout the year. We would advocate for the Australian meat industry overseas by pushing for removal of trade barriers, as well as planning with the industry for a transition away from live exports to chilled boxed meat. And we would set up an independent office of animal welfare to ensure that the standards we do have in place are strong and not abused in the way they are now. That office is urgently needed to help ensure that Australia's standards are respected.

This is the type of planning, this is the type of leadership, that is needed for farmers, for meatworkers, for rural communities in Australia, but we have not seen it. When Labor were in power they failed to deliver and now, with the coalition in power, we see it being wound back even on the level of standards currently in place. Minister Joyce and the Nationals are selling out farmers by not providing such a transitional plan. Rather they are increasing the difficulty and uncertainty these communities face.

We know from the recent past that ESCAS does not work. There are so many incidences that have shown that. There are so many investigations currently going on into events where that system has failed. When community organisations once again reveal the cruel conditions under which the animals suffer, the government will have to ban exports. That is clear; we are now at that point.

The repeal of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Export of Live-stock to Egypt) Repeal Order 2014 does nothing to address the issues facing the industry today. The repeal order should be disallowed because, if it is not disallowed, what will remain in place is a regulation that will be damaging to the industry as well as allowing more animal cruelty to be perpetrated.

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