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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8078

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:47): The Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 was debated earlier today, although I understand that the debate has not yet been concluded. That is a bill that was brought forward by the Greens, seeking to effectively stop the export of live animals. This bill was referred to the Senate committee, and the Senate committee made a number of recommendations, nine in all. The document before the chamber at this moment is the government's response to those recommendations of the committee.

I want to just briefly refer to the government's response to recommendations 8 and 9. In recommendation 8, the committee recommended to the government that it develop a package of further assistance, or that the government should relocate existing packages of assistance, to address those identifiable and otherwise irrevocable financial costs incurred as a result of the temporary suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia. The government's response was simply that it had already provided a range of assistance measures to support affected pastoralists and businesses and that it considers these measures sufficient.

Just before going into what detail there is of the government's response, and having heard the debate this afternoon, I again, with others, congratulate Senator Back on his expertise in this area and his ability to clearly demonstrate that the bill presented by the Greens and the subject of this committee report and response is clearly untenable, contrary to Australia's interests and not even in the interests of the humane treatment of animals. Not only was this bill opposed by the coalition but, strangely and almost uniquely, the Labor Party joined the coalition in opposing this bill in the debate this afternoon. That begs the question, of course: if the Labor Party is now backtracking on its approach to the export of live animals, why did it acquiesce in the absolutely ridiculous and tragic decision of the minister back last year to completely ban the export of live cattle to Indonesia?

We all recall that the minister initially made a decision that exports would be banned to those few abattoirs in Indonesia where cruelty had been demonstrated. But because of the dysfunctional nature of this government, because this government is held in place only with the support of the Greens, and because people to whom the Greens are responsible or accountable created such a fuss—and some members of the Labor Party also created such a fuss, promising to support Kevin Rudd in a leadership ballot if Ms Gillard did not change her mind—Ms Gillard told the hapless minister for agriculture to reverse his decision and to completely ban all exports.

I say the 'hapless' minister for agriculture: poor Senator Ludwig seems to be, these days, the fall guy for the Labor Party. How he can continue with any dignity in the portfolio amazes me. Here was a case where he made a decision, and it was the right decision, but within a couple of days he had to reverse it and make a decision which has proven to be not only inappropriate but also disastrous to Australia.

The same minister, you might recall more recently, Mr Deputy President, first of all made the right decision and defended the rights of five fisheries quota-holders to join their quotas together and bring in an efficient vessel to harvest those five quotas, but within 24 hours changed his mind again. So there are two instances where this hapless minister, as I say, makes the right decision initially and then is forced by a dysfunctional government reliant upon Greens support to completely contradict the decision with another decision later.

The government response to recommendation 8 lists some of the compensations that were available. But can I tell the minister—although he does not need to be told, because he knows this himself—most people could not fit the guidelines for any of the assistant packages provided. One of the assistance packages generously given by the government was to provide a subsidised rate of interest of up to $36,000 on business loans of $300,000 over two years. These people were struggling anyway, but had arrangements with their banks to pay off the interest and some principal by the sale of their cattle but, with the overnight cessation of the industry, they could not meet their requirements—and the government is suggesting they should borrow another $300,000, and if they did the government would give them a subsidised rate of interest. Anyone who had any idea of the industry and what was happening in the Gulf country of North Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia, would realise that the last thing these people could do would be to borrow another $300,000. Very few banks or financial institutions would have lent them the money in any case. So it is a government that is completely out of touch with the reality of the situation on which it is making decisions.

One of the other issues was when the government said that rural financial counselling services had been available to primary producers and small rural businesses suffering financial difficulties. I am told by those in the area that, whilst the rural financial counselling services are good, the counsellors are totally overworked these days attempting to get rural Australians and Australian rural businesses out of difficulties—particularly difficulties caused by decisions of this government in relation to, just to name two, the carbon tax and inflexible working conditions; and, with all this additional work imposed upon them as a result of the stupid and tragic decision of the minister to totally ban the live cattle export, they had absolutely no chance to be effective at all.

Recommendation 9 of the committee—a very good recommendation—asks the government effectively to use its influence to impose upon the banks and financial institutions to be a bit lenient. That is not what the recommendation says, but that was the underlying theme of that recommendation. But, again, the government's response to that says it agrees that dialogue is important and that it has already been undertaken. Then it got in a consultant and had a teleconference, and spoke to the Queensland and Northern Territory governments—then Labor governments, which would have been no assistance at all. Again, talk to people up in these areas, people who are really doing it tough, many of whom have had the banks foreclose on their properties, many of whom have lost properties that have been in their families for decades, if not centuries. The government has not taken up the spirit of the recommendation and actually put a bit of pressure on the banks to be more lenient. So, in the end, we have a complete failure from a dysfunctional government that has absolutely no interest in anyone outside the capital cities of this country. If nobody else wants to speak now I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.