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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8049


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryDeputy Leader of The Nationals) (16:41): I rise to also make a contribution to the debate on this Greens bill, the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012. I will briefly respond first to Senator Sterle. I gave you a bit of a touch-up on 9 February about this matter, mate, and I think that will probably end it. I think it is time, when the whole industry chain is threatened by this sort of legislation in this place, that we should stand shoulder to shoulder to reject it.

This is about one of those times you remember: where were you when? I can certainly remember when the cessation of the trade happened. I was at Sydney airport and I remember viewing both Julia Gillard and Paul Henderson being interviewed, and I knew in my heart that this was going to have a real impact on the Territory. Whatever the good reasons of the movement were, it was just going to be a big deal. I certainly was not wrong. It had a huge impact, and that impact continues to this day. I know it is not on the news every day and we do not talk about it here every day, but the men and women and their families and communities right across the north of Australia who rely on the live cattle export trade are still in real strife.

We all accept that the vision we saw on the Four Corners program was very disturbing for many Australians. We have just heard from the government and I think they acknowledge that perhaps that decision was not the best possible one. I have undertaken to Senator Sterle that I will not dwell on that too much and I will stick to that undertaking. But we are certainly joined in the notion that we do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals. Everybody has accepted that.

I would encourage the Greens to think about why that is, why in Australia we have a particular affection for animals. It is good to see a couple of kids up in the gallery here and they will certainly know. It is not everywhere in the world that people are brought up with horses that talk. It is not everywhere in the world where kids are brought up with cartoons where all the animals are Disneyfied, where everything we met there is humanised—they talk, they drive cars. It is all part of our affluent upbringing, where we have access to television, movies, comic books and all those sorts of things which characterise a very affluent community, and this Disneyfication of how we see animals has affected our culture. We have an affection, of course, for the animals we live with, whether they are dogs or cats or budgies or whatever. It is a very close affection.

We can afford to feed a dog or a cat. That is how they stay with us. We love them. In this country we spend quite a lot of money on feeding our pets because we are a very affluent community. In these places we often export to, that affluence just is not there. They cannot afford to have a cat or a dog. They are doing it pretty tough just feeding themselves. People in places like Indonesia, which I know well and visit, are quite astounded to hear that we spend as much as we do on pets, because it is just not part of their culture. But as they and other countries around the world gain more affluence their culture will change. In my life I have seen cultures change. People who thought democracy was so far away now enjoy democracy. So cultures do change.

It is interesting to see how cultures change. Cultures change because they are affected by other cultures. When you talk to other people you are influenced. When you are exposed to your mate next door, another country, another view or another idea, your mind is open to change. The world is changing all the time. Of course animal welfare is going to change in the future. It is behaviour in Australia that has changed much of the attitudes towards animal welfare right across the world.

Whilst I have been pretty critical and not particularly supportive of the move to stop the exports, I suppose in some ways it was associated with being able to demonstrate that we really needed to lever some change with regard to the treatment of cattle, particularly in Indonesia. I am talking not only about welfare, because there are other practical benefits. You would generally describe the people who work in agriculture and the processing sector as practical people—I do not know why I use that term; probably everyone is pretty practical—so we have other things we can sell. It is not only about how the animal feels. If they are not all that interested in animal welfare at the moment you can say to them: 'When an animal is calm, well looked after and you have the infrastructure to move the animal smoothly to the point of processing then that is really good for people because you do not get as many injuries. It is a very practical process.'

You can also explain what we know from our processing. We know that, if an animal is calm, moves calmly and safely and its welfare is looked after, at the point of processing it is not upset, annoyed and full of adrenaline. We know about adrenaline but perhaps we do not know a lot about lactic acid. You know you are a bit sore the next day when you have used your muscles. Lactic acid is what you are trying to get rid of. When lactic acid is not out of the animal's system before it is processed, the carcass temperature is actually increased by up to 10 per cent. You might think that is pretty interesting but for a processor who has to chill that meat that means a significant increase in the cost of power. Welfare is not just a story about exchanging our culture and trying to change the way we do business in other countries; it is also about pointing out the experiences of Australia. Because we have the animal welfare process there is a whole range of benefits.

I can recall pretty much straight away after the cessation of the trade—it was pretty important to us in the Northern Territory—I skipped over to Indonesia. I went through the wet markets in Indonesia with only a smattering of Bahasa. It was not a really good place to be. It was not that people were angry; they just could not understand. There were lots of racks from which meat used to hang. The housewives and the people involved in food production with little stalls around Indonesia arrived in the morning and there was no meat. They do not stay tuned constantly to Sky News so all they knew was that when they got there the meat that their livelihoods depend on was not there. They were asking me: 'Why do you not want to send meat to us? You have always done it. We have always bought it. It is all part of the process. Your nation supplies our nation with protein. We rely on it. We are dependent on it.' It was a very difficult situation.

When I left there, there was a certain feeling in Australia that every time we send one of our live animals to Indonesia it is beaten around the head with a chain and it is all pretty horrible. I will not go into the footage that was shown. I just do not think it is necessary. When I visited some of these processors, what we saw on the footage certainly was not the norm. You do have places where culturally people will allow things to happen. We had been exporting animals to Indonesia for a very long time. By and large it had been done pretty successfully. Clearly, there were those abattoirs and processors that were not recognising the need to ensure that our standards were adhered to. I understand now that, as a consequence of the changes in the Australian culture that we have provided for at least 85 per cent of the cattle, there have been significant changes made.

We need to see the opportunity that this bill does not allow. I know the Greens are pretty keen to stop all live animal exports. I would like people to see the opportunity of animal exports. We are not only exporting animals. Let us start thinking about the export of our culture, about how we go about business and about sharing the technology, as we have done in Indonesia and are now doing in Egypt.

I understand that all those who are passionate about the welfare of animals are also passionate about the welfare of animals all over the world—not only in their backyard. As an Australian I applaud that. I have to acknowledge that I was not brought up in Australia. I saw most animals with a built-in lead and a telescopic sight at their head, but Africa was a different place to be brought up in than here. We saw it as food.

In Indonesia we can really change the culture by going down the road we have gone down.

We have a full chain of procedures that is now scrutinised by everybody to ensure that when the animals leave the farm in Australia, we are able to measure how they are transported on the truck, how they are transported on the boat, the potability of the water, how many times the air changes in the boat every minute. They are all able to be measured and they all meet a very, very high standard of animal welfare. Having been on the vessels, having been in Indonesia, having spent a lot of time on the farms and having spent a lot of time on the trucks, I can personally validate that myself. It is not something that someone has told me, and it is something which the industry is completely focused on. At a time when we are seeing the adoption of our cultural approach to animal welfare and the adoption of significant regulation and assistance not only in Indonesia but anywhere in the world that receives Australian animals, this would seem to the worst possible piece of legislation at the worst possible time.

As I said, I applaud all those people who say, 'Listen, let's look after the animals not only here but everywhere.' But if we stop the trade, if this piece of legislation is enacted and we say, 'Okay, no more live export,' what future are we condemning those animals overseas to, if that is what we believe? We are condemning them to much of the same, which is not our cultural approach or our welfare approach. I think this legislation has been poorly thought-out. Sadly, this involves not only Animals Australia but also the RSPCA. The RSPCA is an organisation that I used to support and that my children used to support as they grew up. Sadly, they do not do so now for a number of reasons. My son is principally involved in duck shooting and my daughter has other reasons. For me it is because the RSPCA has become a subscriptions driven organisation. As with all subscription driven organisations, I have become more and more cynical about why they get involved in processes. If you go onto their website and have a look, the first thing they will tell is how you can give them money. Sadly, I have far less confidence in their motivation.

I will just touch on the wonders that Senator Rhiannon referred to about how much money we are all going to make in the Northern Australia if only we knocked up a couple of abattoirs. Senator Rhiannon, you can commission reports that can tell you maybe not pretty much anything but they will say: 'I don't know what you're doing this for. All you have to do is knock up some abattoirs and kill 400,000 animals a year. We'll have a couple of hundred thousand left over. I'm not sure what you'll do with them. And we're all going to make another $104 million, and we're going to have another 1,600 employees.' As Senator Sterle indicated, we have had abattoirs. We have had them in Broome, Derby and Katherine. They all went broke. They went broke simply because of the cost of labour and a whole range of other issues. There is one being proposed at the moment just outside Darwin by AACo, and we will see how that goes. If the price of the dollar remains the same, I suspect that that will also not be a goer.

People who notionally say that the unions and the RSPCA really support building abattoirs and stopping this trade need to understand that this trade is based on producers and systems in these extensive places. I can drive 100 kilometres along one fence line of one paddock. You only see the cows once a year—'Hi. How ya' going, girls?' They all come in. All the girls have their babies with them. They do a bit of running around. We swap them over. Those that we saw last year will get on the boat. We sort them out. And it is: see you all later. It is not a particularly personal experience. Those are the rigours of the Territory. All that country can do is breed. We can turn over animals; we can produce plenty of animals. But that country will not fatten one animal, because by the time we get to November, the old cracker cows have to struggle through that terrible time between November and December. You cannot fatten them there. So the only way to fatten them is to send them away to a feedlot or to put them somewhere where there is some grass. Whilst it might look wonderful and green in the Northern Territory, it does not have particularly good fodder for cattle. It does not have particularly good feed. It is important to understand that. The abattoirs that are supposed to kill cattle are not killing them. They have not been finished. There is no money in that; there is no profit in that; and there is, frankly, no sense in that.

I will just touch briefly on the issue of self-sufficiency which Senator Rhiannon spoke about. Because there is no trade now and there has been a substantial diminution in the trade, the price has gone up with demand. Local cattle used to make up 10 per cent of the cattle going into the feedlots but that has now increased to 60 per cent. In terms of self-sufficiency, building a herd, this is working in the exact opposite direction. The Indonesian herd is now getting eaten. This is what is happening: it is in reverse. In terms of self-sufficiency, this move has actually made them go backwards. And if we were to accept your legislation in this place, it would make it go further backwards at a greater rate of knots.

I will just touch on some of the damage from the last decision but only in relation to what is being proposed by the Greens. It was not only a personal relationship which I reflected on during my time in the wet market but also what it did to our relationship with Indonesia as one of our strongest, nearest and dearest neighbours. For those of you who do not know who I am or where I come from, I come from the Northern Territory, which is actually South Asia. I go for a weekend to Singapore because it is two hours closer than Sydney. So we live in a place where that relationship is very close and very strong. For the Indonesian government to suddenly hear that we were doing this was a pretty appalling process. I am not sure that Senator Rhiannon has actually spoken to the Indonesian government about what the Greens are proposing, but I think it would add insult to injury if we were to pursue this without reference to the Indonesian government. I suspect that that has in fact been the case.

Senator Sterle very articulately touched on a number of the issues associated with some of the people who really need help and who are emerging as a very vital force in the live cattle export trade, and they are our first Australians—Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous Land Corporation is a great success story in Indigenous affairs. I slap them around a bit from time to time but, by and large, they do a fantastic job. They actually own a herd of about 100,000 cattle.

That is on eight properties located from Queensland through the Northern Territory right across to Western Australia. They own Roebuck Plains Station—massive yards; the most modern yards anywhere. There is a fantastic amount of infrastructure.

That is just one holding with eight properties. They have a workforce of 150 people of which some 60 per cent is Indigenous. There are 50 other Indigenous owned properties across the Top End where we are seeing real reconnection. Instead of disconnection from country, they are reconnected with country. They are reconnected with employment and they are reconnected with all the benefits of life—particularly what a constant stream of income will provide. Now, sadly, they have had a bit of a knock. I have promised not to go into that knock, but that has given a knock to all of us, including government, I suspect. You do these things and you have to learn from these things.

It knocked us off our feet in Northern Australia to hear, 'By the way, it is all gone, there will be no more export of live cattle.' Next time you are up there, Senator Siewert—I know you spend a lot of time up there and I have a lot of time for you—you might wish to explain to some of the Indigenous stockmen you know and have a fair bit to do with why you want to stop their industry. You might want to point out to them some alternative. I am not sure what it will be—combing trees or something. I think it is a really important responsibility you need to take for this. The Greens need to take responsibility for the consequences of the legislation that I suspect they bring before this place knowing that it will never succeed, to somehow say to those who support the RSPCA and other subscription organisations, 'See, we look after animals. We love animals, so perhaps you should send us some money.' I am not really sure of that.

I will just conclude by saying this is an absolutely shocking piece of legislation that could never be supported. What we really need to do is to ensure that we work together to make sure no further piece of legislation like this appears. (Time expired)