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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 130

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5:54 PM) —We have only five minutes to go, as I understand it, before our time for consideration of government business runs out. I will not have enough time in that period to give full justice to the topic before us.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Just table your speech and get on with it!

Senator BARTLETT —I am sure that, given the Senate proceedings are being broadcast, the public would rather hear the views of the Democrats rather than just have them tabled or incorporated, Minister. I am sure the minister would concur—he might not agree with anything else I am about to say—that this is an important topic which should not be dismissively waved aside just because it is close to six o'clock on a Thursday.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2004, as Senator O'Brien said, was introduced in the last parliament in a similar form and was sent to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for a brief inquiry. In large part it flows on from the review that was conducted into aspects of the live animal export industry, following the notorious Cormo Express incident, now over 12 months ago. The incident involved tens of thousands of sheep being required to sail from port to port in the Middle East on the Cormo Express because they could not be unloaded in any particular port. Once again, it was something that brought to light the continuing public concern about and opposition to the livestock export industry.

I should remind the Senate that it is a concern that has been present in significant proportion in Australia for many years. Last year saw the tabling of well over 100,000 signatures of Australians who were opposed to or concerned about the animal welfare problems, and indeed the employment consequences of the livestock export industry. Indeed, those concerns were raised by the Senate in the report of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare in the mid-1980s—and I should look back at the date of the report, because it might be getting close to its 20th anniversary—when the report into the live sheep trade was prepared and tabled in the Senate.

Even at that stage, there was very strong concern expressed by the committee as a whole about the unacceptable impact of the live export trade on animal welfare. From memory, I think there was a line in the report along the lines of, `If we were to assess the trade purely on animal welfare issues alone, then there is no question that the trade should be banned.' Obviously there are other, economic issues and I accept that. In the same way that people who are concerned about animal welfare are continually asking that that issue be acknowledged and given acceptance, those of us who concur with that view, such as I do, should acknowledge that there are other issues that should not be forgotten, including the economic impact on those whose jobs and livelihood rely on this trade.

Having said that, we should not ignore the fact that, clearly, jobs have been lost in Australia in slaughterhouses and meat processing sectors by the expansion of exporting live sheep and cattle, rather than slaughtering and processing them here in Australia. Excuses have been given over the years as to why that has to occur, such as they do not have enough refrigeration in the Middle East so they have to slaughter the animal there and eat it while it is still fresh. That is repeatedly given as an excuse, even though I have seen the photos and the film footage of the wonderful refrigeration counters in many of these Middle Eastern countries. Some of these countries are actually the richest per capita in the world. It is a farcical excuse that keeps getting borne out. Another excuse is that for cultural reasons the animals have to be slaughtered in a special way over there and they only take that sort of meat. It is true that halal slaughtering is required and desired, but the fact is that this slaughtering process exists in Australia and is accredited. So there is very little reason for that excuse. Because of the time and because I believe some committee memberships need to be dealt with, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.