Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20635

Mr FITZGIBBON (3:27 PM) —My question is also addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and concerns the MV Cormo Express fiasco and the indication he gave in his earlier answer that bringing the sheep home remains an active option. Can the minister confirm that he has received a letter from Australia's peak wool industry body raising serious concerns about the disease threat to the wool industry if the sheep are returned to Australia? Is the minister also aware that his counterpart in the Northern Territory has already ruled out offloading the sheep in Darwin, due to a potential blue tongue disease threat? Can the minister confirm that Labor wrote to him over a week ago requesting that he make available the import risk analysis of the quarantine risk of the return of the sheep to Australia? Minister, what is the government trying to hide by not releasing the quarantine risk report?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —That question is as jumbled as has been the Labor Party's total response to this issue over the last three to four weeks. Initially they criticised me for banning future exports to Saudi Arabia until these issues were resolved, and a day or two later they withdrew that objection and in fact commended me on having taken such an action. That is fairly typical of their responses: full of criticism but never any constructive suggestions. As I indicated in my earlier response, the government's priority is to seek to find a destination for the sheep that is close to their current location. That is by far the best outcome from an animal welfare perspective and, indeed, from the point of view of dealing with all the other issues associated with this particular shipment.

However, it would be irresponsible—particularly after 20 countries have initially spurned our responses—if we did not also look at what the fallback options might be. There are essentially two. The first would involve slaughter, either at sea or at some other location, and the second would be to return the sheep to Australia, obviously under strict quarantine conditions. There are a range of quarantine risks associated with bringing the sheep back to Australia. I would remind the House that the independent veterinary report states that the sheep are currently in good condition and disease free. They are Australian sheep and would be returning to Australia. However, they have been in a location where there are some pests and diseases which are exotic to Australia, and those are issues which we would need to deal with. Biosecurity Australia are doing an assessment of the various issues and how we would need to respond to each of those disease issues if a decision is made that, at some stage, the sheep are to be brought back to Australia.

In relation to the Northern Territory's indication that it would be inappropriate for the sheep to be unloaded at Darwin, because of blue tongue disease, it is true that, in Northern Australia—particularly at this time of year—the blue tongue virus is active and can be fatal for sheep. I have indicated that, because of the potential risk of blue tongue, it is unlikely that it would be practical to bring the sheep back to any location in Northern Australia. There are still plenty of other options which might be available, but our preference remains finding a destination for the sheep close to where they currently are.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.