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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 3561

Senator STEPHENS (New South Wales) (15:22): I, too, rise to take note of answers to questions without notice asked today, particularly given who is in the chamber today—both you, Mr Deputy President and Senator Scullion. I think that the issues arising out of questions to Minister Ludwig around the live cattle export industry and its future are pretty important. I think we are all in furious agreement that we need to have public confidence in that industry and we are also in furious agreement about the outrage of the animal cruelty that we witnessed on the television program that led to the suspension of the live export trade by the minister.

In the first instance, congratulations go to the minister for taking the action that he did and for going to Indonesia to negotiate some outcomes. As we have just heard from the previous speaker, there are some real vested interests in this industry that are looking for some security and certainty. It is very clear what the suspension of the live export trade is seeking to achieve, and the minister highlighted those today. First of all there is the strengthening of the export licences, strengthening the supply chain security and reinvesting in confidence in the system, which I think has been seriously depleted by the actions of Meat and Livestock Australia and by the actions that we witnessed on the television program. We also all want to see adherence to the international animal welfare guidelines that should underpin good stewardship in this regard. The minister said today that trade would reopen when the set of mutual standards have been established and he is working to ensure that happens as quickly as possible.

I am sure I am not the only one in this chamber who has received over 15,000 emails in a concerted campaign that is actually about closing down the live export industry. For those people who have been orchestrating that campaign, it has certainly been one that has clogged up the parliamentary email system beyond belief, but we are very realistic and, in fact, most Australians are very realistic about the importance of our pastoral industry and our live animal exports. Most Australians support the continuation of trade if there are guarantees that cattle will be treated humanely. A recent report substantiates that. An Essential Report that was recently released indicates that 72 per cent of Australians support the long-term continuation of live exports and that 58 per cent of them supported the minister's decision to suspend trade while these issues are being investigated.

We all want this issue resolved. We are in furious agreement about having this resolved, but we also have to work very hard to restore public confidence in the industry before we can renew our live trade export. I have to say that the MLA have responsibility for part of the solution. We just heard about the pastoral industry and the pastoral stations that are significantly impacted by this and the uncertainty about employment, particularly for Indigenous people, is something that I am very concerned about, but of course this goes much further beyond that. It goes right along the supply chain, from the pastoral industry to everyone else involved: exporters, port and stevedoring services, shipping companies, road transporters, veterinarians and everyone in between who is part of a very important industry for the Australian agricultural sector. We do want this resolved, but the Australian people want to have public confidence in our live export industry. Until we can achieve the standards to ensure that there are international welfare guidelines adhered to in this process, we simply cannot just resume a trade that will be to the detriment of the long-term sustainability of this industry. I know that people are stressed and I know that people are worried, but I also know that the minister is working day and night to ensure that the impact on Australian producers is resolved.