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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7399


Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (20:10): I rise to speak against the Live Animal Export Restriction and Prohibition Bill 2011 in the strongest possible terms. I am disappointed that we have city based Independents and the Greens, so far removed from the reality of live exports, coming up with these bills that will have such an absolutely devastating effect on rural Australia, particularly northern Australia. I read with interest the maiden speech of the member for Denison, thinking that maybe he had strong views on agriculture and animal husbandry and that I may have missed some of his longstanding views on this issue, but there was no mention of them in that maiden speech.

I understand that there are many issues in politics and that at times it is impossible to get across the breadth of issues. I can say that although I do not have a department or a dozen government advisors, my door is always open to discuss issues, particularly agricultural and rural issues. I believe Mr Wilkie's intentions may be pure, but if that is so and he is going to take a strong position on an issue that has such huge ramifications for all of rural Australia, particularly in northern Australia—not to mention animal husbandry and Indonesia—then he can talk to both sides of the issue.

If he did he would realise that farmers and cattle producers across the country are just as, if not more, serious about animal welfare than he is. Everyone was as appalled at the images on Four Corners as he was and we must not provide cattle to those abattoirs, but that is absolutely no reason to stop providing cattle to those that are processing cattle to the required international standard. In fact, some of the abattoirs that have been banned from receiving our cattle are operating at well above world standards.

I was over in Indonesia on the weekend with Senator Scullion and it was quickly apparent how—understandably so—totally cheesed off various sections of the Indonesian government and industry were over this government's decision to put a halt on the trade. If I were the minister, I would have been on the first plane, either with or without the foreign minister, to meet with the Indonesian government to say, 'How can we fix this situation together?' No, not in this situation—the government were more worried about the lefties within their party than about the relationship with our closest and most important near neighbour and, in this case, our biggest trading partner. Nor were they worried about the impact on the cattle industry, as they had not considered the ramifications for not only northern Australia but also the whole cattle industry, where we saw the cow market drop $150 in two days. The government needs to let Indonesia know how important a trading partner they are and work with them to deliver a solution, not impose a decision on them. This is diplomacy 101. The member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, understands that, but I am not sure the Prime Minister has the slightest clue about how to manage international relations—she certainly cannot manage internal relations.

Getting back to the bill, we have spoken at length on why we need live exports, but the Indonesians have quite an issue here as well. Their villages tend not to have electricity and fresh meat is the only thing they know how to use in a lot of situations. Providing cattle only to the abattoirs that are doing the right thing is the best incentive for the other abattoirs to lift their standards to get access to the best available and closest cattle. Indonesia needs beef. We are talking about 25 per cent of Indonesia's consumption of beef being tied up in Australia's live trade to them. You can talk about other nations being involved in whatever happens, but really Australia is the only one providing cattle in any quantity to them. We have foot and mouth issues and Indonesians do not want foot and mouth either—they are not silly. Australia, Indonesia and industry need to get together over there. Talking to them, they want us to fix this together and they have sorted out how to do that.

The impact on the domestic industry will be catastrophic. This industry has been developed by Australians and Indonesians over 20 years—actually, it is longer than that. It has become an incredible relation­ship. Involved are Australian companies, Indonesian companies and companies with an Australian flavour owned by Indonesians. I actually believe that the Indonesian government has behaved far better over this incident than the Australian government has.

Let us look at the effect on the Australian industry. The zebu cattle in Northern Australia were not bred for Indonesia; they were bred there because they do well in the north. Back in the days when it was basically British-bred cattle, nobody made money out of it because the cattle died and they were hard to raise. Luckily for Australia, these zebu cattle were wanted by Indonesia and they took them.

People say that we should have abattoirs up there to do this and box meat. Apart from the fact that the Indonesians only want a limited amount of boxed beef—in other words, processed beef—in the past abattoirs have tried it up there and they went broke, from Broome to Innisfail. The presenter of this bill seems to suggest that we are going to move all these cattle down south where they are actually not wanted because they are the wrong type of cattle for southern Australia. They will have to be trucked long distance by road, which I believe they are opposed to as well. Cattle actually travel happily north to Indonesia into the tropics and they come out it very well. Going south, they go into the cold. The animal welfare issues are far more serious for them going south than going north.

As the member I am sure is well aware, there are 82 Indigenous cattle properties in Northern Australia with very strong links to this trade—and more power to them. There are 54 in the Territory, 22 in the Kimberley and Pilbara and six in Far North Queensland. That means 700 real Indigenous jobs. I do not know if the member for Denison has sorted out how that is going to be worked out. Good luck to him if he can do it because nobody else will be able to. And there are probably about 70,000 people in station communities involved in this as well. We are not talking about something someone just dreamt up one night. You cannot turn this industry on and off like a tap. This is the only serious industry in the Northern Australia outside of mining.

The bill to phase out live exports is no better than the bill to ban live exports because it will see the industry collapse as our customers quickly move to secure other suppliers, leaving our industry in the lurch. And do not think the Indonesians are not looking around at that now—and who could blame them when they are treated like this. This legislation would be an absolute catastrophe for rural Australia.

What should be more important for the interest group pushing this agenda is that it is not in the best interests of animal welfare. This prohibition is driven by an agenda from animal activists who want to shut down livestock production. They actually do not want us to eat meat either. They would have us all eating lentils—a prospect I am sure the majority of Australians would seriously baulk at; I know I would. I hope the member for Denison has learnt from this process and will be a bit more circumspect before listening to these groups in the future. As I said, my door is always open and I think my knowledge on this, without appearing to be superior, is a little better than his.

For good animal outcomes, Australia needs to lift the ban because it still needs permits from Indonesia and from Australia before one animal can set foot on a boat. For good animal outcomes, for good Indonesian outcomes and for good Australian outcomes, lift the ban and allow the minister in Indonesia to issue permits. We can still issue permits. You will not do the northern beef industry any favours by putting on a ban which simply means that these cattle have to go somewhere else. The outcome is not the issue; everyone agrees on the way it should happen. Please think about something other than aesthetics, which make people feel good without doing any good for animals.