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Thursday, 11 March 2010
Page: 1681

Senator STERLE (4:41 PM) —I have been looking forward to making my contribution to the debate on the Food Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010. There are a few things I would like to correct on the record. One is the scare campaign that Senator Nash keeps accusing some of us of accusing opposition senators of. I will tell you who the biggest pusher of that is. Me. And it was a scare campaign. I will tell you why it was a scare campaign. There is nothing wrong with the political process of getting out there and talking to people on the ground. In fact, it is absolutely fantastic and it is rewarding. The IRA has been implemented in the last week because the minister has heard the people speak. What is wrong with that? The difference is that, when there are scare campaigns, when there are absolute mistruths being spoken by that lot over there—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Carol Brown)—Order! Senator Heffernan, you will have your chance later in the debate.

Senator STERLE —The same bobbing heads pop up all the time as soon as you want to tell the truth. They cannot handle the truth. It sounds like a movie line, but it is so true. It was a brilliant scare campaign. That lot over there still cannot get it through their boofheads that the government actually negotiated with industry. They did not want to ‘take it to the people’ when they were talking about Work Choices.

Senator Nash —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Sterle might like to retract that. I do not think I have a boofhead.

Senator Heffernan —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Sterle might like to withdraw ‘boofhead’ in relation to my Senate colleagues, but he can leave it there for me.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Heffernan, please take your seat. Senator Nash, I did not hear Senator Sterle call you a boofhead. Senator Sterle, please continue.

Senator STERLE —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I retract ‘boofhead’. It should probably have been ‘thickheads’! I am not going to call Senator Heffernan a boofhead because that would be the nicest thing anybody has said about him all week! I apologise to Senator Nash.

As I was saying, the government has listened and the government has made the desired changes. The government should be congratulated. I got a bit confused listening to Senator Nash’s contribution where firstly she attacked the industry, then attacked the government, then congratulated the government. But I want to make it very clear for those who are listening out there and are not sure that the government consulted with industry that the government consulted with the Red Meat Advisory Council. The government consulted with the Cattle Council of Australia. The government took guidance from the industry. There are other industry players who are absolutely minute and, as I said, unfortunately in their contribution to this discussion here earlier this week all of a sudden those opposite wanted to grab some lines and some figures from people who purport to represent industry but who represent five-eighths of not very much. I will defend the industry. I will defend the government. I think it has been a fantastic outcome. It has been a consultative outcome all the way through, and congratulations once again to the minister for implementing the IRA.

Let us get some other facts and figures on the table while we are at it. No country has made any application to export beef to Australia. As has been clearly stated by senators opposite, the IRA will be at least two years. Senator O’Brien has even mentioned that fact—at least two years. But I will bet London to a brick that that scare campaign will still continue, and I bet London to a brick that at the so-called grower or producer meetings out in the bush the protagonists will throw in a host of other issues around agriculture. It is very easy to whip up fear in the bush.

I also want to discuss a statement by Senator Williams. His words were that this bill is very important. I would not insult the good people in the bush by saying this bill is not important. It is a mess and it is very ambiguous, but this issue is very important to the people of the bush, absolutely no argument about that, as it is to all Australians. But what we have seen in this chamber in the last two years, but particularly since the new Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, has taken over the reins after his one-vote win over the previous leader, has been nothing short of obstructionism. As this issue is very important, so are the previous 41 pieces of legislation that we have seen tipped out in this chamber, not through an argument over what is good for Australia and Australians but through pure obstructionist politics from that lot over there. They are still suffering from relevance deprivation syndrome. They still do not get it that in November 2007 the Australian people spoke. There are numerous issues we took to the election. There was none of this core promise stuff that we got from the previous Howard government. We took a number of clearly defined policies to the electorate and people voted. Forty-one pieces of legislation. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves; their carry-on has been disgraceful.

When you start looking at some of the very important bills, you can talk about the CPRS, for example. I take note that my esteemed colleague Senator O’Brien mentioned that there were no less than 29 opposition speakers. I know it was a busy fortnight but it was also a crazy fortnight, and you would not find 29 opposition senators in this chamber contributing to any bill unless they wanted to filibuster. And they were making that very clear at the time. I was very confused, mind you, with so much going on, trying to work out some form of consistent conversation around the CPRS from that lot over there. They had so many mixed messages: they wanted to do it in May, some wanted to do it there and then, and some did not even know what the heck it was all about. Some have still got their heads stuck in the sand. But it was very difficult because they were all out there fighting their leader. I know how hard it is. I can understand. I could see the pain in their faces every day when they came in and said, ‘Who will I vote for today, because I really do not like either of them.’ I could see it, or I assume that is what they were saying. It was absolutely incredible. In fact, it was so scary during the CPRS debate that I was too scared to walk through Aussie’s in case any of them had a plastic knife in their hand. It was unbelievable: swords at dawn.

Senator Parry —What has this got to do with the bovine meat bill?

Senator STERLE —Senator Parry asks what this has got to do with it. I will help you out, mate. Clearly this is filibustering from you lot. That is what we have seen here. You just oppose for the sake of opposing.

Senator Parry interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Parry, you know that interjections across the chamber are disorderly and I ask you to refrain.

Senator STERLE —It is quite hurtful to listen to that lot over that side. It is very hard to focus while you are trying to make an intelligent contribution in this chamber. I know it has been hard lately.

Let us make it very clear what else they had been out to obstruct. Clearly the Rudd Labor government has had a parental leave plan, no ifs and no buts. Nothing came from that side. In fact--I am sure someone on that side will jump if I am wrong, but the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, about eight years ago when he was a minister in the Howard government made the comment on the implementation of a paid parental leave scheme that it would happen over his dead body. All of a sudden he has had another thought bubble and he wants to come up—

Senator Back —What about bovine meat?

Senator STERLE —I tell you what, this is all very relevant because of the behaviour of this lot in this chamber. Forty-one pieces of legislation. I remind you, Senator Back, coming from Western Australia, that there are a lot of Western Australians hanging on that legislation being passed. You are just as guilty as the other ones opposite. But this lot over there go on the attack on anyone who says anything against them, because they have to be the gatekeepers to all the intelligentsia in the bush. I cannot help this because it is absolutely amazing watching them. If someone from the bush has a different view than those on the RRAT committee, oh my goodness, don’t they cop it. Don’t they get the absolute personal attack because they have got no idea what they are talking about, but the three or four senators from the opposition—

Senator Heffernan interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Heffernan, please do not distract Senator Sterle.

Senator STERLE —He has just hurt my feelings again.

Senator Back interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Back! Senator Sterle, please continue.

Senator STERLE —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President Brown. To go on a personal attack and trash people’s reputations is nothing short of embarrassing. It is embarrassing for the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, which most of the time is a very respected and reputable compilation of senators, in its latest inquiry into mad cow disease, or BSE. It has also been embarrassing, I think, for those opposite.

Senator Nash interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Can I take that interjection through you, Madam Acting Deputy President? Senator Nash plays the good cop, bad cop. While Senator Heffernan is out there trashing people’s reputations and abusing them, Senator Nash sits there like butter would not melt in her mouth. I tell you what, and I will stand corrected if I am wrong, she is either a very good actress or she has absolutely no control over her senatorial colleagues on that committee. Let us get back to some of the truths.

Senator Nash interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Nash, please cease interjecting.

Senator STERLE —As I was saying before I was rudely attacked again, Madam Acting Deputy President, two years before any beef will come into Australia there will be an import risk analysis. There is absolutely no argument about that. This decision was based on science. I have said it before and I will say it again, and I will put it in an email for them if they need it. In 2000, when there was a mad cow disease outbreak in Britain, the previous government were correct to implement an across-the-board ban. They were absolutely correct and there is no argument about that. They did the right thing by Australia, by Australian consumers and by Australian producers, and they did the right thing by our market and our trading partners. But the science has moved on. There is far greater science around mad cow disease now than there was then. The government sat down with the beef industry and the health industry and consulted widely. It would not hurt for that lot over there to remember who was involved. It was not a rash decision. The decision was made on the science and it was on good science.

Senator Nash interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Here we go again with interjections from that side. There were esteemed professors in health inquiring into the matter and, all of a sudden, a farmer—and no disrespect to the farmers; I have one walking past me at the moment—or a producer or someone who has lived in the bush is far more expert than a professor. They were just mistruths.

Then they chuck in the mixed labelling argument, so let’s talk about that. I have no dramas and no argument with the labelling situation because we have made the announcement that we are going to make the changes and have the inquiry. This is where we have to get the truth out.

Senator Nash interjecting—


Senator STERLE —Australia’s biosecurity protection and the likes should not be determined on the supermarket shelf, Senator Nash—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President. That is not where it should be done. It should be done at our borders with our border control. So there is another mistruth to stir up the population to think that the tag on the shelf will solve everything. It will all be done with the correct protocols. To listen to that lot on the other side say that all of a sudden on 1 March we were going to be bombarded with beef from countries that had mad cow disease was just totally misleading. It is not hard to upset the public—just chuck out a scare campaign and that will have the desired effect. We have to cut through all that and get to the truths.

We were talking about the National Livestock Identification System, which I know Senator Williams quoted. I will check the Hansard that Senator Williams, quite rightfully, said that other countries should have the same procedures as us from birth. That is not a problem. I just want to clear that up because the NLIS does not require animals to be tagged at birth. If you listen to that lot on the other side you would think that every time a calf was born it would have a plastic tag on its ear. That is not the case and I will stand corrected if I am wrong. I do not hear Senator Nash attacking me now. I do not hear the good Dr Back attacking me now. If I am wrong, prove it.

Senator Nash interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Nash, please cease interjecting.

Senator Nash —I wasn’t saying anything.


Senator STERLE —See, she comes across as being all innocent. See the way she did that? I heard her.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sterle, please address your remarks through the chair.

Senator STERLE —Thank you Madam Acting Deputy President. That is another mistruth that has been spoken, this time from Senator Williams. The actual law requires the tag to be put on before the animals leave their property of birth. You will have your turn to stand up and knock me over on that one but I do not hear too much opposition coming from that side. Getting the truth out to the people and having decent, honest, open conversations with the people affected is a far more honourable way than going out and making all sorts of false accusations and claims. I listened to all those claims and, if I had not been involved in the committee, I would have thought that come 1 March we would have been bombarded with every imaginable disease that could come to the country. And it just was not true. It was absolutely nowhere near the truth.

We have strongly resisted pressure from the EU and Japan over the years to introduce date of birth tagging. There are some major trading partners on our case but we have resisted them. There are many cattle in Australia that do not have birth-to-death traceability under the NLIS. If you listened to Senator Williams you would think that that could not be further from the truth. I will give you an example. For cattle born before the relevant state/territory mandated the NLIS, the receiver of the animals does not record the cattle sale or movement.

I know that is a favourite of Senator Heffernan. I heard all through the committee about cattle being born in Mexico and trotting over the border to America before they actually got a tag. Also, in the new bill—the new, flawed bill; the ambiguous bill—section 6B requires traceability for animals but it does not specify which species of animals. There is a lot of work to be done. I have not heard of this yet. Something may have happened in the last half hour or so, but I do not recall it being recommended that this bill go off to a committee for inquiry. If it is going off to a committee, that is fantastic because I will look forward to it coming through the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee and I will look forward to working with opposition senators because, from now on, I am sure there will not be a big scare campaign—no, I cannot say that in all honesty. I would hope that truth will be transmitted through all media statements and meetings out in the bush with growers.

It is all right for those opposite to jump up and down about accountability and honesty. There was a suggestion earlier today that we should try and ram this bill through because of its high importance. It was said we had to get it through today before we even had the chance to properly go through it, to analyse it and to dissect it. The modus operandi of those opposite is to circumvent the Senate committee system when it suits them. It was not that long ago, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore—as you and I would both remember, when we were in opposition—that the Senate committee system was shaken on its head and tipped upside down because it did not suit that lot on the other side. They were very quick to do away with some, I think, eight committees. As soon as they got into opposition and there was the chance of doing a grubby deal—I will take that back; of doing a deal—to appease some of the sooks in the Greens, they all of a sudden tipped it back. I do not have to apologise for ‘the sooks’, do I?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—I will ask you to watch your language, Senator.

Senator STERLE —I will take that back. I will say some of the ‘whingers’ in the Greens. They had the chance to tip the committee system back on the other side again to give us what we had before. That lot on the other side see Senate committees as their little plaything. It suits them when they have the numbers. When they do not have the numbers, they do not want to play by the rules. It has been no more evident than it was through the inquiry into the importation of beef. I am looking forward to having some more conversations with industry. I am looking forward to going through the import risk analysis. I am looking forward to seeing any extra science. I am also looking forward to making sure that mistruths are not spread out there in the countryside. I have said on many occasions that producers are very decent, hardworking people. There is not an argument; I have never had that argument. I also know that they are under immense pressures not only from the drought but also from the Aussie dollar being low—

Senator Back —High!

Senator STERLE —High—I am sorry. Thank you very much, Senator Back. I know they do it tough. I know they face a heap of problems. It is not hard to throw out some wild statements, scare the living bejesus out of the country people—


Senator STERLE —Yes—the living daylights. I am sorry. I looked at the other side and I lost my train of thought.

Senator Cormann interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Hang on! Here is the intelligentsia from the Western Australia Liberal Party. It is Senator ‘the knife’ Cormann. Welcome to the chamber. I do not recall seeing your fat head at any of these hearings.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator, again, your language. You are getting very close to your time.

Senator STERLE —I know. Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. There is something about Senator Cormann that makes me lower my standards to his modus operandi, and I do apologise for that. As I say, I look forward to this bill coming to the committee. (Time expired)