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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8044


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (16:21): I too want to contribute to the debate on the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 put up by the Greens. Before I do, I listened intently to Senator Rhiannon's input. I also listened intently to her reasons, on behalf, no doubt, of the Greens and a lot of other people, why the live export trade should be banned. Before I go into challenging some of Senator Rhiannon's figures and her views, I think it is very important that we take a couple of steps back, and I think it is very, very important that Australia gets the full story.

Not one of us, and I say that without caucusing colleagues from either side of the chamber or the House, supports cruelty to animals.

Every single one of us—and I speak for the nation—was appalled at that video footage that Animals Australia had given to Four Corners. The sad part is that there are some people in this building that knew about that footage—certainly not from the government side, but that is another story.

I also feel absolute abhorrence at the thought that all live animal exports are about cruelty to animals. Unfortunately, we have had some very high-profile video footage, but let us take another couple of steps back. This is not the first time. Let us go back to 2003. At the time the Howard government were in power, and we had another shocking piece of footage put out in the public arena about cruelty to animals in Egypt. I have travelled to Egypt, and I have witnessed the closed loop Sokhna facility that is being built there now to change those terrible, terrible practices. But let us not avoid the truth here. Under the previous Howard government, the live export trade to Egypt was banned for four years. So for four years nothing was done to correct it and get the trade moving again. The Labor government came in in 2007 and we opened up the trade again.

So I want to say to you, Senator Rhiannon, and your supporters that while you are out defending animal rights—and quite rightly; that is not an issue—you have to realise that there are two sides to this argument. Let us take on board what you said about the win-win being what we all want. But your reason for the win-win, unfortunately, is flawed. I do not say that because I am having a crack at you, Senator Rhiannon, but I spend a lot of time in the Kimberley. If it were not for the live export trade of cattle, the Kimberley economy would be in a lot of strife, because if the Kimberley economy tried to survive on tourism then they would be absolutely ruined. There are a number of reasons why, including the high Aussie dollar and everything that goes with it, not to mention—to Senator Rhiannon and those who might not think about what else is going on at the Top End of Australia—that the window of opportunity for tourism is only seven months. If we have a big wet as we did two years ago—the wet season went from December through to May—they do not even have that long. If it is not tourism, do we think that the Kimberley could survive on the pearl trade? My goodness me! That is another depressing story.

So, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, live export and cattle are the big issue in the Kimberley. They are not blessed with a plethora of iron ore mines or coalmines. They have the opportunity for natural gas, but we all know where you stand on that. And everyone should know where I stand on that: if it delivers far better living conditions, education conditions and job opportunities to the people of the Kimberley, I am supporting that, because it is the decision of the traditional owners.

Let us get back to the win-win. Let us not forget for one minute that there is an industry out there with good, decent, hardworking people who are out there in regional and rural Australia in very, very trying conditions: extreme heat, flooding and the whole lot. They commit 12 months of the year to that part of the world, every year, year in, year out. They are not Johnny-come-latelies; most of them are first, second and sometimes even third generation. Let us also not forget that there are a host of other industries that rely on the live cattle trade: transport, mechanical, truck sales, feed—it goes on and on and on.

You would have us believe with your contribution, Senator Rhiannon, that if somehow—I wish it were possible—we could get abattoirs back into the north and we could get a boxed meat market going in place of the live export market then everything would be tickety-boo and it would create all these jobs. Up until I came off the road in 1991, we did have abattoirs in the north-west—I say that to Senator Rhiannon and to those listening. We had abattoirs in Carnarvon, we had an abattoir in Broome, we had an abattoir in Derby, we had an abattoir in Kununurra—only a little one—and there was a very active abattoir in Katherine. What has happened is that all those abattoirs have closed, and you have to ask yourself why they have closed. I will tell you that unfortunately they have closed because the producers have a live export market and, quite frankly, no-one wants to be in the business of reopening an abattoir. There is some talk about AACo wanting to open an abattoir—this has been around for a while. At this stage, what I have learnt from my travels through the Kimberley and the Pilbara and my work on the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee is that people want abattoirs but no-one wants to put the money in to build them.

But, Senator Rhiannon, we also have to look and really dig in. I want everyone to listen before I get bombarded by a GetUp! campaign. Feel free to do it, by all means. You will do it. But you do not realise out there the pressure that I have copped personally as the chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee in my support of a live export trade with conditions that eliminate animal cruelty. I am not talking about a campaign from GetUp!; I am talking about the campaign from my own wife and my daughter. I stand there too: nobody supports animal cruelty. But you are completely wrong, Senator Rhiannon, to think that we have the ability to shut down the live export trade and shut down where we supply meat. As we know, our biggest trading partners are Indonesia, China, Turkey, Israel and the Philippines for cattle and also for sheep—and I am still appalled at what is going on in Pakistan. You are wrong to think we can cut off our trade to Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE and it can all be done overnight if we build some abattoirs.

Part of your reasoning, Senator Rhiannon, in defence of banning the live export trade was that we could just put it all in boxes, create jobs here and send it off to Indonesia. Let us also look at what actually happened in Indonesia up until the ban on the live export of cattle—which I fully supported and which Senator Ludwig, as painful as it was, had to do. We had to do something.

Doing nothing was not an option. I know that is still creating a lot of bad blood in the Top End of Australia, but it had to be done. People had to be responsible, and we had to have a system in place so that we could track it back so that we could say loud and clear that it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated and, more importantly, that there could be a system there that could identify where the breakdown is.

Just one thing on the sheep in Pakistan: there is an inquiry going on. I am not going to comment any more and we will wait to hear what comes out of the inquiry. And that is not ducking for cover. I do not know the full story yet and neither does the government.

But you are right in talking about Indonesia wanting to create their own market. Let me help you out, Senator Rhiannon. The Indonesians for a number of years now have had a limit on Australian cattle, a weight limit of 350 kilos. They take our cattle up to 350 kilos. The reason they will not take anything over 350 kilograms is because they want to support their domestic farmers, the 220 million Indonesians and those who rely on Australian cattle for their iron and protein intake. The Indonesian government does this because they want to fatten the cattle in their own lots to give their very small domestic farmers an opportunity for an income. It would be silly to think that on those 2,200 islands around the Indonesian archipelago that if we shut down all our grazing land over there and the Indonesians started all their own that they could supply all their meat on the limited land that they have got. In my view it is just not going to happen.

But you also have to understand, Senator Rhiannon—and those supporters of the bill who do not think about the detriment it will deliver to those people who rely on the live export market of cattle and sheep—that it is not as though Indonesia is blessed with a Coles supermarket, or a Woolworths store, or an IGA on every corner like we are. The Indonesians do not have the pleasure of fridge and freezer facilities that we have. The Indonesian meat intake is consumed normally on the day of slaughter, so it is very disingenuous, Senator Rhiannon, to put the message out there that all of the sudden you are an expert in this trade, that you are an expert in the north-west of Australia on the Kimberley and Pilbara, and that you have this fantastic simplistic solution.

Senator Rhiannon interjecting

Senator STERLE: You had your turn, Senator Rhiannon, and I listened intently, and the more I listened I thought you were coming from a good heart but, sadly, you have very little understanding of what actually happens out there in rural and regional Australia. And may I reiterate that if it is an animal cruelty issue, everyone supports you on your measures to reduce animal cruelty—none of us want to see that—but you cannot just lead a charge and with your colleagues in the Greens say that you have this fantastic solution and you do not know why anyone is not listening, and you can solve the problem tomorrow.

Senator Rhiannon: I didn't say that.

Senator STERLE: But I also note, Senator Rhiannon, that you have a webpage and you have started a campaign—well, we know that, and you are not the only one, as some of my colleagues support you too. I believe you have been contacted by a lady, a northern cattle producer, a Ms Jo-Anne Bloomfield from Hodgson River Station. Ms Bloomfield, I believe, has challenged you to a debate about the live trade, or banning the live trade industry and export markets. I believe that she has put 25 questions to you of which you have answered 13, and you said you look forward to that debate. I look forward to it too, Senator Rhiannon.

Senator Rhiannon: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It would be useful if the information that was shared was accurate. I had accepted to do the debate and Ms Bloomfield, unfortunately, now has declined.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): There is no point of order.

Senator STERLE: I have obviously touched a nerve, Senator Rhiannon. All I am saying is that I support anyone who will do anything to eliminate animal cruelty. But, Senator Rhiannon, you owe it to a legion of people who are following your every move to provide the truth and to provide the correct facts. It is honourable of you, Senator Rhiannon, to think that you have—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Sterle! I will have your comments through the chair.

Senator STERLE: As I say, Senator Rhiannon and the Greens need to get out there and get a handle on what they are arguing about. If they can differentiate between their wonderland of ideas that will fix an industry or change an industry overnight and we can dictate to the Indonesians what they will do and what they will not do, while at the same time mischievously misleading those poor devils out there in regional Australia who are very decent hardworking people too and who have a passion for eliminating animal cruelty, the world will be a better place.

But get the facts right. You have no idea. It is typical of the Greens—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. You do not spend an inordinate amount of time in remote and rural Australia. I know that under your new leader all of the sudden the Greens are becoming the champions of the farming industry, the champions of farmers around Australia. I have seen the Greens' position on agriculture. God help us if they ever do get to make the decisions on where Australia's agricultural industry goes. They are not friends of agriculture. They like to whip up the hysteria—they love that and they wallow in that. They are a marginalised group of people who are anti-employment. They talk about green jobs—yes, fantastic. They talk about all these wonderful other things we can do that will support rural and regional Australia. It would not do you any harm to get off your backsides—if I am allowed to say that, Mr Acting Deputy President—and get out in the regions and talk to the people of rural Australia, talk to rural industries, talk to the agricultural industry. Go out into the bush and talk to the people who rely on this trade and you tell them that you have got this magic solution that will fix it up. It will be a win-win for them and a win-win for all the animal lovers in Sydney and Melbourne—the latte set, the professional protesters—without taking away those people who absolutely love animals, and I am one of them, make no mistake about that.

I will tell you what has disappointed me, and I have said this before. For Animals Australia to get this footage, in one way thank goodness: they were able to get it to highlight to us that the system could not go on the way it was going—we had to do something to fix it. But to deviously sit on that footage for quite a period of time; to deviously make sure that the ABC had it, not the government; and to deviously make sure they ran off to an opposition senator, who is no longer here, to give her a copy of the footage, which she did not deny when she was asked—you tell me if you are fair dinkum about eliminating animal cruelty. In your heart of hearts, could you have sat on that vile footage while you built a political campaign to do everything you could to destabilise government action to try and promote an industry that is important to this country?

I can hear all the chatter going on up the end of the chamber here, and I would challenge you to a debate too. I would love it, and while we are up there we will talk about a host of things. We can talk about the gas plant and whatever you want to talk about, it doesn't worry me! I am up there all the time. In fact, it is easier to get me up there than it is to get me in Perth. But I also make sure I attend the PGA conferences in the Kimberley at every opportunity. I do not run from it, because I want to hear from the people what their challenges are.

I cannot support the Greens bill. I do not support the Greens actions. I think the Greens, as I said, are being very mischievous, and Senator Rhiannon is leading the charge about how she has got the fix. She has not got the fix. It is all very well to run your campaigns against an industry from afar in some trendy part of Sydney or Melbourne or wherever you are doing it. But you have to tell the truth, Senator Rhiannon, because in this business you will get found out. If you have an idea that will eliminate animal cruelty and we can still sustain a very important part of our economy and a very important part of Northern Australia, please bring it forward. If there is a win-win, if it is not smoke and mirrors, or chimes and fairy floss, or whatever you do with it, I will be standing next to you. But this bill is just another example of the Greens having a little issue that they can fluff up without telling the truth because it is so emotive.

It is emotive for me too. I live not far from Fremantle. I am on Leach Highway, which Senator Rhiannon and Senator Ludlam know, and I have been going to and from work on Leach Highway since 1978, so I know, constantly, those sheep carters going backwards and forwards with legs hanging out of the side of the crates. It is not a good look. And I know that many people do not look behind what is the live animal export trade. I know there are many, many people who just see it as cruel. They do not think about the amount of people who rely on this industry and who are absolutely appalled by the images that we have seen on TV.

I want to use the last minute of time I have now to also say that it would be disingenuous of the opposition to use this debate to have a crack at the federal government. We have stood shoulder to shoulder on the live export trade. I know sometimes politically it suits the opposition to give us a whack on the ban, but you know in your heart of hearts that if you were in government you would have had to act too. You had it for four years when the Egypt problem was not solved and that industry was left out there wallowing. You also know that at the stage when that footage was out, 94 per cent of Australia's cattle was going to Indonesia. So I urge whoever on that side is going to lead the debate for the opposition that you speak from the heart, that you support the government and that you see this bill as it is, knock it back and condemn this as typical Greens grandstanding. But we support any motion that will eliminate animal cruelty.