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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 594

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (15:58): I rise to speak to the ministerial statement on the live export trade. It is a brief statement and lacks the detail that I think the issue warrants, but it certainly has some informative issues that compound the concerns that so many Australians have with regard to how Australia is managing this issue. The delegation that the minister accompanied to the Middle East was actually made up of Australian industry representa­tives and exporters to these markets. When you consider that, in the second paragraph of the statement, the minister talks about the issue of international standards to ensure animals are being treated in line with animal welfare requirements, it is of concern that he took no people from the animal rights sector to the Middle East but just went with industry representatives. That speaks volumes, I think, about the mismanagement this government brings to this issue. I also note that they did not take any union representatives. The Australian Meat Indust­ry Employees Union have done a great deal of work in this, and I raise that because in the first paragraph of the minister's statement he talked about jobs, hardworking families and the importance of rural and regional communities. But, again, what we are seeing here is a failure to look at the benefits that can come from having more processing of the meat in Australia.

What is also worth looking at is what this delegation actually did on their visit. I understand they visited feedlots and abattoirs, but it does not say that the delega­tion actually saw the animals being slaught­ered. So you have to ask the question: if this is about lifting the standards of how animal welfare issues are managed in Australia's export trade, how do you make a judgment on the level of cruelty if you do not see how the animals are slaughtered? So again we see a major flaw in the minister's statement, as well as in how the delegation's visit was conducted.

Overall, what this ministerial statement does is once again underline that the government has missed the opportunity to end the live export trade. This is how we could have dealt, in a responsible way, with the issue of the cruelty these animals suffer and also with boosting jobs, particularly in regional areas. We know that so many animals die when they are exported. They undergo extreme suffering, both in the transport to these countries and in the actual process of slaughter.

I think all members in this place, while we may have our disagreements, are aware of the huge public distress when the ABC screened the Four Corners program about the overseas live export trade. I continue to get hundreds of emails about this issue, and interestingly just after midnight on New Year's Day I got a number of emails saying, 'Please in 2012 make banning live exports a key issue for the parliament where you work.'

The Greens' response to this ministerial statement is that, in terms of the response from the government, in essence, all we got was the Export Supply Chain Assurance System. This is no way to implement safeguards that can guarantee the humane transport and slaughter of animals in overseas markets. However, as the ESCA is the best that we have got, the Greens will certainly track the system very closely and we will be working to ensure that the meagre set of regulations that the government is putting in place are absolutely thoroughly followed.

I would like to move on to the other issue that I raised, the economics of the live export trade. This is where there has been a great deal of misinformation, and once again we see that the government has not been facing up to how this issue plays out, particularly for regional communities. At the end of the day, in so many communities, particularly in Northern Australia, they have seen their abattoirs shut and hundreds of jobs have been lost in so many local centres.

For a government that makes out that it is a government of jobs, that it is a party about jobs for ordinary people, this is where they have failed enormously. Much of the politics around the live export industry relies on arguments that come from reports that are very loaded and, I would argue, quite misleading. In 2006, Hassall & Associates released The live export industry: value, outlook and contribution to the economy. This was commissioned by the meat and livestock association and LiveCorp and was released in July 2006. When you look at the modelling that the Hassall report has relied on, it is questionable as to where they have extrapolated their figures from.

The modelling in the Hassall report has an average salary of more than $76,000 per employee for people in this industry, whereas the ABS national input-output table for 2006-07 has $60,000 per full-time equivalent employee overall, and consider­ably less for the agricultural sector. Those figures are significant because when they are extrapolated we end up with a very inflated economic benefit from this industry that really does now need to be questioned. Again, I urge members to look at some of the work that the AMIEU has undertaken.

Senator Williams interjecting

Senator RHIANNON: I note that interjection at that point. It is a union that is working hard for its members and for region­al Australia to create more jobs in an area where the government is failing enormously.

Studies conducted on behalf of the live export industry have as their foundation of premise that the live export trade operates in a different market or a different segment of the market to the meat processing industry. This whole narrative has been developed around the industry as a way to try and separate out this whole problem that regional Australia is faced with—that they have been losing out as the export industry has grown over the past decade. That whole premise is what we want to challenge.

Many of the predictions on stock price implications lack transparency and have questionable assumptions that are used to justify them. I believe that they have been created because those in the live export trade, who are obviously promoting this industry, would know that if the comparison were made with processing meat in this country then the so-called economic benefits of the live export trade would not stack up. So we have many fallacies here. Again I acknowledge that on this delegation it probably was not the key priority of the minister and he has presented it very much in terms of the animal welfare concerns. How­ever, on that issue would I argue he failed because nobody from the animal welfare sector accompanied him on that delegation, and when it comes to the issue of jobs the fudge that has become part of how the Labor government handles this continues.