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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4363


Senator MARGETTS(10.39 a.m.) —I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i)   on Sunday, 13 October 1996, Western Australians will march in a public display of opposition to the live sheep trade organised by People Against Cruelty in Animal Transport,

(ii)   the Western Australian protest will coincide with a London-based protest by Compassion in World Farming at the Australian High Commission in which a wreath will be laid for the 67 488 sheep which burned to death or drowned in August 1996 with the sinking of the livestock transport ship, the Uniceb , and

(iii)   over 5 million live sheep are exported annually from Australia to the Middle East, and each year more than 100 000 of those die from heat stroke, disease or starvation during the journey; and

(b)   calls on the Government to:

(i)   instigate an investigation into the sinking of the Uniceb and the deaths of 67 488 sheep, including an investigation of the standards of the ship and inspection services, the presence of veterinarian, and safety and rescue services and procedures, and

(ii)   implement measures to prevent a similar disaster happening again.

I am not going to delay the chamber for any longer than is necessary. This issue obviously concerns a great many people in the community. It is one of those issues where people who see you walking along the street or people you meet who know you are a Green will ask you, `What are you doing about the live sheep trade?' There is a lot of concern about it. It is not an anti-employment issue. As Senator Woodley has indicated, there is an issue of value adding in Australia.

The latest thing I heard on the media the other day was that, although it is obvious that sheep can be killed in an approved manner in Australia with proper ceremonies, there is preference for freshness. One might say that that is a preference, and it is a market preference, but there are perhaps other good reasons why Australian value adding ought to be looked at in a different way. Why is Australian killed meat not considered acceptable? Perhaps we ought to look at that issue.

There are many issues here. Calling on the government to investigate sinking would not seem to me to be such an odd thing to do. If there has been an investigation into the sinking, perhaps the government could alleviate our concerns and present to us the outcome of that investigation. If an aircraft, a passenger ship or a ferry went down with a loss of lives, there would obviously be an investigation. So instigating an investigation or providing a report to the Senate as to what happened and why does not actually seem to me to be an unreasonable thing to do.

What about implementing measures to prevent a similar disaster from occurring again? It could be a case of, `Oh, well, these things happen; we have done the best we can.' But if it could be suggested that the standard of the ship was such that it was an accident waiting to happen, it is something for all of us to be concerned about.

We have had debates in this House on the Ships of shame report and what we ought to be doing and what standards are reached. If standards are not being reached and if one of the outcomes is that the live sheep trade is a result of part of this kind of shameful shipping standard system, maybe in crews, in standards, or in the safety of the ships, then perhaps it is something we ought to be talking about, instead of pretending it is not happening or that it is simply an issue of protecting the agricultural industry.

I have stood up here on many occasions talking about appropriate regional development and what we can be doing to meet the employment and other needs in regional areas. I am certainly in favour of making sure that regions do remain viable and have the means to remain viable. However, I do not think we are protecting anybody if we refuse to look at these issues. If we assume that everything that can possibly be done is being done, I do not think we are being serious about this.   So if asking a simple question to get a report on an incident is considered to be outlandish, perhaps in the future we might ask for a review, which will obviously take more time. However, parliamentary inquiries—especially Senate inquiries—are very cost effective. Perhaps we could look at that option. For the government to suggest that what we are asking for is unreasonable is a bit difficult, considering that during the debate, I said to the government, `Come back to us with a form of wording. Say what you think is reasonable and we will listen to it.' But we have heard nothing.

We have had this kind of response today: `The problem does not exist. Everything is terrific. There is no problem with the safety of ships carrying sheep. There is no problem with the amount of deaths occurring. There is no problem with the way sheep are carried.' That is putting your head in the sand. It is time to start looking at these issues more carefully and to at least start admitting that there is a responsibility for governments to keep up their international reputation on these issues. Therefore I would seek support on the substantive motion.