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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1590


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (13:14): Last night at the National Gallery here in Canberra a book written by a senior officer of the RSPCA was launched by the ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson. The book,Backlash, has an uncanny resemblance to my surname. It is a book that discusses, in the view of the authors, the events leading up to the ban on the export trade of live cattle to Indonesia in 2011. It gives a view that is very much at variance to my own.

Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, I will remind you of the background, if you are not aware of it. On Monday, 30 May 2011 the Four Corners program on the ABC, led by Sarah Ferguson, showed images of shocking cruelty to animals in meatworks in Indonesia. This was followed soon afterwards by a carefully orchestrated media and email campaign, of which all of us in this parliament were victims, that led the Labor government of the day to collapse at the knees and summarily ban the trade of live cattle to Indonesia without reference to anybody in the industry or anybody, including those in this place, who might have known a bit about it.

This is not the place for me, today, to discuss the integrity or otherwise of the footage that we saw on that evening of 30 May. That is for another place and another time. What I do want to do is investigate and expose the integrity of those who were part of the process that led to the ban.

The footage came into the possession of animal activists about the end of February or the start of March. To his credit, the then minister, Senator Ludwig, in a meeting on 6 April and subsequently in a phone call on 12 April asked for that footage. His requests were refused. Incidentally, I was refused any opportunity to see the footage, as was the then shadow minister, Senator Colbeck. It is interesting, because the question was asked of a young activist officer: why was it that the footage could not be made available? Her answer was very, very prescient. The answer she gave was 'because we wanted to get our ducks in a row'. I intend this afternoon to explain what the ducks were and where the end of that row was. The objective at that time and continuing to the present was to destroy if not the entire beef industry across north of Australia then certainly the live export trade. If there were a few victims along the way—and there were—that was just collateral damage.

Why not February? Why not April? I will tell you why it occurred at the end of May and early June to have effect in the beginning of June. It is simple. There had to be somebody in this conspiracy who understood the cycle of the weather, the climate and the industry. At the end of May, the entire northern cattle industry are at the bottom of their income curve. They had their last income in October of the previous year. They were at the bottom of their income curve but they were at the top of their expenditure curve. Guess when all of the costs associated with supporting stations, all of the costs associated with mustering—helicopters, trucking, station staff et cetera—happen? Right at the time when this ban was brought on. I am not blaming Senator Ludwig for this. I certainly am blaming the then Labor government for its motivation. It was not Senator Ludwig; it was to get carbon tax and then Prime Minister Gillard off the front page of the paper.

Let me get back to this scandalous circumstance. It is also the time when feed is starting to reduce on the rangelands. Cows have calves at foot and last year's calves should have been on ships going to Indonesia. The timing was so careful and so successful. Who was in on this? Certainly, and regrettably, the RSPCA seems to have been involved, because it would have been within their power earlier in the year to have produced that footage so that the minister and the department could have done something about it. Certainly GetUp! was very much involved. We know that animal activists were very much involved. If the meat processors and the meat industry unions were involved they stand condemned for trying to do to a kindred part of their industry what ended up happening to that industry. I know from the email campaign that there are people whose names were used who never even knew they were sending these emails to us about banning this trade.

I introduced legislation into the parliament at this time last year to require that a person who had footage of what they believed to be cruelty to animals would be under an obligation to report that footage to a responsible authority so that it could be examined and investigated, and if the person or people were found guilty they could be brought to justice. But that was never, ever the motivation of this group of people. I regret to say it was not. The motivation was to try to bring this industry to its knees, and it jolly near did bring it to its knees. I am very proud to say that when those events took place all members of the coalition and all senators associated with the coalition stood as one to push the government to reintroduce that trade.

I give credit to the industry, with which I was associated for many years. All of the preparation of livestock for shipping, the transport, the feedlotting, the standard of feedlots in our target markets: we have done an enormous amount over 30 to 40 years. People might be interested to know that of the 109 countries that export live animals for production purposes we are the only one that has ever spent money, people and time to improve standards. Was it the case that standards in abattoirs needed to be improved? Yes, it was. But was this the way to achieve it? No, it was not. As Ms Alison Penfold from the Livestock Exporters' Council has recently, and quite rightly, said, 'Why could this group not have worked with us?' Look at what has been achieved over the last four or five years, not just within Australia but particularly in our target markets, and the fact that we are having such a positive influence on standards of animal welfare in all of the target markets in which we operate. Where has there been any acknowledgement by the RSPCA or the activists or GetUp! or anyone else for the improvements that have been made. Indeed, if this group were genuine about animal welfare standards they would be coming on board and congratulating the industry for what it has achieved. If they had any interest in the welfare of animals beyond Australia's borders they would be saying that what Australia is doing is fantastic, that what the exporters are doing, what the agriculture department and what the minister has been doing is excellent, but, no, we are not hearing about that.

Senator Colbeck: We're the only country doing it.

Senator BACK: As Senator Colbeck said, we are the only country that has ever invested in animal welfare. I can give you example after example of where the welfare of animals in our target markets has improved as a result of what Australia is doing.

But what was the impact? We completely destroyed our relationship with Indonesia—and up to 69 million low-socioeconomic Indonesians used to get their protein from Australian beef. As a result of that, we had mass bankruptcies and we had suicides. As I predicted, and as has regrettably happened, we had massive starvation on the rangelands through 2011-12. Previously I have stood in this place and said that, if we have a drought and/or bushfires, we are going to have a disaster of monumental proportions. Did any of those animal activist groups or the RSPCA express any interest at all in the wellbeing of those animals that died of starvation on the rangelands? No, they did not. It is the vision of the RSPCA to be the leading authority in animal care and protection. Well, they went missing between 2011 and 2012 in the north of Australia—and I regret to say that.

If someone purchased a pup or a kitten from an RSPCA shelter and subsequently brutalised that animal, would anyone say it was the RSPCA's fault? Of course not. But in the live export trade, if there is a failure of animal welfare somewhere in the Middle East, somehow it is all of a sudden the fault of the industry here.

Ms Sarah Ferguson, from the ABC, appeared at a Senate inquiry when we were examining this issue. She had been in the Northern Territory. She insisted that she had provided footage to the people she spoke to from the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association. Regrettably, I have evidence from the past president, Mr Ken Warriner, that Ms Ferguson did not show him the footage and neither had she seen the footage. She was not honest in her answer to me. Secondly, in regard to a cattle station that she named in her show, six times I offered her the opportunity to confirm that she had named that station and each time she said, 'No, we did not.' (Time expired)