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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8060


Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:31): I am delighted to contribute to this debate on the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012, and obviously I will oppose the legislation that has been put before the chamber. I wish to speak on three or four issues: the sheep in the Middle East, the cattle in North Australia, the economics, the welfare and the risks for Australia.

Let me start with the sheep situation. I can correct some of the misapprehensions and I can alert the Senate to the facts with regard to questions raised by Senators Rhiannon and Siewert this afternoon. First of all, the animals that left Fremantle in early September on the two ships—the Al Shuwaikh and the Ocean Drover—were of the highest quality. And I can assure Senator Rhiannon that the veterinary services and those overseeing those livestock were of the highest order; they were highly reputable people with many, many years experience. I can also assure the chamber that it is a time of year, particularly in a year when we have not had the best of late winter and early spring rain conditions, that produces fantastic quality sheep for the market.

The first of the vessels, the Al Shuwaikh, was offshore at Bahrain for seven hours. It became apparent to Kuwait Livestock, who operate the vessel, that because of political and other market opportunities in Bahrain, the shipper had no opportunity to sell sheep and so they went straight on to Kuwait and the sheep were offloaded in Kuwait. This allows me to make the point that the Kuwaitis have been purchasing livestock from us for 42 years. They are not fools. If the quality of the product that arrives at the other end is poor, there are plenty of other buyers in the market.

Let me now come to the Ocean Drover. The Ocean Drover, run by Wellard, first of all offloaded sheep in the port of Mina Qaboos in the city of Muscat in Oman. The condition of the sheep? Excellent. The ship then went on to Qatar, where the second consignment was offloaded. The condition of the sheep? Excellent. The losses on board were negligible and minimal, and in fact the shipper was very, very proud of the consignment. I have been into both of those ports over the years, and I know the value of the product regarded by those buyers. The sheep got into Bahrain and there were certain circumstances, beyond the control of the shipper or the exporter, associated with what I would call political and market institutions in Bahrain. The decision was taken to not send the sheep into Bahrain, so the Ocean Drover went on to the port of Karachi. I do give DAFF and the minister credit for the work undertaken for that port to be accredited.

Let me assure the chamber that the sheep were offloaded. They were in perfectly good condition. They went into the feedlot via a very trusted buyer, PK Importers, and at no time were those sheep of any concern. That particular organisation, ironically, runs an abattoir beside the feedlot built to Australian and international conditions of the highest order. What this chamber must understand is that those sheep—this was days after the Ocean Drover had left to come back to Australia—were hijacked from Wellard and from the buyer, PK. They were hijacked and the Australian and Pakistani overseers of those animals were driven out of the feedlot at gunpoint. So we are not talking about a breakdown of ESCAS or anything else; we are talking about an illegal activity.

To help Senator Siewert and answer her question: as recently as 5.25 this afternoon, not 10 minutes ago, I spoke to the senior manager of Wellard, who assures me that all of the sheep—he was standing in the middle of the sheep when I spoke to him 10 minutes ago—were fine. He said to me: 'The sheep are in excellent condition. All feeding, all drinking and all established.' There was a period of five to six days when illegal activities took place, until such time as a veterinary panel examined the sheep and found them to not have any signs of disease. Samples have gone on to Pirbright in England. I am not in a position at this point in time to alert the Senate as to what the results of those particular tests have been, but I do not have any cause for concern.

I do want to note that it is no different to the human circumstance. As we all know, we have terrible circumstances with hijackings and kidnappings around the world. We deal with them but we do not look to try to close something down. We did not try to close down our involvement in the International Criminal Court in Libya when Melinda Taylor in July was unfortunately detained until such time as we were able to get her out, or when Pippi Bean, an aid worker in Libya, was detained in September. This is no different to that circumstance. These animals were illegally taken away from those responsible.

Let me go onto the question of the live export trade and trade in the north of Australia. Abattoirs in the north of Australia all closed well before the live export trade started.

The first shipment to go out of Darwin was in early December 1991, regrettably the day of the Dili massacre. By that time the abattoirs, as listed by Senator Sterle—in Broome, Derby, Wyndham, Kununurra and Katherine—had all long closed. Because of the quality of the animals and the economic circumstances and the seasonality of the industry in that place, they could not be sustained.

As a result of the brucellosis and TB eradication program of the 1970s, all of the old Bos taurus cattle, the British breed cattle, in that area were removed and replaced by the Bos indicus animal. Features of the Bos indicus, or Zebu or Brahman type animal, include surviving well in tropical conditions, tolerating heat, and looking after their calves tremendously well. But, more importantly, the young animal does not fatten in the shortened season in the north of Australia. Therefore, across the Territory, across the Kimberley or across North Queensland, we are not going to see a plethora of abattoirs re-established. If AAco can set up an abattoir to kill old bulls and cows, that is fantastic. If others can set up abattoirs in limited areas, that is fantastic.

But let me dispel the myth that seems to be around this place that all that pastoralists and farmers want to do is produce a product for the live export trade. We all know that farmers, pastoralists and graziers want to produce a product that realises the best possible return to their operation. If that happens to be putting them through the meat chain, that is all well and good. If it happens to be putting them through the live export trade, that is all well and good. My point is that, because of limited seasonality, because of the very short supply of labour in abattoirs across Australia generally, we are not going to see, economically, abattoirs being re-established in the north of Australia. So, for the purposes of breed, for the purposes of economics, we are not going to see it.

Mention has been made here today and in other places about Indonesia wanting to be self-sufficient. Agriculture Minister Suswono said in Darwin in 2011 that he saw Indonesian self-sufficiency being the breeding of the cattle in the north of Australia and the fattening of the cattle in Indonesia. Unfortunately, as a result of the banning of the trade last year and as a result of the halving of quotas this year, what have we seen? Senator Siewert would understand this as well as I do because she has studied animal breeding and animal production. The animals that should have been put into the reproduction and breeding programs were, in fact, put through the meat chains. Therefore, we have seen cows and heifers that should have been used to build up their breeding herds being slaughtered because we did not have the supply.

Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to Senator Rhiannon: I do not know where you got your figures from that say we have seen a significant increase in the export of meat to Indonesia this year. You may have heard a question I asked Senator Ludwig only in the last sitting period where I asked him to explain why it was that the number of live animals halved since last year and the supply of beef halved since last year. That brings me to the point associated with the question of meat versus live exports. It is not meat versus anything. The simple fact of the matter is that much of our trade in meat, particularly to the Middle East markets over years, has followed and been complementary to our live export trade. When, for political reasons in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, when I was involved in this trade, we lost the live export trade to Saudi Arabia, the simple thing that happened was that our sale of meat to Saudi Arabia also stopped. We have seen it in Indonesia this year, we have seen it in the Middle East in the past, and that will be the circumstance.

If I may, let me address the question about meat and live exports. The simple fact I learnt this afternoon in my inquiry is that, at one of our biggest sheep abattoirs in Western Australia, at the moment you have to wait six to 12 weeks to get animals into the meatworks in Katanning. So, the assertion that we have the circumstance that abattoirs are sitting around with nothing to do because animals are being exported is simply not the case.

I heard Senator Rhiannon in her contribution talk about the fact that chilled meat exports were $5.7 billion versus $845 million for live exports. Of course, that is the case for a couple of reasons. The first is that the live export sales are right down because of the problems that we have encountered. The $5.7 billion of chilled meat exports are not to the markets that we might otherwise have been providing, such as the Middle East and Indonesia; that is the increase in beef sales to places like the United States of America, Korea and Japan, and let us hope that goes on.

I could show any number of graphs to this chamber which show emphatically, particularly now that we have the figures out of Queensland, that over a long period of time, the number of animals exported live do not impact on the number of animals that are sent to slaughter. These are points that must be addressed in this particular debate.

I turn to the quoting of the infamous ACIL Tasman report, which some of our colleagues have mentioned here this afternoon. Let me tell you about the ACIL Tasman report very simply. First of all, it was a desktop exercise done on a computer. There was no consultation at all with any Western Australian sheep producers, who were apparently going to be far better off. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that for 40 years the competition between the live export trade and the meat trade underpinned pricing. At a committee hearing last year, at which Senator Siewert was a participant, the President of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, Mr Gillam, gave us evidence. In that very week he sold live sheep to the live trade and to the meat trade—the same line of sheep—and the price was 18 per cent better for those that went to live export. Therefore, there is no case to say that the ACIL Tasman study has any credibility.

If I may, let me debunk completely the credibility of that study. This is what they surmised and assumed: if you have two buyers in a market—in this case, the meat trade and the live export trade—and remove one of those, that being the live export trade, there will not be a change of price from the butchers buying for the meat trade.

Well, I do not know how much ACIL Tasman know about the meat trade, but it has always been said that the butcher is one of the best dressed and best conditioned people in the town. The simple fact of the matter is that there would never have been a commodity in which, when pricing is competitive, when one competitor moves out of the market, the buyer continues to pay at the same level.

In the time available to me, I wish to go back to the question of welfare, because it is critically important to this whole debate and discussion. You have heard me say it in this place and I will go on saying it—that is, of the 109 countries which export live animals around the world, there is one country, and that is Australia, that has invested time, money, people and effort for donkey's years in our target markets to try and improve standards of nutrition, husbandry, management, welfare, housing and transport. There is one country that has done that over time. Why is it that this is the country that is being vilified so damningly in this circumstance?

If I go back to feedlot conditions, the quality of the feedlots in Indonesia today is world's best. Why? It is because Australian expertise helped them. When you look at the ship transport, the country that leads the world in standards of ship design, ship maintenance, is Australia, and one of my pleas and hopes over time, as the oil industry has moved to double-skinning of their ships to avoid leakage and to avoid contamination, has been that, using the guidelines of AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and others associated, we may be able to do what we have done in the rest of the live export world, and that is to be the catalyst for improvements in standards of shipping around the world.

I have heard Senator Rhiannon refer to an accident which occurred offshore Brazil this year with a ship. But, of course, it was not a ship that had anything to do with Australia. It was not registered in Australia, it did not come to Australia and they were not Australian stock. Senator Rhiannon was probably quite right to draw attention to the fact that an accident had happened with livestock on a Brazilian ship. I would have hoped that Senator Rhiannon might have gone on and said, 'But it wasn't anything to do with Australia.'

That brings me to the point of mortalities at sea. The figures that have been presented each six months in this place indicate that 0.2 per cent mortalities occur with cattle in transport around the world from Australia—

Senator Rhiannon interjecting

Senator BACK: I am about to give you the sheep figures, thank you very much, Senator Rhiannon. It is 0.8 per cent. I can assure you, Madam Acting Deputy President, because I have done the figures often enough, that the mortality rate of sheep in the paddock is no different to that on the ships. Senator Rhiannon, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I have travelled on the ships. I have watched the increase in body weight of the consignment of these particular animals. You must accept an invitation, get on a ship and go and experience this for yourself.

It is probably the only issue I will take with Senator Sterle, as a matter of fact. He mentioned the circumstance with Egypt when the previous Howard government banned the trade. It took a veterinarian to come into this Senate and to have a look at that footage from 2007 to realise that neither were they Australian cattle. They had no link to this country. They were Friesian bulls. We do not export Friesian bulls. I then made my inquiries to find out that in that year of 2007 we had not exported a single animal to Egypt. Yet, at that time, the decision was taken.

Have we been able, with others, to increase standards? Of course we have. Do we need to continue increasing standards? Of course we need to increase standards. But is this going to happen if Australia exits the trade? Of course it is not going to happen. As Senator Furner just said, what sort of an insult would it be to any of us if we went to buy a commodity or a product and someone said, 'You will have that product as we see fit.' We just would not buy it. And let me address this question about frozen and chilled meat, and the question of subsidies and tariffs, as I have heard them mentioned this afternoon. Why is it that these Middle Eastern countries subsidise the live product? It is because it goes to low socioeconomic families in the Middle East and in Indonesia—those who do not have refrigeration. So there are two good reasons. One is their own preference and the second is the lack of refrigeration.

Let me assure the chamber that we are not the only supplier of product into these markets. We now find Sudan has taken away Australia's market. We find that Georgia is now in there selling. South Africa is in there selling. The Argentine is in there selling. Hungary is in there selling. Does anyone think for one minute that if we are caused to exit the live export trade we are going to see anything other than a diminishing of standards in those countries? I can assure you, Madam Acting Deputy President, if we lose the live export trade, we lose any opportunity for the boxed meat, be it frozen or be it chilled. I can assure you that that is the case. We will lose that particular trade.

One of the most disturbing things I have learned in the last few days is that the country of India has now become the world's biggest exporter of beef. It happens also to have the world's largest number of animals. You might ask me: 'Why is that important, Senator Back?' The reason is simple: India is endemic for foot-and-mouth disease, and we know from our own research going back many, many years—and if you are interested or concerned, I can show you the information and the evidence—that, when meat goes into a target market from a country that has foot-and-mouth disease, the risk and the fear is that foot-and-mouth disease will follow, that foot-and-mouth disease will go from India and back into Indonesia, where it was until the 1980s, and that it will not be long before it is in this country.

If anyone is concerned about animal welfare, animal cruelty and the impact of a disease on animals, one day I will come into this chamber and I will explain to you the clinical signs of foot-and-mouth disease in cloven-hooved animals. We do not know what the impact would be. We do know, however, that the estimation in the first year alone would be a $16,000 million direct impact on this economy. That is nothing to do with tourism, incidentally. That is the direct cost.

I oppose the bill for the reasons I have stated.