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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8129

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (6:29 AM) —by leave—I have a series of short statements in response to a series of Senate orders to produce documents. Firstly, on 16 October this year, the Senate ordered that the government table documents relating to an ethanol excise and production subsidy. The government—in fact, it was me—made an interim response to the order on 21 October indicating that, owing to the number of agencies involved in the coordination of the request, it was not possible to comply by the due date. At that time I indicated that we expected to be in a position to respond shortly. It is fair to say that I was overly optimistic. The response to the order has, as I stated back in October, involved an extensive search of documents held in six portfolios. As you would imagine, Mr Deputy President, this has been lengthy and time consuming. While consideration of the documents is close to conclusion, the government has not been able to provide its final response by the close of business for this, the final sitting day—which is something that I had certainly hoped to achieve since I had given an undertaking to the Senate. I have spoken to the minister tonight about it, and I have actually also spoken to Senator Kerry O'Brien and have given him an undertaking on behalf of the Minister for Industries, Tourism and Resources, Mr Macfarlane, who is actually the coordinating minister. There are six other portfolios to deal with. The minister is happy for me to commit to tabling those documents out of session by next Tuesday. I am confident, dare I say—the Hansard might be quoted back to me next year!—that we will achieve that, and I have said that to Senator O'Brien privately and now on the record.

Secondly, an order of the Senate made on 19 June asked the government to table documents relating to mining leases on Christmas Island held by Phosphate Resource Limited. The government made an interim response to this order on 25 June of this year and indicated that the request was complex and involved a large number of documents held by a number of Commonwealth agencies. I indicated then that the government anticipated making a final response to the order as soon as possible in the Spring sittings. While consideration of the large number of documents is close to conclusion, the government cannot provide its final response to the order before the Senate rises tonight, but the government will present its response as soon as possible.

Thirdly, an order made on 11 November this year related to the Independent Reference Group report titled A way forward on animal welfare: a report on the livestock export industry. I have a wad of documents here—which indicates to me that there is a substantial compliance with the order but there is a two-page, tightly written note which accompanies the tabling statement. I think it might be less tiresome to in fact seek leave to incorporate the tabling statement.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

This return to order was made on 11 November 2002 and relates to the Independent Reference Group Report A Way Forward on Animal Welfare; A Report on the Livestock Export Industry.

Following a spate of livestock export incidents involving unacceptably high rates of mortalities, the Minister reconvened the IRG to provide Government and industry with advice on ways to improve the trade's animal welfare record.

The IRG is chaired by Dr Gardner Murray, Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer. The other members of the Group are Professor Ivan Caple, Chairman of the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare (NCCAW), Dr Hugh Wirth, President of RSPCA Australia and Mr Malcolm Foster, the former Chairman of the Red Meat Advisory Council.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is happy to table the IRG Report for the information of Senators as the Government shares the community's view that live exports must consistently meet acceptable animal welfare standards.

The Minister is aware that live animal exports are especially important to rural communities, providing an alternative market to the domestic slaughter market for farmers for their livestock. In addition, some overseas buyers are unable or unwilling to accept meat slaughtered in Australia and are only prepared to purchase live animals. However, this significant trade can only be continued if the reasonable animal welfare concerns of the community are assured.

As evidence of the government's commitment AQIS recently cancelled the licence of an exporter whose unacceptable actions had the potential to jeopardise this valuable trade.

AQIS provided the IRG with a summary of the findings and recommendations of the MV Norvantes voyage 83 investigation and key findings from other investigations into recent shipments involving high sheep mortalities. The reports into the MV Norvantes and five recent shipments with high sheep mortalities have been finalised and are being tabled at this time. The reports have been amended so that references to individual AQIS officers are replaced with references to “an AQIS officer”.

The AQIS report on the first voyage of the MV Becrux was not completed when the IRG met at the beginning of October, but a verbal report was provided to the IRG by AQIS. This AQIS report has now been completed and is also being tabled at this time.

A key recommendation of the IRG report was to agree to the immediate establishment of a dedicated joint government and industry Working Group to develop an Action Plan for the livestock export industry that provides a comprehensive framework for delivery of a sustainable live animal export industry into the future that meets the expectations of the community and livestock producers on animal welfare outcomes.

The Minister immediately accepted that recommendation and established the joint government and industry Working Group. Its membership comprised officials from Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—Australia (AFFA), the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and representatives from the Australian Livestock Exporters Council, Livecorp and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

The industry and government Working Group produced a draft Action Plan which was reviewed by the IRG and the final document incorporates the IRG's comments.

The final Action Plan, An Action Plan for the Livestock Export Industry, produced by the industry and government Working Group is also being tabled. The Minister has accepted the recommendations and findings of the IRG report and the IRG's recommendations are being implemented by the Action Plan.

The Action Plan identifies three priority areas of concern:

· Export preparation of eastern Australian Sheep;

· The impact of heat stress on animals, especially cattle and sheep exported from southern Australia into the northern summer; and

· Export of goats.

Specific new measures have been developed to ensure improved performance in each of these areas.

The Action Plan requires the adoption of risk analysis principles. Exporters must develop a detached risk assessment plan for each shipment.

The Government commends the working group and the IRG for their advice on developing solutions to manage problems in the live export trade. It is now up to industry to get behind the plan and make sure its recommendations are followed through.

An Industry Consultative Committee (ICC) comprising industry, government and animal welfare representatives is being established to drive the Action Plan's reform agenda.

The community rightly expects that live exports must consistently meet acceptable animal welfare standards. The Government shares that view and is determined to do what it can to improve the performance of the live animal trade. The Action Plan has been developed by the best expert advice available and offers a sound way forward for the industry to address concerns and to protect this vital trade.

Fourthly, on 10 December this year the Senate sought documents relating to the Walla Weir irrigation project funded by the Sugar Industry Infrastructure Program. Funding for the Sugar Industry Infrastructure Program is provided under a Commonwealth-state ministerial agreement which has been extended until 30 June 2004. I table that agreement. The Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines is responsible for administering and delivering the program in Queensland on behalf of the Commonwealth and Queensland governments. The project proponents, the grantees, are required to enter into separate funding implementation agreements or administration agreements, which are signed by the project proponents and the Queensland government and which outline the conditions of funding and the compliance requirements of the project proponents.

Under the terms of these agreements, the project proponents report regularly to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines. With regard to the Walla Weir project, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, SunWater, which manages the weir under licence, and the Queensland Environment Protection Agency oversee compliance with the terms and conditions of the administration arrangement. Relevant documentation is held by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines. I table the agreement.

Penultimately, on 10 December the Senate had requested the production of all documents arising from inquiries by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet into a possible conflict of interest involving the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Helen Coonan. I am advised that there has been insufficient time to assemble the documents, examine them and decide which, if any, are captured by the Senate's request. The government will respond to the Senate's order in due course.

Finally, on 10 December the Senate had sought to have tabled all materials prepared by Geoscience Australia in response to the proposal by TGS-NOPEC to conduct seismic testing in the Townsville Trough. Geoscience Australia has advised that it has not formally considered or responded to the proposal by TGS-NOPEC to conduct seismic testing in the Townsville Trough. Consideration of the seismic survey application, a special prospecting authority, is a matter for the Queensland government. In addition, the survey proposal has not led to any consideration of the area by Geoscience Australia with respect to the release of exploration acreage. There are therefore no documents from Geoscience Australia which are relevant to this order.