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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3005

Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (11:08): Labor is pleased to be given the opportunity to speak on the private senator's bill introduced this morning. The bill basically replicates the private member's bill introduced by the member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, and Labor's amendment to the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill 2018, which the government is currently refusing to debate in the House of Representatives. The only logical reason for the move by the government to delay debate and a final vote on its own bill in the other chamber is because it's running scared that its own members will cross the floor of the House of Representatives. The refusal is also denying the will of parliament to see an end to the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern northern summer and to see a phase-out of the live sheep trade.

The model relied upon by the live sheep trade is fundamentally broken. It has three basic flaws. First, it is reliant on the dreaded Northern Hemisphere summer trade, a trade which is incompatible with reasonable animal welfare standards. The science leaves us in no doubt that this is the case. Second, the trade externalises animal welfare cruelty. The premiums earned by exporters as a result of cruel conditions like excessive stocking densities are externalised in the form of higher than normal payments to sheepmeat producers. This in turn can place local processing at an economic disadvantage. Third, both consumer preference and community tolerance for poor treatment of animals are turning away from the live sheep trade model.

Members and senators from no fewer than five of the nine parties represented in the Australian parliament have expressed support for the objectives of this bill: an immediate stop to the northern summer live sheep trade and the phase-out of the balance of the trade within the next five years. I note that, during the last sitting of the House of Representatives, the member for Hunter foreshadowed his intention to move the main provisions of this bill as an amendment to the bill that the government introduced to increase penalties for breaches of animal welfare standards in the live export sector. I further note that the government withdrew its bill from the House program following the member for Hunter's announcement. I'm now advised that the bill has not been listed for further debate in the other house prior to the long winter non-sitting period. This is the bill that the government previously described as urgent.

Why would the government pull its own bill? There can only be one reason. It is fearful that the member for Hunter's amendments will succeed—in other words, that a sufficient number of coalition MPs will defy the Prime Minister and support the amendments. The desperate and dysfunctional government should allow the House of Representatives to express its will. It should let the House vote on the member for Hunter's amendments.

I applaud the courage that Sussan Ley and her co-sponsors have shown by moving a bill in the House of Representatives with the same objectives as the bill we are debating in the Senate today. We are acutely aware of the pressure they are under from those who either don't understand the weight of the issue or simply aren't prepared to do the right thing, because it's too politically difficult for them to do so. If only they shared the member for Farrer's courage.

Fortunately, the Prime Minister has less power to prevent the Australian Senate from expressing its will. The bill we are debating today is more than likely to secure the approval of this chamber. It certainly has the support of the Australian Labor Party.

Community concern about the live sheep trade sector is not new. Parliamentary reports responding to real and alleged breaches of animal welfare standards date back to at least the early 1980s. We have seen evidence both in the McCarthy review and from the Australian Veterinary Association, and during the recent Senate estimates, that the live sheep trade cannot assure the Australian community, our farmers or the parliament that further extreme heat conditions won't occur. I remind the Senate that the Australian Veterinary Association recommended:

Irrespective of stocking density, thermoregulatory physiology indicates that sheep on live export voyages to the Middle East during May to October will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the expected extreme climatic conditions during this time. Accordingly, voyages carrying live sheep to the Middle East during May to October cannot be recommended.

Finally, in 2011, the ABC's Four Corners program screened terrible acts of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs. The weight of community reaction left the then government with little choice but to suspend the live cattle trade. It was an extraordinarily difficult time for producers and exporters alike. But what grew from it was ESCAS, an internationally-recognised animal welfare assurance system. It is doubtful the industry would have ever accepted ESCAS if it had not been for the suspension of the trade. There were those who argued the regulation and enforcement of animal welfare standards in other countries was not possible. It was possible, and so is the transition of the live sheep trade to a domestic high-value processing sector in Australia. I commend the bill to the Senate.