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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10453


Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (19:35): It has been another bleak fortnight for Australia's live export trade and one that has again brought international focus on Australia for our involvement in it. In a near disaster reminiscent of the Cormo Express tragedy, two Australian shipments of sheep were rejected by importing countries in the Middle East, leaving tens of thousands of animals stranded at sea. The two countries that refused to permit the unloading of Australian sheep—Kuwait and Bahrain—were parties to MOUs with Australia, an agreement between countries to ensure the unloading of our animals. The Australian public was meant to be reassured by these MOUs that a Cormo Express type disaster, where 6,000 sheep died when Saudi Arabia rejected them almost a decade ago, could never be repeated. Such was the secrecy around these two rejections that we do not know whether Kuwait and Bahrain were even reminded of their MOU obligations. However, what we do know is that their existence failed to ensure the unloading of Australian animals. The very first time these MOUs were put to the test they appear to have failed.

The 22,000 sheep on board the Wellard's ship the Ocean Drover had already endured a two-week sea journey from an Australian winter into a Middle Eastern summer. Animals who were already highly susceptible to succumbing to illness and heat stress remained on that ship for an additional 14 days while government officials and the exporter attempted quietly and outside of media scrutiny to negotiate a country to take them. In the end, that country was Pakistan, a destination that had never previously taken Australian sheep and that was only urgently granted supply chain approval as a desperate measure to ensure a destination for these sheep.

We as political representatives and the community would not even have been aware of what was occurring had it not been exposed by international media, piquing the concerns of animal welfare groups and Australian journalists. The seriousness of these incidents has been downplayed rather than accurate information provided to the public. To this day, there has been no acknowledgement that the two importing countries rejected these shipments in breach of their MOU obligations.

Rather, we have heard the industry line that the additional 10 or 14 days at sea for these sheep merely reflected 'delays in approval for unloading'. Refusing to unload a shipment is a rejection. It was an overt rejection in the case of Bahrain; otherwise Wellard would not have been forced to source an alternative market in Pakistan.

Once again it is clear that animal welfare should not be the responsibility of a department whose primary stakeholder is the agricultural lobby. It is in recognition of this that the federal ALP passed a resolution at our national conference to establish an independent office of animal welfare, and I join with a number of my Labor colleagues in pushing for this to occur as a matter of urgency.

The sheep on the Ocean Drover had barely set foot on soil before the industry was rocked yet again by the revelation that Australian sheep were being sold in a notoriously cruel marketplace in Kuwait, in breach of government regulations. Many Australians will remember with heavy hearts the images Animals Australia brought back from this very marketplace in 2010—of sheep being manhandled, trussed, thrown, shoved into car boots and lying across the bodies of other bloodied and dying sheep. This market is, according to Animals Australia, the scene of some of the worst cruelty documented in their 10 years of investigating this trade, and finding animals in this marketplace is equivalent to finding cattle in the worst slaughterhouses of Indonesia.

If found guilty, the exporter involved should lose their export licence. This exporter has already been exposed as having a chequered history in this trade and indeed was found responsible for serious animal welfare breaches in Indonesia just a few months ago. The only way that serious breaches will not continue is if the government sends a strong message to exporters that violations will not be tolerated, by imposing the strongest possible penalty when breaches are exposed.

The reality is that this government has taken stronger action than any other to regulate this trade and hold the live export industry to account—but the system is not working. We are dealing with importing countries that do not prioritise animal welfare and an industry that clearly does not. That it continues to take the efforts of animal welfare organisations like Animals Australia to uncover and report breaches is unacceptable. A charity should not have to be the watchdog of a million-dollar industry. I am sure that Heather Neil, the CEO of RSPCA Australia, who is in the gallery tonight, would agree.

Ultimately, all of these sheep could have been sold for a profit to domestic markets. Instead they were exposed to the inherent risks of lengthy sea voyages and cruel slaughter in importing countries. When is enough profit enough? At what point do we say we are no longer prepared to export our ethics with our animals? I, like most Australians who despise this trade in animal suffering, believe that point has come and gone.