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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 81


Senator BARTLETT (2:57 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I refer to the reported facts that the government was aware of the underreporting of sheep deaths on live export vessels but did nothing about it, despite being warned by AQIS that routine underreporting of mortalities presented a high risk to the live animal export trade to Saudia Arabia. How can the government continue to pretend that this deceit had nothing to do with the rejection of the Cormo Express shipment and the enormous amount of animal suffering that followed? How can the government be trying to restart the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia when they can give no credible assurances that the underreporting of and secrecy surrounding death and disease amongst the animals will not recur, with the same likelihood of more rejected shipments and more animal suffering?


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —As Senator Bartlett would know—indeed, if he does not, Senator Cherry, who I read in the paper is taking on the role of CEO of the Queensland Farmers Federation, will wise him up—the live export trade is very important to Queensland’s primary producers and to all Australian primary producers. Perhaps more significantly, it is very important to country communities right around Australia, Senator Bartlett, because it does support very buoyant agricultural industries and it does create opportunities. It creates jobs and wealth for country Australia. The Howard government has been quite notable for its real support for those Australians who live outside the capital cities. I am delighted to see that Senator Cherry is taking on a role which will enable him to continue with some of his interests here in rural matters, to help rural communities and to help the industries that do support rural communities.

Senator Bartlett, you asked about the live sheep trade and some media reports. Those reports were not terribly accurate. Somewhere I have the accurate information. I cannot put my finger on it at the moment, but I will make sure that the real facts are made known to you. Any suggestion that either Mr Truss or I gave false information at the time these questions were being asked in the Senate some time ago is rejected. As I recall, this issue was gone through in the Senate estimates committee at some great length a little while ago. Senator, if you have a real interest in those, if you have a look at the Senate estimates committee Hansard, you will get all of the information that you desire.

There have been new export MOUs with Kuwait in relation to this. We are very keen as a government to ensure that this trade does continue. The standards for the export of livestock have increased since the days of the Cormo Express. We have been working on a very tight time frame to put the livestock export industry onto a more sustainable footing, following the decisions of the Keniry livestock export review in 2003.

The government and the industry itself are very conscious of the need to be humane in the treatment of animals. An advisory committee similar to the Livestock Export Standards Advisory Committee will be commissioned in the near future to regularly review and monitor the standards in the light of further research and development and experience and will continue to provide advice to the minister and the department. As Australian government legislation, it does not override state and territory animal welfare legislation. It is quite important that all jurisdictions do commit to the implementation of standards that are being assessed and that will be implemented by the state and the Commonwealth. I am confident that the rigorous processes used to formulate Australia’s approach to the export of livestock will provide a very sound underpinning to Australia’s livestock export trade in the future.


Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the minister is so concerned about employment and economic opportunities in rural and regional Australia, why is the government so eagerly pursuing a live export trade that costs Australian jobs in the meat-processing sector in Australia? How can the minister continue to assure the Senate that the government was not aware of underreporting when Senate estimates in November 2003 and the Keniry inquiry itself were told that it was standard practice to underreport to the Saudis the number of deaths on board? Mr Daws, one of the directors of LiveCorp, was quoted in a newspaper as saying that this was done on the advice of the importer, supposedly on animal welfare grounds. Given all those facts, how can we now believe the government when it says that it will be honest in reporting the number of deaths and disease on board and that these issues are fixed? (Time expired)


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —The figures are required to be supplied by exporters to the government. They are audited. We have no reason to doubt that the industry is correct in the information it gives to us. There has been a substantial fall in the number of animal fatalities in recent times since the new initiatives have been put in place. The government certainly intends to continue to support industry in this very worthwhile and very profitable trade for Australia’s primary producers. The debate about the issue of processing of stock in Australia happened a long time ago. The outcomes of that are quite clear. There is opportunity for both options within Australia, and the export of live animals is certainly a very big boost to countries like Australia. (Time expired)


Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.