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
Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21639

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (2:01 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Can the minister confirm that the National Farmers Federation, the Cattle Council of Australia, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia, WoolProducers, the Australian Meat Industry Council, the Western Australian Meat Marketing Cooperative, the Sheep Breeders Association of Western Australia, the Western Australian Farmers Federation, the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Australian Veterinary Association plus 21 government backbenchers all oppose the return of the sheep laden MV Cormo Express on quarantine grounds? Why does the minister think only he is right and everyone else is wrong on the dangers of bringing the sheep back?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —All honourable members have been following with concern the plight of the 52,000 or thereabouts sheep on board the Cormo Express. The vessel is in Kuwait and is about to leave for the return journey to Australia. The government have been involved in extensive negotiations with countries around the world. We have been supported in those negotiations by the industry itself to seek to find an alternative destination for the sheep. That remains our priority. Even if the vessel is most of the way home and we uncover a satisfactory destination, the vessel will be diverted to that destination. A second vessel is being prepared in Australia to take on additional feed and supplies because it is quite clear that, once the vessel leaves Kuwait, the next load of feed and provisions that it will require will have to come from Australia. So we are undertaking a lot of preparation work in that regard.

It would clearly be irresponsible for the government not to also be considering what options are available in the event that we are unable to find a destination for the sheep close to where they are. In that regard we have looked at a couple of options—slaughter at sea or some other location or the alternative of bringing them back to Australia. Those negotiations and those scientific studies are well advanced. You indicated that a number of industry bodies have expressed concern about the sheep coming back to Australia, including the Australian Veterinary Association. To be fair, you must also acknowledge that that association has issued a press release saying how unsatisfactory slaughter at sea would be. So I think the Veterinary Association's commentaries on the issue demonstrate how challenging and difficult this situation is.

The government have no intention whatsoever of compromising Australia's enviable quarantine status. We will not in any way be putting at risk our clean and green image. The work that is being done would put in place a quarantine regime the like of which we have never seen in this country. It is not the kind of quarantine regime that you would have for a routine import. This is an emergency situation and it requires an emergency response and a tighter rein of quarantine than you would normally have.

The industry associations have identified some of the disease and pest issues that have to be addressed. We are confident that those issues can be effectively addressed; indeed, the industry associations themselves have identified many of the ways that that risk can be reduced to the kinds of levels we would expect in relation to our trade with other parts of the world.

I would remind the House that these are Australian sheep and we are proposing to bring them back to Australia. They have not left the vessel and it is an enclosed vessel. So the risk of any kind of infection coming on board is quite low. Nonetheless, we are not prepared in any way to compromise our nation's clean and green image, and the quarantine plans put in place will take no shortcuts.

Finally, it is by far the best option for us to be able to unload these sheep in other parts of the world. That is still our primary objective and we are working to achieve that end. But if that cannot be achieved, then we have in place and will be able to put in place a satisfactory arrangement so these sheep can be brought home to their native country, Australia.