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Monday, 24 November 2003
Page: 17539


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4:39 PM) —I will not speak long on this response from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, despite its importance, because of the pressing other business before the Senate over the next two weeks. As Senator O'Brien mentioned, this response from the minister is to a motion that I originally moved in the Senate that was supported by a majority of the Senate. The minister's response is about 1½ pages long, and I guess we can be thankful that the minister has responded to some extent. I believe that the response is still not satisfactory, particularly in addressing the component of the resolution which urged the government to do more to promote the refrigerated and processed meat trade to help move away from the live export trade, which is clearly unacceptable in animal welfare terms and is in many respects unnecessary.

The minister's response to that is inadequate. It continues to run the suggestion that there will always be a market for live animals and therefore we may as well keep doing it. Firstly, whilst there may be a small irreplaceable market in live animals, it is nowhere near as large as the existing market. Secondly, I would suggest that running the line: `If we don't do it, somebody else will,' which is what the minister is stating, is simply not sufficient. You could use the same argument in relation to growing opium crops—which are in great demand and which we could make a lot of money out of—for processing and export, but we do not do it, because we do not support it, except for appropriate legal means. We could—and unfortunately do—use the same argument in relation to uranium exports, much to the opposition of many Australians, including the Democrats. There are any number of other industries that we do not engage in, certainly not to an unlimited extent, because we do not believe they are appropriate, including components of the arms industry.

I am not trying to equate the live animal trade with the arms trade or the drugs trade; I am simply saying that the logic of saying: `If we don't do it, somebody else will, therefore we're not going to do anything about it,' is inadequate. There clearly are enormous animal welfare problems that are not able to be adequately addressed, and they are certainly not being addressed. I would suggest that, if you look at the totality of the trade, it is simply impossible to address them. There is no doubt that a lot more could be done to promote an alternative trade, which also of course would provide extra value to Australia.

So there is an inadequacy in terms of the minister's response. I would urge him to give further thought to these alternative approaches, which I suggest would meet the widespread support of the Australian people. It is quite clear that a very large number of people in the Australian community are concerned about the unnecessary and unavoidable cruelty involved in the live animal trade. I have mentioned before this is the largest petition by quite a way that has been tabled in this chamber so far this year, which contains over 20,000 signatures so far from people expressing opposition to the trade and, I might say, seeking a Senate inquiry into it. That is something that I will pursue a little bit further down the track. I anticipate as many signatures again, if not quite a number on top of that, some time before the end of this sitting fortnight. I anticipate that 40,000 or 50,000 Australians will express their views on that matter by that means. It is a matter of concern to the government. I suggest that if they treated it more seriously than they are and went beyond some platitudes then they would actually get a lot of public support. I would urge them once again to consider acting further in relation to this area, beyond what is contained in the minister's response.