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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3013

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:43): No Australian would countenance any activity or any action that in any way was cruel to animals. We are a nation of animal lovers and we feel for our animals, whether they be domestic pets or animals that we produce for our own consumption and for trade. Cruelty to animals is something that is foreign to all Australians. But we mustn't overlook cruelty to our fellow human beings. I know most of the senators who have spoken in this debate come from the capital cities in the south. They don't really understand the cruelty that occurred to human beings, to families, at the time of the live cattle export ban. At the time, the stories were there—and they've been repeated in this chamber time and time again—of families who had to take children out of school, because they simply could not afford to keep them there, because of the sudden ban on the live cattle export trade. Whole communities were devastated at the time. The distress caused to human beings was something that you really had to experience to understand fully.

Apart from Senator O'Sullivan—Senator O'Sullivan, might I say, is a very big exception—none of the senators who have spoken today, none of those from the Greens or the Labor Party, would ever have understood the hurt, the anxiety and the cruelty that happened to many of our rural families at the time of the live cattle export ban. Senators from the capital cities will dismiss it because they don't experience it, but people like Senator O'Sullivan, Senator Williams and I actually deal with and understand those families and understand the hurt, the trauma and the loss of self-respect that occurred at the time of the banning of the live cattle trade. Unless you've seen it, as Senator Williams, Senator O'Sullivan and I and other senators on this side have, you don't understand the cruelty to human beings. Whilst we would never countenance cruelty to animals, we believe we should adopt the same standards for human beings. Those from the Labor Party and the Greens will dismiss that, laugh at it and talk about the importance of preventing cruelty to animals. As I say, no-one would disagree with that, but I wish that, just sometimes, they would get out of their ivory towers in the capital cities and go and see what life is like in those parts of Australia that actually produce the food and fibre that we need for ourselves and that are exported.

I'm a Queensland senator, and there is no live sheep export trade from my state—quite differently to live cattle, which is a very, very significant part of my state—but I do feel equally for the farmers of Western Australia, parts of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria whose livelihoods and the livelihoods of whose communities very often depend on all aspects of the sheep industry, including the live export of sheep. There are some 1,800 jobs directly dependent upon this live export trade, and none of the speakers, apart from those on this side, seemed to care at all about the welfare and ongoing livelihoods of those workers. In certain parts of Australia the live sheep trade is a very, very significant part of our economy.

We can't on any occasion countenance or condone cruelty to sheep, cattle or any other animal, and we don't. Senators should be aware of the very significant regulations and provisions that were put in place with the live cattle trade to ensure that cruelty did not occur. Without rehashing the debates of those days, one must also realise that the live trade in animals will continue no matter what Australia does. But I think it's recognised around the world that animals being exported live from Australia are treated far more humanely than animals from many other parts of the world. If the Australian trade were to stop, that wouldn't mean the trade in live animals would stop. It would continue because there is a demand for the acquisition of live animals in various parts of the world. So the trade will continue no matter what Australia does. If you're genuinely interested in the welfare of all animals and not just Australian animals then you would prefer Australian regulations and Australia's humanity towards animals to be at the forefront, rather than the way some other countries treat their animals in the export of live animals.

You'll be aware that the government moved quickly to make changes to the welfare of exported livestock. Independent observers were immediately placed on vessels carrying our livestock to the Middle East, and three important reviews were progressed following this latest revelation about the inhumanity and cruelty in the sheep exports trade. The government has accepted all of the recommendations of the McCarthy review of sheep exports to the Middle East during the northern summer. That review, as senators will know, was released on 17 May this year. The review of the Australian standards for export of livestock and the review into the capability powers and culture of the independent regulator will report to the government in due course.

Senators may recall that our former distinguished colleague then Senator Chris Back has contributed his expertise as a veterinarian to some of those reviews. Former Senator Back—and it's a real disappointment that he's left us in the Senate—was a sound and wise head at the time of the live cattle export ban. He knew the industry. He knew the impact various government regulations would have on human beings, not just animals. He knew of the distress caused and actual cruelty that occurred to many people and many communities of people who were affected by that ridiculous decision of a former government. He, more than most, was articulate and passionate about improving the welfare of animals being exported live but, at the same time, the importance of maintaining the communities and families that rely on that trade and that industry.

I often wonder about the Labor Party. They seem to think animals are more important than humans. Animals are important, but I know up my way, diverging slightly into the question of crocodiles versus human beings, it would seem that the Labor Party and certainly the Greens political party in my state of Queensland far prefer the life of a crocodile to the life of a human being. Crocodiles in Queensland have multiplied exponentially. They used to just be in remote parts of Queensland. They are now swimming along the beaches of Townsville, where I have my office and where tourists used to go swimming along the beach. We now have crocodiles there. But will the Greens political party or the Labor Party do anything about it? They say: 'Oh, no, the poor crocodile! He must stay there. It doesn't matter if he eats a couple of human beings along the way'—as has happened.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: The Greens again make jokes as I speak about the sanctity of human life, because they have no comprehension of what life is like outside their capital city ivory tower. Certainly, you don't get crocodiles on Bondi Beach. You don't worry about them there. But you can pass judgement on those who have to live in these areas, and more importantly tourists who used to go there and enjoy the northern beaches but are scared to do so now, because of the attitude of the Greens political party, who really call the shots for the Queensland Labor government in allowing crocodiles to run wild and humans to take their chances. I'm sorry: I'm a great animal lover, but I'm one of those people who do believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that human beings are more important than animals, and the same applies to these live animal exports.

We can do both. By regulations, as we've done in the cattle industry, we can ensure that cattle who are transhipped are transhipped in good conditions that don't impact upon their welfare. In the cattle trade we've taken that even further. We've ensured that the abattoirs and the killing arrangements in countries beyond Australia have been forced to meet Australian standards. We've done that by contract. We can't regulate in other countries where we have no jurisdiction, but by contract we can ensure that our cattle being exported live are treated humanely and are slaughtered humanely, as they are in Australia.

I know there are some people who don't believe that we should kill any animals for food, and I appreciate their philosophy and their right to do that. But most of us like a good steak, like our lamb chops, like our lamb cutlets, like our lamb roast and like our pork roasts and, of course, to get them you have to slaughter an animal.

In Australia for many, many decades we have ensured that our abattoirs are humane and that the killing of the animals is done in a way that is very humane and that the animal doesn't really even know what's happening. We have exported our standards and our humanity towards animals to those countries to which we export both live sheep and cattle. The TV program that has generated concern around the countryside, and has mobilised GetUp! to get their emails working, was disgusting. No Australian would deny that. What I was more disgusted about was that the regulations that were in place before were not properly administered, and that's something the administering authorities and those responsible should be held to account for.

As a result of that, there will be new regulations on the live export of sheep, which will ensure the welfare of those animals. At the same time, it will allow the human beings—the people who live because of that trade and those who are employed because of that trade—to continue in their way of a livelihood and a job.

The government supports farmers who rely on live export and the exporters who do the right things. I have to say, most of the exporters do fall into that category and they do the right thing. The government is committed to providing the standards of animal welfare that Australians respect. I must pay credit to Minister Littleproud for the proactive way he has handled this issue in his first few days as minister. I commend to the Senate the speech by my colleague Senator O'Sullivan, who went through this very clinically. I would suggest that Senator O'Sullivan knows the animal trade better than anyone in this chamber—perhaps not as well as Senator Williams, but Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Williams know the ins and outs of these trades.

Our farmers, the Australian community more broadly and our trading partners must be able to have confidence in our livestock export industry, and the measures the minister and the government are taking will ensure that that confidence is there and that the welfare of animals is paramount. It can be done. You can have the best of both worlds. Without being personal, those who speak in this debate from the Greens political party and the Labor Party have no idea of the contribution that the live cattle and live sheep exports make to our country. They have no idea, and they care little about the families and the people who rely on these industries and whose welfare, livelihoods and futures depend upon a continuation of these export industries.

The government will ensure that the regulations—as we've done with cattle—give paramount importance to the welfare of animals, because the way Australia does it is far better than any other exporter of live animals. If Australia were not in the business, these other exporters would have their own way without the regulations, without the concern and without the conditions imposed upon exporters of Australian animals. Those who have spoken are, perhaps, a bit nationalistic when it comes to the welfare of animals: their concern is only for the welfare of Australian animals, not the welfare of animals around the world. But Australia leading the way will promote the welfare of animals by example and by sheer foresight. By example, we will demonstrate to other shippers from other countries that this is the way it should be done. That must be a real gain for the welfare of animals across the world.

The government will continue to improve regulations to ensure the welfare of animals exported live. But we will do that while at the same time ensuring that these very, very valuable export industries for Australia and for the families and communities that rely on these exports are looked after by the Australian government. That's what the government is here to do, and that's what we will continue to do.