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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2095


Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (13:15): I rise today to speak about what is potentially another emerging attack on one of the most substantive industries in northern Australia—that is, the live cattle trade.

This chamber would well remember that in 2011 a decision was taken by the then government to suspend live cattle trade out of Australia—in particular to the market of Indonesia. It is now a matter of public record the enormous economic social and human impact that had on literally thousands and thousands—tens of thousands—of people in the north, particularly in the Northern Territory, the northern parts of Western Australia and the northern part of my home state of Queensland. The economic impact is well recorded. Effectively, a billion-dollar industry was brought to its knees overnight. It is also well recorded that we then felt the effects of that right through the domestic cattle market here in Australia, reducing prices down in 2011 to figures that are around about 20 per cent of average prices that we see today—restored after we restored the export markets.

This attack is coming from the chief scientist of the RSPCA in a book co-authored by Dr Bidda Jones and Julian Davies, entitled Backlash: Australia's Conflict of Values Over Live Exports. Before I go to some of the substantive issues raised in this publication, I can say that any cursory glance at it, even without the full academic study, shows that the views expressed by Dr Jones, if not shared—the whole tone of the book is really elitist left-wing ideology—every time there is reference made to someone who might resist the views being expressed by them or indeed expressing views that were supportive of this important valuable industry, they are attacked. So there are statements like: 'With increasing bravado life exporters are again claiming the social licence for their enterprise. We are not persuaded. Neither do we believe, nor do most people who do not have a vested interest in this business, that there is a convincing argument to prevent a planned transition away from live exports.' They are suggesting that every opinion expressed by everybody else is without foundation. That is thousands of families who rely upon this as their core trade, their business enterprises and the industry peak bodies who work very hard.

The Commonwealth government, having learnt the lesson in 2011, having seen the impacts of it, have invested not just financially but also an enormous amount of resource capital in ensuring that our live trade conditions for animals are equal to or higher than anywhere else in the world. Indeed they are. Those who are familiar with the ESCAS program, the 'exporter supply chain assurance system', know that we now follow every unit of live export animal to the destination of slaughter in the countries we export these animals to. There are conditions with respect to the humane slaughter of those animals, and we are the only country to do that. We are the only country on earth to do that of all those countries that export live animals around the world. We do that at a cost of about $50 to $100 per animal. On today's rates, that would represent between five per cent and 10 per cent of the gross value of the transaction. Nowhere else in the world—and indeed there are very few other industries in this country where producers are burdened with the funding requirements to meet these animal slaughter standards. So I can say proudly on behalf of the industry that they are world leaders in this space.

What the book failed to mention—and I looked two or three times from cover to cover—was what are the economic and social impacts not only to our own nation but to our trading partners in this space? First of all, what the book forgot to publish was that, if we were to stop live exports around the world, the vacuum that would be created with our numbers would be very quickly filled by other countries who export live animals. I promise you none of those countries meet our ESCAS standards. None of them follow the supply chain. None of them are interested whatsoever in what happens to the animals after they have been transported from their shores.

So, in Dr Jones's case, it was seen that Dr Jones had an interest in animal welfare, as long as you were an Australian animal. She was not interested in the global welfare, as we all ought to be, with respect to systems particularly in live animal trade. Let's have a look at Dr Jones's performance in the space of the RSPCA, which is an organisation for which I have enormous respect. I support it conceptually and I believe that we are a nation that has at the core of our beliefs and our values that we should treat animals in an ethical way. If we have a look, there is an estimate that we have about 24 million pets in this country, ranging from dogs and cats to budgerigars and reptiles and some other exotic animals. I just want to make a comparison because I am interested as to why Dr Jones did not turn her considerable talents towards trying to fix the core and fundamental issues within the ambit of the RSPCA.

We have these 24 million-odd pets. If you were to look, at the same period of time, at the comparative figures for the export of animals, we have somewhere in the order of 100 million head of cattle for the same period—about 14.6 million head of cattle in some 1,200 consignments in the comparative period. The RSPCA received 221,222 reports of animal abuse, so nearly a quarter of a million reports of animal abuse. If you related that to the reports of abuse from various sources in relation to the 14.6 million head of cattle, there were 89 reports on the live cattle export trade and 221,000 reports across Australia with domestic pets and animals. So one of the first questions that I would have for Dr Jones, if we were to share each other's company—and I suspect that is becoming more and more remote as I speak—is why they would not concentrate on resolving what is a serious problem amongst animal carers in this country without turning their mind to professional producers of livestock, whose interest it is to care for these animals to the highest possible standard because it is their livelihood. To punish or damage an animal, to scar an animal, to bruise an animal or to do something with that animal that diminishes the quality of the animal, of course, is against the best interests of these producers. So I do find it a bit perplexing that Dr Jones wants to concentrate on this important trade without getting back to the core values of the RSPCA in the first instance.