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Thursday, 11 March 2010
Page: 1687

Senator HEFFERNAN (5:03 PM) —It is nice to listen to someone who absolutely does not know what they are talking about! Can I table a document?

Leave granted.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you very much. I am tabling a document, which is a press release from R-CALF USA. It reads:

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry … Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners.

It is a great pleasure to speak on theFood Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010, a bill for an act to ensure the equivalence of Australian production standards in the importation of bovine meat and meat products. ‘Equivalence’ is a great word, because there is great variation between what people in the office of Simon Crean; the Cattle Council; MLA; RMAC; the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Minister Burke; and the growers think that means. We are insisting in this bill on full traceability from birth to death and that, when the tag goes in, it is property of birth. Some people mark their calves at six weeks, some mark them at six months and some mark them when they wean them. When the tag goes in depends on the management of the property. It is property of birth. That is to clear it up for Senator Sterle, as he probably does not realise that because after all he is a truck driver. I am a truck driver, too, and a wool classer and a welder and I have not read a book since I left school. But anyhow.

What this is really about is getting a clear understanding in parliament of what we demand of people that want to import product into Australia and of what ‘equivalence’ actually means. The difficulty we have had is that there are a few things surrounding this debate that have been confusing to people. There is no question, as Senator Nash has said, that the government would not have changed its mind if we had not got the inquiry up and if we had not got talkback. I commend the talkback people—Leon Byner in Adelaide and Alan Jones—and the various print media people who had a crack at this, because it was the power of the people that combined with the Senate inquiry to change the government’s mind on this. It was nothing else. I commend the minister for the strong stance he took against his own trade minister.

This is about ensuring that we do in fact have full traceability and that we do have a full import risk analysis—unlike the analysis that went on with the beef importation from Brazil. I will go to the tabled document. It is headed ‘On 25 February confirmation of a BSE positive cow kept secret’. It points out that in Canada they have had their 18th case of BSE—in a 72-month old Angus cow, which means the cow was born in 2003-04. Canada has an arrangement with the United States that any cattle born after 1999 can be exported into the United States. In fact, this press release points out that 40,000 older Canadian cows were imported into the United States for domestic slaughter.

Senator Back —This year.

Senator HEFFERNAN —This year—I am sure that Senator Back will go into great detail on this particular press release:

Forty organisations representing consumers, the cattle industry and other livestock and farming interests sent a joint letter to USDA in November 2009 urging the new Administration to restore the United States’ weakened import standards that are exposing the US to a heightened risk of BSE.

Hence my insistence and this bill’s insistence that, if the US want to export meat to Australia they have to make up their minds about what is equivalence. Equivalence is not about a closed herd status because anyone can rogue that; equivalence is not about a state boundary; it is about a national boundary. If we are going to have birth-to-death traceability, they either close the border with Canada and Mexico or they trace cattle back with a tag to wherever they were born in Canada or Mexico. That is the basis of traceability.

I can give you the impact against the rising Australian dollar—Senator Sterle thought it was the falling Australian dollar; I guess that is understandable. In 2004, the United States exported 375,455 tonnes of meat into Japan. When they got their infection, they imported 797 tonnes. In Korea, 246,595 tonnes went in 2003; in 2004, 672 tonnes went in. This gives you an idea of the worry we have in losing that market share because we have the world’s cleanest, greenest and freest status of beef production. Australia is the safest place in the world to eat beef and we want to keep it that way.

This bill is designed to bring to parliament some accountability. What was proposed before, as Senator Sterle says, ‘we made a fuss’, was a system of assessment where one bureaucrat, Mr Steve McCutcheon, would have been accountable. No-one in the government is accountable. No-one in this parliament would have been accountable for any catastrophic mistake. A few years ago, we made a catastrophic error with Brazil and, sure enough, the person who made the mistake has moved on to another part of the bureaucracy.

This announcement today by the United Stockgrowers of America points to the fact that there are serious flaws in the United States, Canada and Mexico trade. We want to straighten it out. We want it in black and white and we are prepared to have it tested by whoever wants to test the process. We are quite happy to go through a biosecurity process, we are quite happy to go through a FSANZ process, but we absolutely want the people in this parliament to be accountable to the process.

I have full sympathy for the various bodies that gathered together to do the secret deal on 28 July last year. There were eight people there from the industry. Seven of them were from the processors and they were dominated by the international processors. One producer and seven processors signed up to the government to say, ‘We’re going to do this but we won’t tell anyone.’ In Armidale the other day, the chairman of Meat and Livestock Australia, David Palmer, said that in fact it was said in that meeting, ‘Don’t tell Bill Heffernan,’ that is, me. The government actually said that—‘Don’t tell him.’ As a consequence, everyone has to walk backwards on this because we need to protect our reputations.

We had excellent evidence given to our committee. I feel sorry for the people who did not know the difference between an import risk assessment and an import risk analysis. They did not understand there was even trade, including the bureaucrats who were putting the protocols in place on Thursday a fortnight ago. They did not know that there was trade across the border with Mexico, they did not know the status of the Mexican herd, which we have now given in a question on notice. With the excellent technical backup of people like Senator Back, Senator Nash, Senator Williams and others, we are in good shape.

I commend this bill to the parliament. This is a bill to protect the interests of not only Australia’s cattle producers but also Australia’s consumers of beef. Let us keep Australia the safest place in the world to eat beef. There is a whole lot of new science which will come forward through the IRA process, which has only just come in the last few weeks and will point out the unknowns and the difficulties in identifying the spreadability of not only the prion of BSE, that is the protein, but also things like the new wasting disease which is now up on the Canadian border with the United States where all this border traffic is. There is a wasting disease in a laboratory which has now spread to cattle. We do not want that in Australia. We brought Johne’s disease in because of a sloppy process with sheep in New Zealand a few years ago. We do not have scrapie. Let us keep Australia the best place. This bill ensures that. Thank you very much.