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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7606


Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity and Special Minister of State) (16:20): What a fraudulent representation of the issue. You fraud! Did you go to Jeddah in 2003? No, of course you did not. Fifty-seven thousand sheep at sea for three months! Did those opposite react then? No. And what did the opposition do at that time—behave responsibly, so did not create fear and did not create scaremongering, and did not create a situation of businesses fearing that they would fail? No. Why? Because you put your desire for electoral success ahead of the interests of those farmers and those cattlemen you fraudulently claim to represent here. You disgrace! And you know you are a disgrace! You stand here with your con­fected indignation. You have been scuttling around the countryside, scuttling around the regions like a cockroach, arguing this case. You disgrace!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The Special Minister of State ought to direct his remarks through the chair. When he refers to 'you' he is referring to the occupant of the chair.

Mr GRAY: Mr Speaker, I accept that. The red-meat export industry is a West Australian industry. Around 75 to 80 per cent of live sheep exported are from West Australian properties. Many pass through feedlots in my electorate. Forty-five per cent of exported live cattle are from Western Australia. It is a good industry. It is an industry that should not be played with by pathetic politicians. It is an important industry. The people who work in it are good people. This is an industry that can be made stronger. It can be made better and it can be made sustainable through the processes and measures that will be put in place by this government. I do not defend the events depicted in the images carried on the ABC Four Corners program a month ago. Nor do I take the view that all Australian cattle producers and exporters should be condemned for those images. We need to get accountability, quality verification and assurances into our supply chain. We need to act quickly and we need to ensure that we have the facilities, training and skills at the points of slaughter, in stock handling, in animal health and have quality systems to support the industry. All of this adds up to verification that the supply chain meets the standards that we set.

Recently I had cause to meet the Indonesian Ambassador. At that time I was told of the intemperate and unreasonable protest actions that some Australians have taken towards the Indonesian embassy and its staff. Mr Deputy Speaker, intemperate behaviour is not acceptable. The Indonesian Ambassador is an excellent representative for his country leading an excellent group of diplomats. Indeed, today, students from one of my local schools are visiting the Indonesian embassy to participate in their school education program. It is a program that enriches the cultural and Indonesian language programs in our schools; and so it strengthens our relationship with Indonesia.

In this parliament we need to be respectful of the Indonesian government's steps to support good policy. We know that they want this matter resolved quickly. Indonesia, like Australia, wants a humane, healthy and growing industry. We need to ensure the sustainability of this industry because there is still potential for growth in the live cattle production industry in Northern Australia. According to the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce significant opport­unities exist to grow the Northern Australian beef industry through changing enterprise structures and increasing intensification. Leading producers in Northern Australia have a vision for this. I believe this parliament has a vision to increase the production of our beef herds in Northern Australia. We believe we can more than double production from Northern Australia's cattle herd and possibly lift output as much as fourfold in value in some areas. The Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce also found that the northern beef industry produces potential for substantial wealth creation for Indigenous communities through direct employment and business ventures.

There is good cause for confidence. Australia is a major player in the global red meat sector. We are among the world's largest producers of red meat and the second largest exporter of beef and sheep. In 2007-08 the gross value of beef and veal produced in Australia was more than $7.4 billion and for sheep meat it was around $2.2 billion. Australia is the world's second largest exporter of beef and sheep meat. That is why, in fact, there is a common cause on both sides of this House to make sure that our industry is sustainable and to make sure that we can properly and appropriately track our cattle exports and ensure that sustainability is maintained through the maintenance of public support for this great industry.

In 2007-08 around 64 per cent of beef produced in Australia was exported. Forty-five per cent of lamb and 82 per cent of our mutton was exported. As I said earlier, most of that is from Western Australia. Indeed, my family are producers of lamb in the Western Australian wheat belt. The combined value of beef, lamb and mutton exports in 2007-08 was slightly more than $5.4 billion. Australia is also a major player in the global live export trade. The trade is worth around $1 billion to Australia's economy each year and it supports about 10,000 jobs, most of them in regional and remote Australia. Live exports are a key part of that red meat industry.

This sector provides a valuable alternative market for Australia's livestock producers and is particularly important to the economies of the sheep-producing areas of Western Australia and the cattle regions of Northern Australia. The beef cattle industry involves around 60 per cent of the land area of Northern Australia—around 90 per cent if Indigenous land is included—and it accounts for around five per cent of Northern Australia jobs. It also accounts for about 30 per cent of Australia's cattle and produces 80 per cent of Australia's live cattle exports, worth about $300 to $400 million a year.

Australia also leads the world in animal welfare practices. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig, acted appropriately to suspend the trade of live cattle to Indonesia following the unacceptable practices shown in images on the ABC's Four Corners program. Then, rightly, the suspension will remain in place until new safeguards are established for the trade, but not for one day longer than is necessary. We will not see cattle at sea for 90 days, without the minister visiting Jeddah, as happened in the early 2000s. The minister for agriculture has asked the former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Bill Farmer, to examine the whole live animal export supply chain, from paddock to the point of slaughter, for all markets that receive Australian livestock.

As one would expect the opposition have been demanding that this trade be resumed immediately. That is not what they did in the case of the sheep bound for Jeddah. They were at sea for 90 days without a minister visiting Jeddah to argue the case. It is worth recalling the performance of the Howard government in managing the live export trade. The Howard government banned livestock exports for extraordinary periods of time. For example, all livestock was banned to Saudi Arabia for 19 months in 2005.

In particular, as I said, it is worth revisiting the management of the MV Cormo Express fiasco in 2003. As I say, I do not recall any Australian minister visiting Jeddah. A consignment of more than 57,000 sheep was purchased by a Saudi Arabian livestock importer, Hmood Alali Alkhalaf, and his trading and transportation company left Fremantle on 6 August 2003. This consignment arrived in Jeddah on 21 August 2003, was inspected by Saudi ministry of agriculture officials and was rejected over alleged disease concerns. The Howard government was then caught with a ship full of Australian sheep that were owned by a citizen of another country on a foreign vessel thousands of kilometres outside of Australian waters, but no Australian minister went to Jeddah.

The Australian government opted in those days to buy the sheep from the Saudi owner for $4.5 million. It then tried to offload the sheep in southern Iraq as food aid, allegedly based on advice from the British field commanders in the region. However, the British then raised concerns about security and any diversion of resources from key security roles. Discussion on options to place the sheep were then conducted with parties in Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Cyprus, Tanzania, Eritrea, Qatar, Italy, Poland, Israel, Ukraine, Argentina, Mauri­tius, Indonesia, Malaysia and a number of other countries, but no minister went to Jeddah. Consideration was also given to slaughtering the animals at sea, and the government even talked about bringing them home and putting them in quarantine. Finally, the government of the day was able to reach an agreement with Eritrea to off-load the sheep in that country and, after 80 days, they finally walked off the ship. It was a great deal for Eritrea. Australia provided the consignment of sheep to the Eritrean government as a gift. We also threw in 3,000 tonnes of pelletised feed, a special team to provide technical assistance and an additional $1 million to offset the cost of Eritrea handling the animals—and they got to keep the change, with the Howard government agreeing that any funds remaining could be used for any other project in Eritrea.

The coalition is interested only in the politics of the situation, feigning indignation as they seek a political taproot here—nothing to do with the support of a sustainable industry. Why? Because we can look at the practice MV Cormo Expressdemonstrates—their real view. When put under pressure, when those opposite had to make a call, we saw how they behaved. No minister went to Jeddah. They do not share our interest in establishing sustainable supply chains and long-term sustainable solutions for the industry. In a joint press release of 15 June, Warren Truss, John Cobb and Senator Colbeck stated:

Coalition MPs, like all Australians, were appalled by the mistreatment of animals in some Indonesian abattoirs featured on the ABC's 'Four Corners' program. This behaviour is unacceptable to all Australians, especially our farmers, who take great pride in breeding and raising healthy and well cared for animals.

Despite this feigned concern, Mr Abbott, Mr Truss and Mr Cobb, amongst others, continue to call for an immediate resumption of trade—that is, when they are not calling for an election. They do this regardless of whether or not animal welfare standards can be assured, which is the licence to operate, the support from our community for this industry. I support the industry; they are just looking for supporters. As stated by the minister, the government has two clear objectives.

Mr John Cobb interjecting

Mr GRAY: I am not sure which minister went to Jeddah. It was not you. Firstly, we want to ensure a system that provides appropriate welfare outcomes for Australian livestock and, secondly, we wish to provide the basis for a sustainable livestock export industry over the long term. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the live animal export industry. I have made this clear over the years that I have served the people of Brand—not just over the past months, when I was looking for votes, not just when trying to win votes but when it is hard, when you actually have to talk to the protesters, which I have done. I support Indonesia as a key market for our live exports and I have made clear that the industry should be conducted humanely. I have inspected the ships, I have inspected the feedlots, I have talked to the workers and I have met with the protesters, and I still support the live trade.

The government is committed to recom­mencing live cattle exports to Indonesia as soon as is practicable. We are working closely with the Indonesian government to ensure this important trade has a strong and sustainable future. The government understa­nds that this suspension is difficult for industry and it is fully aware of the impact on rural and regional Australia, especially in the north. That is why Prime Minister Gillard announced the $30 million assistance package for those communities. It is also why members opposite seek merely to obtain political advantage from the distress of cattle producers and farmers. It is simply disgraceful.

I know the industry understands and supports the government's actions to ensure animal health and herd management practi­ces are in place before this trade resumes. The live export trade is a key part of our livestock industry and a key part of regional economies in Western and Northern Austra­lia. The government are working with authorities and industry to put in place systems that will ensure animals are treated humanely so we can get the trade with Indonesia up and running again as soon as we can, and as soon as possible. We as a government are not prepared to abandon the potential growth in this industry. We recognise the mistakes the Howard gover­nment made during the Cormo Express fiasco and the long-term impact that this had on the sheep industry and on our country, and we will not repeat those mistakes. Eighty days at sea and not one minister went to Jeddah. Contemplate killing those sheep at sea, and not one minister went to Jeddah. The disgrace of those opposite is palpable for all to see. As part of her speech, the member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, said:

We urge the government to do everything in its power to restart the live cattle export trade to facilities that can demonstrate humane killing methods.

We in the government could not agree more. Once we have established supply chain assurance that cattle are processed in appropriate abattoirs with tracking and transparency and independent auditing, we will restart that trade. We will not have a situation where cattle are left as the sheep were left—at sea, drifting around from country to country while discussions were held with the Iraqis, the Kuwaitis, the UAE, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Cyprus, Tanzania, Eritrea, Qatar, Italy, Poland, Israel, the Ukraine, Argentina, Mauritius, Indonesia and Malaysia. We take action. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): I remind the minister that he also ought to observe the provisions of standing order 64.