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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 9482

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (16:45): It is now three months since the ABC's Four Corners program exposed the brutal treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, and we continue to see a steady trickle of disturbing evidence that points to the culpability of the live export industry in this scandal. Yesterday the government released the Chief Veterinary Officer's report into the mark I boxes—the cattle restraint devices featured on Four Corners of which 103 had been installed by MLA and LiveCorp for use in Indonesian slaughterhouses. It was these devices and the associated trauma and torture inflicted upon cattle that were a source of outrage for many Australians. The Chief Veterinary Officer has now concluded that these devices breach the base level OIE international slaughter guidelines as they cause unnecessary distress during the restraint process, among other things. Some $1 million of taxpayer funding contributed to the installation of these devices. Financial contributions from government towards these boxes were made under both parties' watch, and the community has every reason to feel outraged that this has effectively been an investment in animal cruelty in Indonesia.

Evidence out of Turkey released last week showed again the willingness of live exporters to enter new markets without first assessing the conditions Australian animals would face. We have sent 500,000 cattle and sheep to Turkey over the past 18 months to be slaughtered in facilities that would appear to routinely breach international guidelines by hoisting conscious animals by a rear leg for the throat cut.

We have also today seen pitiful images, this time apparently of Australian livestock in Israel, showing cattle crowded together, covered in filth and being beaten with spike-tipped poles, providing yet further evidence of how far this trade currently is from being humane or acceptable to the Australian community.

I am sure that many members would have received correspondence, as I have, this week expressing disappointment that there could not have been a conscience vote last Thursday with regard to the bills to end live export. This demonstrates to me the strong desire of a majority of Australians to see proper consideration and analysis given to a plan to transition out of live exports, as New Zealand has, including steps to support the significant expansion of chilled meat export markets. There is absolutely no doubt, however, that until we can take that important step, the very least the community expects of us is to ensure that there is not one standard for animals in Australia and an unacceptably lower standard for the treatment and slaughter of Australian animals overseas.

What has been made abundantly clear by evidence presented from importing markets is the importance in this respect of pre-slaughter stunning. Despite this fact, there appears to exist a belief by some that mandatory stunning is not possible in Middle Eastern markets. This ignores a clear precedent in Jordan, where stunning has gained religious acceptance and has been embraced as good for animals, safer for workers and providing a better meat quality. With encouragement from Australia, widespread stunning is more than achievable in the region. Animals Australia's work in Jordan, for example, has led to 80 per cent of animals in that country now going through facilities that stun. The other 20 per cent is just a matter of time as the final facilities are upgraded.

I recently received a letter from Her Royal Highness Princess Alia al Hussein of Jordan urging Australia to mandate stunning in importing countries. She wrote:

I would greatly encourage you, and indeed be most grateful to you, if in setting standards in legislation, you can ensure that the stunning of both sheep and cattle unconscious prior to slaughter is mandatory. The utmost minimizing of the suffering of animals both leading up to and during the slaughter process is a key requirement of Islamic teachings, hard though that may be to believe when seeing the cavalier treatment of animals, sadly, in many Islamic countries. It would greatly assist our efforts were the Australian government to mandate standards that have been scientifically proven to reduce suffering, as well as having growing religious acceptance.

Australia sends halal certified meat to every country it sends live animals to, all of which is from animals stunned as part of the slaughter process. The Princess Alia Foundation is actively encouraging the benefits of stunning to be more broadly embraced in the Middle East. Her Royal Highness went on to write:

Whilst Australia's live export trade continues, it is important for countries in my region which have yet to implement animal protection laws, to see that the Australian government places great importance on animal welfare and ensuring that animals are humanely treated throughout the process.

Here we have, clearly, an appeal from a leading Islamic figure for Australia to assist in the broader acceptance and implementation of stunning in the Middle East by making such standards mandatory. Surely there is no greater indication as to what our next step should be than this direct request from one of our major customers to set the bar higher.

If live export is to continue for the foreseeable future, the very least we can do is to properly protect the welfare of animals, and the most basic protection we can afford them is pre-slaughter stunning. Australians expect it; producers have overwhelmingly signalled they want it; religious authorities accept it. There is no reason not to do it.