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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 4210


Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (17:00): I rise this afternoon to provide a contribution on this matter of public importance on live animal exports. I have to say from the outset that, like Senator Scullion, I have a strong commitment to representing our live cattle trade in the Northern Territory. No-one should be under any doubt whatsoever that we are working as diligently, as quickly and as hard as we possibly can to get this issue resolved.

I just want to go back to the beginning, from where this emanated. I am glad Senator Adams raised some of the issues the RSPCA has been highlighting. In the Northern Territory now I find that my constituents are caught up in this national debate about whether we should have live cattle exports at all. I believe we absolutely should. In the Northern Territory we have a massive industry for breeding cattle that has evolved over time and is designed specifically for exportation. We cannot simply come to a position where we say there will be no live cattle exports ever again in this country unless we turn away from the concerns of people I represent in the Northern Territory.

I am a strong defender of this industry, and I am certainly very strong in wanting to see this resolved very, very quickly. I get the same sorts of emails that other senators in this place are getting, particularly Senator Adams. I am not prepared to name those cattle stations or those people in this chamber—I want to respect their privacy—but I am getting those emails. These people are saying two things to me. The first thing they are saying is, 'We care for the cattle we have bred and we were shocked and horrified when we saw the footage on Four Corners.' The second thing they are saying is: 'We do not want that to occur. We do not want to put our cattle on a boat that will end up in a country where they are not slaughtered humanely, and we want that fixed.'

Everyone is with the program on wanting to ensure that when these cattle turn up at a slaughterhouse it is done as humanely and as appropriately as possible. But when people email me and talk to me about this issue they have very real concerns about what Meat and Livestock Australia have been doing. On the very last sitting day for the 12 senators who recently left from this place there was an adjournment debate—very late on that Thursday night. I listened attentively to the last speech Kerry O'Brien gave in this place. I urge senators to listen to what Senator O'Brien said. He had concerns about what Meat and Livestock Australia has been doing with the levy it has been collecting from these cattlemen and women and from these stations.

At this point in time, no-one is really turning their attention to what the industry bodies were doing during the lead-up to this problem and what they are doing now. As I understand it, the Northern Territory CattleĀ­mens Association is not represented by Meat and Livestock Australia. There is a real disconnect between what is happening in that industry body and what is going on with the cattle association in the Northern Territory.

I know we have met with these people to try to resolve this as quickly as possible. The Prime Minister has been in the Northern Territory twice in a month to meet with them. She came last Wednesday, and I was present at that meeting. Also, in a cooperative effort, Senator Scullion, Minister Warren Snowdon and I, at my initiative, had the whole of the Northern Territory Cattlemens Association here in this building for two days two weeks ago. They had access to a range of ministers, spokespeople from the opposition and members of the broader parliamentary community here, trying to get people to understand why they are so reliant on a live cattle trade. That is where a lot of their focus has been—trying to dispel this humbug about live cattle exports. They have had to fight this rearguard reaction from people who do not want live exports to occur, and their attention has been diverted away from maintaining the trade they have. If we set all that to one side, if the cattle people did not have to have their energies diverted to defending what they do so well, then perhaps we might have all been able to get with this program much faster. People are working extremely diligently to get this resolved as quickly as possible.

There is no question about the value of the live animal export industry to Indonesia or beyond. It is vital to our economy, worth over $300 million. It is so vital, in fact, that I notice that the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, and Minister Kon Vatskalis have been in Indonesia meeting ministers and officials from that government and having a look at what is happening. Be under no illusion here. Everyone is pulling out stops as quickly as possible to get this resolved. We want to ensure not only that the welfare of the animals is taken care of but that we also have a closed loop. We want to be absolutely satisfied that from the minute the cattle get onto that boat until they arrive in Indonesia, and from the paddock to the point of slaughter, there is a supply chain that is regulated and supervised. Can that happen overnight? No, it cannot. Can we ensure that it happens?

We are seeking to work closely and cooperatively with Indonesian officials to get this moving as quickly as possible but this involves working inside, and with, another country. That country, as I understand it, also wants to get this resolved. There have been reports, for example in today's media in the Northern Territory, from Minister Kon Vatskalis that this is now having effects on families in Indonesia.

In this situation we have to be convinced and reassured that once we get these cattle moving the assurances—the checks and balances—are in place so that the trade can resume. I have no doubt, after the meetings that I have been involved in for the past month, that cattlemen, the Prime Minister and Minister Ludwig, departmental officials and the cattlemens association are diligently working around the clock with the Indonesian government. The cattle industry and welfare organisations are developing a robust framework to ensure that Australian cattle exports are handled appropriately.

I want to draw people's attention not only to the independent review that we have set up and the fact that payments and assistance have been provided to people but to what I want to see at the end of the day: this problem fixed forever. Once these cattle start moving I do not want us to be back in here in three, five or 10 years time. This is an opportunity to try to support the cattle industry and the people I represent in the Northern Territory as best, as efficiently and as compassionately as we possibly can.

If we really get this right—so that in the supply chain loop we do not have just five or six abattoirs regulated but 20, 30 or 50 abattoirs regulated—this will provide an opportunity for the cattle industry to grow. It will be an opportunity for the cattle industry to be able to say: 'That was a pretty rough patch back then but we now have this industry sorted forever. We now have an agreement with the Indonesian government, who are as committed to resolving this as we are, and this will be fixed up for all time.'

As the Prime Minister said last week in Darwin:

... I wouldn't let an extra day go by before we resume this trade, as soon as we had the animal welfare measures addressed.

As soon as this problem is sorted and as soon as we have an agreement with the Indonesian government—I know they will be diligently working as hard as we are to resolve this—we will get this trade moving again. Not one day will be wasted. Not one extra day will go by. The minute we can get these cattle moving off these shores in a live export trade we will do this.

At this point in time I want this nation to stop diverting attention to a discussion about whether there should be live exports. There are live exports and they are going to continue under our watch. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time for this discussion has expired.