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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8058


Senator FURNER (Queensland) (17:21): I firstly rise to indicate that I concur wholeheartedly with the comments of my good friend Senator Sterle in his contribution to this debate on the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012. In his contribution he made the relevant point that we in this chamber love animals. I love animals so much that at one stage, when all my children were at home, I was fearful that, rather than having a home, we were looking at having a zoo because of the number of animals we had at our place. No-one in this chamber would have been unmoved or untouched by those significant and horrific scenes that Four Corners aired not long ago or by the recent media about what occurred with sheep in Pakistan.

I also rise to speak against Senator Lee Rhiannon's bill to introduce a complete ban on the live export trade. We need to look at some of the factors involved in this. It is not an opportunity to say, 'We stop live export trade and we fix this problem.' There is a multitude of issues. The contributions made both by Senator Sterle and by Senator Scullion this afternoon were relevant and touched on the important parts of why this is such a problem.

Our government is committed to live export trade where acceptable animal welfare outcomes can be achieved. It supports jobs, which was focused on this afternoon—certainly Senator Sterle and Senator Scullion reported on the number of jobs in this industry. The figures that I am aware of relate to 13,000 Australian jobs, which contribute $1.8 billion to Australia's GDP each year. I think it was Senator Scullion who reflected on Indigenous employment in the north of Australia. I can relate to that with regard to employment in North Queensland. As you would be aware, Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, in North Queensland there are numerous Indigenous stock men and women who work in the meat processing industry. If we do away with live exports, what will happen to those jobs across that industry? What will happen to the Indigenous jobs in those areas and to the training for them? The list goes on in respect of what will occur in those rural communities across Northern Australia that rely on the live export trade for income and employment.

Then, of course, there is the flow-on. What will happen to the flow-on, incidental, areas that rely upon this trade in some of those small remote towns in northern Australia should you wipe out this industry? Does it come about that you wipe out those towns as well? We know what happens when you take major industries out of some of those small locations in the country: some of those towns become ghost towns.

The government's reforms have placed animal welfare at the heart of the livestock export trade by seeking to ensure that adverse animal welfare incidents are minimised. We acted decisively when we became aware of the footage that showed what was occurring in the abattoirs in Indonesia. The reforms have provided for a regulatory process to address incidents if they do arise in order to minimise the disruption to trade and improve animal welfare outcomes. The Australian government does not support action such as that proposed by this bill, which will restrict agricultural trade and undermine both the flexibility of our industries and the food security of our partner countries. The Australian government also plays a role in opening up new markets and in maintaining market access to all agricultural exports, including boxed, beef and other livestock exports.

Australia supports animal welfare, with capacity building for importing countries. Some markets prefer to import livestock. Some of the comments made this afternoon have referred to cultural and religious parts of livestock exports. I had time this morning to get hold of a friend of mine who came from the Middle East, a Muslim, Moustefa Obeid. I rang him and said: 'Moustefa, what is the issue about live exports? What is your opinion on this subject?' He indicated to me some of the processes in the Middle East. I asked him: 'If you were still in the Middle East'—because he is now an Australian citizen—'what would happen if you were going to market this morning to pick up your meat for this evening's meal?' He said that his preference would be to purchase meat on a day when he could buy fresh slaughtered meat in the market. The main reason for this, and it is indicative across the board in many locations, is that in some of the small towns and villages they do not have capacity for refrigeration or storage of frozen or chilled meat.

They also have a preference for fresh, slaughtered meats. In fact what will soon happen in the Middle East is an event that Moustefa explained to me is called Eid al-Adha, which means in English 'sacrifice day'. That will occur soon, and around 3,000 Muslims will slaughter sheep, goats and cows. Who are we as Australian citizens to judge what should occur in a different culture or what should occur in a different country? Who are we to cast upon them our opinions, our beliefs, our culture that they should accept only frozen or chilled meat as their choice for their meal? It is not our position to do that. We should be learning from their culture and be understanding that what they wish to have is from a different culture, and we should accept that. I think that is a point we need to recognise. It is not just a case of changing their diet, their culture or their position on how they wish to have their meal of an evening, whether it be in the Middle East or whether it be in Indonesia, our closest Muslim neighbour.

After that horrific event in Indonesia, the government's position on stunning became quite clear. We believe that stunning delivers better animal welfare outcomes when used appropriately. That is one thing we acted upon decisively, to ensure that animals were slaughtered humanely and appropriately in those abattoirs in Indonesia at the time that the Four Corners footage was aired. Also, the government must be sensitive to cultural and religious needs both domestically and internationally.

I want to raise another point about the Middle East. I have been fortunate enough to travel there on a couple of occasions. In fact, I was in Afghanistan last year. You look at the environment, you look at the markets when you are going through the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, and you accept that that is their position, that is their culture—that is, how they kill their meals, how they kill animals to supply their meals for the day. Once again, we should not cast aspersions or create legislation dealing with how we control the way their culture should occur or should change. The other point goes to the Muslim culture. It is a growing population across the globe. We need to recognise that this is going to be a growing industry, the live export industry, for the Muslim religion and for Muslim communities across our globe. I forget the figures in respect of Indonesia, but the number of Indonesians up in that region who no doubt rely upon this particular trade is quite significant.

With regard to Indonesia, I make these points. Once again, the demand for beef is growing. They do not have enough local cattle to meet their requirements, so really Australia is ideally placed to supply Australian cattle, such as Brahmins, and we are well-suited to the tropical conditions of Indonesia. In 2010, 521,002 head, or 60 per cent, of all Australian cattle were exported to Indonesia. We need to be aware of what our environment is and what our neighbours need. As an appropriate trading partner, we need to make sure that we do not disadvantage them or disadvantage the trade we have between Australia and Indonesia. On that note, I will stop there because I am aware that Senator Gallacher is wishing to make a contribution to this debate.