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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8629

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (16:44): Earlier today this House voted on what have become known as the Bandt and Wilkie bills, to end and phase out, respectively, the live animal export trade. I did not vote for those bills. In fact, only two members of this 150-member House did. Some calls and emails to my office have been critical of my not supporting these bills. What I need to say in response to this view is that I am a member of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, which took a collective decision not to support these bills and voted collectively not to do so. The Labor Party has a 100-year plus history of debating and voting collectively on bills. If a Labor MP votes against a caucus decision concerning legislation, which is referred to as 'crossing the floor', the usual penalty is suspension or expulsion.

I have a proud history of over 36 years as a Labor Party member, and for the past 30 years I have continuously represented the Labor Party at local, state or federal level. I respectfully suggest to some of my constituents and correspondents that it would be unreasonable to ask me to throw that 30-year plus history out the window for the sake of these bills and unreasonable also to ask my colleagues to do so. To do that would have been both an exercise in futility and a breach of faith with our electorates—an exercise in futility because crossing the floor would not have enabled these bills to become law. There were only two votes out of 150 in support of these bills, and no number of Labor backbenchers crossing the floor could have changed the outcome.

Crossing the floor and getting ourselves suspended or expelled would also have been a breach of faith with the hundreds of Labor Party branch members and campaign workers and the thousands of constituents who campaigned for us and voted for us, not because of our outstanding personal abilities and qualities—impressive as they may be—but because we were the Labor candidate and they wanted to get a Labor representative and a Labor government. Whatever the attractions people feel from time to time of becoming an Independent, such as political freedoms and, in this hung parliament, access to the corridors of power, many of my constituents would, with good reason, feel cheated were I to do such a thing, and I will not be doing it. They voted for a Labor member in this parliament, and they are getting one.

Now let me turn to the footage released today showing the hoisting of cattle and sheep prior to slaughter in Turkish abattoirs. These practices are unacceptable. I personally found them sickening. To have animals thrashing around after their throats have been cut is a disgrace. It is a clear breach of the OIE animal welfare standards and standards of common decency. Both the government and the industry must take action to ensure that Australian animals are not at risk of this inhumane treatment.

There is a clear message for both government and industry from this footage. Until it becomes universal practice to stun animals during the killing process, we are going to continue to see atrocities like the ones we have witnessed in Indonesia and, now, Turkey. I cannot understand why the live export industry still has not grasped this and has not acted to ensure that all animals are stunned. No doubt this will cost money, but the trade is going to be shut down by force of public opinion unless it is done. When you look at it that way, it is a pretty cheap investment.

The industry bodies Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp have failed to do the job they are paid to do: ensure proper animal welfare standards and the good name of the industry. They are letting Australia down. Their senior people should resign, and, instead of paying levies to them, the industry should look at paying levies to animal protection bodies with actual credibility—like the RSPCA, Animals Australia and the World Society for the Protection of Animals—to do the job of ensuring that the abattoirs to which we export animals comply with the expectations of the Australian public.

The government has established a caucus working group which is considering live animal export issues. It has also commissioned the Farmer review of the live export market that will cover all animals and all markets. I understand the review will provide its report and recommendations by the end of this month. Given these opportunities, I will be working hard to secure the decent and humane animal welfare outcomes to which I know many Australians aspire.

As I have said before, I personally think the live export trade should come to an end, and I believe both animal welfare interests and our economic interests would be better served by our processing all meat domestically, as New Zealand does. But, while this trade continues, both government and industry must move to implement stunning on all occasions because, until this happens, this issue simply will not go away.