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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 6512

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (20:50): This bill is being introduced in the midst of an incredibly important public debate about the ethical viability of the Australian live animal export industry. The catalyst for that debate—the horrific images we saw on ABC's Four Corners three weeks ago—provides damning evidence of an industry peak body complicit in the shocking abuse of Australian cattle in Indonesian slaughter­houses. Before I critique Meat and Livestock Australia's role in the systemic abuse of animals sent overseas for slaughter and elaborate on the reasons why the only satisfactory government response to this abuse is the instant cessation of live animal exports for slaughter, I want to be very clear that this abuse is not a new problem. It is not even necessarily a growing problem: it is a systemic problem onto which the mainstream media is throwing some rare and welcome light. In making this observation, I am reminded of an Albert Schweitzer quote: 'Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.'

The Greens have a longstanding opposition to livestock exports for slaughter as well as for other purposes. It has been a part of our policy platform for many years, and it was part of our 2010 federal election campaign platform. I am proud, then, to move to implement that part of our policy by introducing this bill. The bill puts an immediate end to the horrific treatment of Australian cattle in overseas slaughterhouses. It creates a simple amendment to the Export Control Act 1982 to prohibit the export of live animals for slaughter. It does this by providing definitions of 'livestock' and 'livestock for slaughter' to limit the application of the bill to cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, goats or other prescribed animals intended to be exported overseas for slaughter. The ban will be in place immediately. These provisions will come into effect the day after royal assent, with no delay and with the immediate cessation of cruelty.

My colleague in the other place Senator Siewert has introduced a bill with identical provisions in order that both houses can keep pressure on the government and the minister to take swift and decisive action to end the trade.

On that point, it is disappointing that the Labor caucus has been willing to go along with the minister's plan to reinstate live animal exports to Indonesia with only weak guidelines. This is simply not an acceptable outcome.

As we have seen again today, this time in Kuwait, Indonesia is not the only country where animals exported from Australia are subject to incredible cruelty.

Despite the public desire for strong action, we seem unwilling to pursue principled policy in the face of industry lobbying. Minister Ludwig should stop being an industry patsy and should, instead, listen to the Australian public, who want strong protections against cruelty.

My bill will deliver that strong action. It will provide for an immediate and complete ban on live animal exports for slaughter.

Without wanting to repeat the descriptions of abuse, documented by Animals Australia, the RSPCA and others—I think the film taken by Animals Australia's intrepid Lyn White speaks for itself—I do want to illustrate the consequences for Australian livestock destined for overseas slaughterhouses should this bill not pass.

To provide some perspective, appro-ximately 2.7 million cattle were exported from Australia between 2008 and 2010. In the same three years, 10.8 million sheep and a quarter of a million goats were exported.

The range of countries to which animals are exported, each with different animal welfare regulations, is also vast. Sheep are exported from Fremantle, Portland and Port Adelaide to Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Breeder cattle are exported from Darwin, Fremantle and Broome to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Jordan, Japan, Israel and Brunei. Goats are exported from Adelaide, Fremantle and Sydney to Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Brunei.

Oversight, and the resourcing of oversight, of slaughter conditions for these millions of cattle, sheep and goats in such a large number of separate jurisdictions are anything but satisfactory. The concept 'out of sight, out of mind' provides a convenience to the Australian live animal export industry to overlook astonishing systemic mistreatment of Australian animals. I am not suggesting that Australian graziers are implicit in this mistreatment. Indeed, my office has been inundated with correspondence from farmers and graziers expressing shock at the recently exposed abuse, including from many who are supporting my bill. l am, however, highly critical of the industry peak bodies that usually operate with a convenient absence of examples of abuse in the mainstream media.

Thanks again to Animals Australia investigators, there is no absence today. Constituents are, again, contacting my office in astonishing numbers, asking: 'How can the parliament allow the practices seen today in Kuwait to continue where Australian sheep are stuffed into boots of cars, dragged in agony, thrown over other bloodied dying sheep on the sides of roads, all after an appalling sea voyage? And what of the other hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep and goats that are in overseas feedlots, storage yards and slaughterhouses that are not being followed by members of under-resourced, non-government animal welfare organisations with video cameras, exposing these practices that the industry really does not want us to see?

Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian government have had years to overcome systemic abuse in the live export industry—years that have amounted to either very little progress or no progress at all.

Serious questions need to be asked about the roles of organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp. MLA receives $5 per head of cattle exported to address animal welfare issues. Clearly, graziers have the right to be angry at the misuse of those funds. PR spin is no substitute for actual investment in animal welfare.

The recently announced industry action plan proposes that ongoing assessments of all facilities and locations processing Australian animals be required and that assessors facilitate upgrades and improvements of facilities that do not meet endorsed livestock welfare standards. But here has been an Indonesian Animal Welfare Taskforce charged with doing exactly that since 2006, a by-product of which has been the installation of many of the restraint boxes seen on the Four Corners program, emblazoned with MLA and LiveCorp logos. I struggle to accept at face value that the industry action plan, proposing to continue its futile 'assess and upgrade' program, will be successful. It is the perception of action that is significant here. Much will be promised by the industry in order to, again, get the issue off the front pages, to keep the industry in a profitable state regardless of the ethically indefensible consequences.

We as a parliament must observe the history of this flawed industry and say, 'Enough is enough.' There are simply far too many examples of entrenched abuse in Australia's live animal exports industry to support its ongoing viability.

To take the Indonesian example again, the sheer cost of refitting dozens of slau­ghterhouses to meet Australian standards and retraining a highly transient workforce in improved animal welfare practices, when there is no imperative to abandon traditional slaughter practices due to such poor working conditions, would be simply astronomical and, I would argue strongly, not realistic. That is why I have moved a bill without the expensive transitional arrangements contained in the bill moved earlier by the member for Denison, and it is why, with respect to him, I cannot argue for anything other than the complete abolition of live exports.

And what if that hypothetical future where slaughterhouses observed conditions that approached those approximating Australian standards? The transport of animals from Australian ports, in shiploads of misery, with the guaranteed associated incidence of death during the voyage, is still a practice that government cannot, in my opinion, condone on any ethical grounds.

There is another way. The Greens propose that the government commits to improving and increasing the process of slaughter in Australia to support local producers and local jobs. The community benefits of processing meat in Australia have been underestimated for too long and are being talked down by the live export industry.

A 2010 report commissioned by Australia's leading meat processors found that live cattle exports compete with and undermine Australia's domestic beef industry, leading to lost processing opportunities in Australia. Processing animals in Australia protects them from the worst examples of inhumane treatment that we are aware of and subjects livestock to Australian standards, which are certainly not perfect but which are an improvement on overseas standards and which are at least controllable. Additionally, we need to meaningfully invest in real animal welfare both domestically and overseas. This bill is a significant step to a better future for animals and the Australian meat industry. The Greens will continue to call for an immediate ban on all live exports, just as we have done for many years. I sincerely hope that the environment within which this bill is being introduced, in one of those rare periods when animal welfare issues are being debated in the mainstream media, provides the opportunity for parliament to take decisive action.

I implore my fellow members to remember that the extent of these problems is much greater than these brief glimpses of examples of systemic abuse in the industry expose. Members must not mistake any future absence of examples of abuse on the front pages of Australia's newspapers with a sudden improvement of animal welfare standards. History tells us that one has never followed the other. It is time to end the abuse, and I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): In accordance with standing order 41(c), the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.