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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4915

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (11:16): The purpose of this bill is to establish an independent office of animal welfare. In doing so it seeks to implement ALP policy adopted at the 2011 ALP National Conference under the guise that the government has failed to do it. I therefore welcome the member for Melbourne's support of ALP policy. It is encouraging that the Greens are doing that. I note, however, that in his remarks he at no point stated whether this matter was debated within the Greens party and whether it was formal Greens policy, although I can only assume it must be.

It begs the question whether the motion before the House is little more than an attempt to capital on extensive work ALP members in this place have carried out in driving the establishment of an independent office of animal welfare. The member for Melbourne quite rightly points out that the committee of Labor members of parliament, of which I have been a part, has done extensive work on this issue. The ALP caucus has now endorsed the proposal for the government to establish an independent office of animal welfare and I welcome the comments of the parliamentary secretary earlier on in this debate.

As is well known, Australian animal welfare is as much a matter for state governments as it is for the federal government. There is also in place a complex structure, between the federal and state governments, in overseeing animal welfare across Australia. Unravelling those existing arrangements is not simply a matter for the federal government. Any proposal by the federal government, if it is to act in isolation, is likely to cause overlap or conflict with arrangements and laws that are currently in place. Nor should the role of an independent office of animal welfare simply be confined to the export of live animals, albeit that is an area for which the federal government does have sole responsibility. However, appropriate standards in the welfare of live animals begins while they are still under state jurisdiction and before the animals are loaded onto ships for export.

Recently I was contacted by a group in Adelaide who have taken an interest in the live-export trade. The group, who refer to themselves as the Port Adelaide Monitors, have been closely monitoring the loading and exportation of live sheep from Port Adelaide. In a letter to me, the group raised several concerns about the cruel treatment of sheep prior to them leaving Australia, whilst they are at the loading docks and still under the jurisdiction of the state government. Those concerns clearly relate to matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the state government and yet they are part and parcel of the live-export trade.

It is clear that if an independent office of animal welfare is to be established, it needs to have appropriate authority to be effective. If it is going to have appropriate authority then we need to engage in discussions with the states and seek their cooperation. Having said that, it is important that this matter be progressed as quickly as possible because, as we have seen, cases of cruelty to live animals for export continue to be exposed. What is more, all of those cases and all of that cruelty is both unnecessary and avoidable.

I have previously made the point that once animals leave Australia we lose control of their fate. The government's implementation of the export supply chain assurance system, which ensures animals are tracked and monitored, is making a difference to export animal welfare because it places responsibility for the care of those animals onto the exporter. But it is not foolproof and never will be, as we saw with the sheep that were redirected from Bahrain to Pakistan. I note with interest that, whilst the industry claims that the exports are important to the livestock industry, the fact is that export numbers of live animals and values have been declining over the last decade while simultaneously the export of chilled meats from Australia has been increasing. Cattle and sheep growers know that the future lies in the export of chilled meat. It is less risky and easier to manage because the processing is all carried out in Australia. Importantly, processing in Australia eliminates the cruelty associated with the live export trade. That is what we should be encouraging growers to focus on.

With respect to this legislation, as the parliamentary secretary has quite rightly pointed out, if it is going to be effective we need to get it right. The legislation does not tell me which minister the new office will answer to, nor does it tell me specifically what powers it will have to ensure that animal cruelty is in fact stamped out. There is a whole range of matters that I know the minister is looking at. It is important that we do that and it is important that we get the office right if it is to be effective. (Time expired)