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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7603

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (16:05): I rise today to speak on this incredibly important matter of public importance. The live export ban highlights the government's incomp¬≠etence and the need for an early election. I believe this is without doubt the worst decision they have ever made—and that is a big statement given some of the decisions made by this government. This decision will have dire consequences for our nearest, biggest and most important neighbour, and the government did not discuss it with them let alone consider the effect it will have on this country. It is the worst decision I have ever seen by a government. The ineptitude of this government never ceases to amaze me, but when it comes to agriculture add an element of 'I could not care less' and you will begin to understand why the live export issue has escalated to such a crisis.

The Prime Minister said just yesterday that the government was torn between two competing extremes—vegetarians and those with little concern for animal cruelty—but would not resume the trade until cruelty problems were fixed. This is just the sort of ridiculous thing you come to expect from this Prime Minister. I have not heard anyone say it is okay to mistreat animals in the way it was portrayed on television. The competing interests here are those seeking to shut down live exports—in fact, shut down livestock production and have us all eating lentils—and those seeking a rational solution and a balanced policy response to ensure animal welfare is front and centre in livestock production and livestock trade. Of course this government could be depended upon to choose the irrational approach, an agenda driven by lefties who have never had to face life's realities. When the Prime Minister announced that this year was to be 'the year of delivery and decision', everyone thought she had just made a mistake and meant to say 'decision and delivery', but we now understand that she got it right. This Prime Minister tries to deliver before ever making a decision. She tried to deliver the mining tax before making a decision on how it might work. She tried to deliver the carbon tax before doing the same. On live exports she has tried to deliver an outcome without making any decisions on how to manage government diplomacy with Indonesia, without making any decision on how it would impact on the cattle industry in Northern Australia or any decisions about contingencies.

There is a cartoon in the Australian today where somebody you could be mistaken for thinking is our Prime Minister is talking to somebody you could be mistaken for thinking is our foreign minister. That person says:

You're the one to fix the cattle trade because you know what it feels like to have your throat cut while fully conscious.

Northern Australia is getting its throat cut while fully conscious. This is an example of Gillard decision making. Northern Australia has so much to lose here. Northern Australia has only one serious industry outside the mining industry and it is the live export trade, a job they do very well. They grow very good cattle, which are in very high demand. The coalition supported Minister Ludwig's original decision to ban the trade from the abattoirs which were exposed for animal cruelty and to review abattoirs in Indonesia.

How badly this government has acted is underlined by the fact that a very short time after the Four Corners program the Indonesian President was reported as saying, 'This is a serious issue we have to deal with.' If I were the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, I would have grabbed the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister, raced over to Indonesia and said: 'Thank you for that offer. We must sit down together and deal with this issue.' But what happened? Not that. No, a few days later, the Indonesians, along with the rest of us, read in the papers that they had been spurned, treated not like the most important neighbour Australia has but like someone who does not matter. While the member for Griffith understands this, the Prime Minister is too scared to ask the foreign minister for help. I think she is frightened that he will be successful in dealing with the Indonesians. In any case, I think she is just too frightened simply to talk to him.

The only sensible solution is to allow our cattle to go only to those abattoirs with acceptable standards. And let me tell you, having just been over there talking to both the Indonesian and the Australian operators, it is amazing to me how well they have got together to work out for themselves how to deal with this situation. We have a world recognised cattle tracking system which could easily be extended to manage traceability. Indonesian and Australian operators are aware of it and some of them are already using it. Some of them are already independently audited in total trace-back systems, as well as humane cattle treatment. Every beast which goes on a boat can be tagged and scanned and then be tagged again at the destination to ensure traceability through the whole process. With the hand-held scanners, this can be done in locations which are not near major cities.

The best message, the only message, this government should or could send to processors in Indonesia is that we will only do business with those who meet our expectations on animal care and treatment and we will continue to send cattle exclusively to complying abattoirs. That would have been entirely justifiable and would have encouraged attitudinal and behavioural change—but no, not this government. Scared of the people on the left of their party, they reacted not on the basis of good policy but on the basis of keeping the people on the left of their party quiet.

If the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry did not inform Minister Ludwig of the consequences to Australia of this ban, heads should role. If Ludwig did not inform the Prime Minister of the consequences of a ban to Australia, he should be sacked. If Julia Gillard ignored that advice, she must go.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): The Prime Minister.

Mr JOHN COBB: I apologise. This decision to ignore our biggest, most important and most populous neighbour and to totally ignore the normal diplomatic relations is the worst decision ever made by government. I am sure the member for Griffith, had he been asked, would have informed both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as to what should have been done, but they were not interested. I wonder did they even stop to think of the relationship with those who take our cattle. We are talking about 25 per cent of Indonesia's beef intake. We are talking about 100 per cent of Northern Australia's beef output. It is unfathomable that a government could act in this way without talking to our most important neighbour.

Why can the government not resume the live trade to the abattoirs which have been shown to be doing the right thing? Why did they ever stop the trade? The resumption of the live trade lies in the Prime Minister's fumbling hands. This has gone on long enough. The Indonesian government, to its credit—I was amazed and surprised when I was in Indonesia with Senator Scullion—has lifted itself above the name-calling or the recriminations in which I believe it would be quite entitled to indulge. Why would Indonesia issue permits while we have a ban in place? The ball is firmly in the court of the Gillard government. It is in their hands as it stands now.

Why would Indonesia issue permits when there is a ban in place?

Every day that goes by there is an unfolding economic, environmental, social and animal welfare crisis in Northern Australia of monumental proportions. One station has a destocking order to reduce its number by 6,000 this year because in Northern Australia they do not hold stock beyond an age, they are used to knowing how many they are going to have, getting them on the boat and getting them off the land. It has 2,000 head which they have to remove because otherwise it would create much bigger animal welfare issues due to overgrazing. The cattleman believes that from tomorrow he will have to start destroying 200 head a day. These cattle are his livelihood and worth conservatively $120,000, which he has to destroy per day. I own cattle. I once had to shoot sheep because of drought and age and I do not think I could do it again, let alone cattle in the prime of their life worth a lot of money. It is beyond believable. This is devastating for him and anyone who has ever had to raise cattle.

It is a disgrace that a government so inept, so uncaring and so cruel is causing cruelty to humans and cruelty to animals—because that is what is on the horizon. There are 82 Indigenous stations and a community of some 17,000, depending on the scale and it is an enormous scale. These are people who are proud of the fact that they are the best stockmen in Australia; they are proud of the fact that they look after Australia's pastoral regions. I implore the Prime Minister and this government to revoke the ban.

There is in front of us a very short window of time in which to get this trade up and running again. The government have committed that they want to see it get going again. Well, if they wait much longer it will not get going again before the wet season comes back to us. If that is what they want, then they are going the long way about it towards achieving it. The handling of this has been absolutely abominable. I cannot think of what could have possessed them to act without thinking. As I said, if no-one advised them as to what the repercussions were and are, then they should be totally sacked.

I want to talk about the cattle industry for a minute. Those of us who own cattle are very proud of our industry. We are proud of what we do and the way in which we do it and we are very proud of our cattle—no-one more so than the people who do it hardest in the north of this country, whether it is in WA, whether it is in the Territory or whether it is in Queensland. None of us who own cattle or work with cattle or have anything to do with cattle will stand for cruelty, but this continued ban promotes animal cruelty, promotes environmental devastation, promotes human devastation and promotes absolute economic madness. For how long must regional Australia be a plaything of Gillard and the Greens? What has happened to our country? Consider the ancestors of the people who created it and who set the mantra of the way in which Australia is perceived as a mob of pioneers. I ask because the people who raise these cattle are the closest to it. What has happened to the people who set Australia up to be what it is and simply want to get on with their living and want to help the Aboriginal and Indigenous communities do the same? What has happened that we cease to matter? I again stress that if the department of agriculture did not inform Minister Ludwig of the repercussions and of the disaster for Australia that is resulting and will result from this ban, heads should roll. If Ludwig failed to advise the Prime Minister, he should be sacked. If Julia Gillard ignored that advice—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The minister and the Prime Minister must be referred to by their name.

Mr JOHN COBB: if the Prime Minister ignored that advice one assumes she was given—then she must go. Enough is enough. We cannot stand by in this country and see a government with no credibility, with no ability and with no compassion continue to simply ignore the people who need them to act. Lift the ban.