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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1661


Senator Bartlett asked the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, upon notice, on 13 February 2008:

With reference to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) ‘MoU on Handling and Slaughtering of Australian Live Animals’ signed on 3 October 2006 by the former Minister and the Egyptian Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Mr Amin Ahmed Abaza:

(1)   Does the MoU relate to all animals exported from Australia to Egypt.

(2)   Can the Minister confirm that there is no distinction made in the MoU in regard of agreed terms for the treatment of Australian sheep, for example whether they are sent to abattoirs or sold privately for home slaughter.

(3) (a)   Can the Minister confirm that, in Egypt, no enforceable legislation exists to prohibit cruelty to animals, within slaughterhouses or elsewhere, or to ensure that the conditions of the MoU are complied with; and (b) given that there is a lack of animal protection laws and that significant animal welfare issues are documented in Egypt, on what basis did the Minister believe that the conditions of the MoU would be complied with.

(4)   Can the Minister confirm that the former Minister and departmental officials were advised by representatives of Animals Australia, prior to the signing of the MoU, that the treatment and handling of sheep in Egypt did not comply with World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines due to the prevalent practice of on-selling to private buyers and the inept and unregulated handling and slaughter practices that are used, even in major abattoirs, in Egypt.

(5)   What assurances about animal welfare standards in Egypt, if any, were made to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and to the Australian Government, prior to the granting of an export permit for a consignment of approximately 40 000 sheep from Australia to Egypt in October and November 2006.

(6)   Can the Minister confirm that the former Minister was advised, in correspondence from Animals Australia dated 22 November 2006, that the welfare of the first shipment of sheep to Egypt since the signing of the MoU was at risk as the import was specifically for Eid-al-Adha (the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’), the major religious festival during which sheep are sacrificed in the street and in homes; if so: did the former Minister: (a) confirm the information contained in the correspondence; and (b) take action by sending Australian Government representatives to Egypt to monitor the treatment of the sheep that arrived in Egypt in November 2006 in order to assess the adherence to the MoU; if not, why not, given the statement, in the document ‘Frequently asked questions—Live trade export - Egypt on the department’s website, that ‘initial shipments will be closely monitored for compliance with the MoU provisions’.

(7)   Prior to the signing of the MoU, was there any assessment conducted by the Australian Government of market places, abattoirs, transport or handling standards in Egypt, and particularly any assessment of likely adherence to OIE animal welfare guidelines, and therefore the MoU, in regard to sheep; if so, can details of these assessments be provided.

(8)   What assurances were made, by either Mr Abaza or other representatives of the Government of Egypt, to Australian Government representatives in regard to the enforcement of the animal welfare provisions detailed in that MoU, and in particular the adherence to the OIE guidelines for the humane treatment and slaughter of Australian livestock.

(9)   Given that during additional estimates hearings of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee in February 2007, Mr Craig Burns, Executive Manager of the International Division of the department, stated, under questioning about the MoU, that the ‘focus’ is on the way Australian animals are treated in ‘abattoirs and official handling facilities’ (Committee Hansard, 14 February 2007, p. 57P) in Egypt, and that the footage aired on television of the Animals Australia investigation related to ‘leakage from that official system’ (p. 56P), can the Minister confirm that: (a) in Egypt no official slaughter and handling system is in place for sheep; and (b) for each of the years 2004, 2005 and 2006, Australian sheep have only been exported from Australia to Egypt in the lead-up to the Eid-al-Adha religious festival, and that a large proportion of these sheep are likely to be privately transported and slaughtered.

(10)   Given the eye witness, video and photographic evidence, gathered by Animals Australia in Cairo in December 2006, that show multiple and consistent breaches of the OIE guidelines, and therefore the MoU, what measures has the Government taken to investigate the documented breaches.

(11)   What measures can the Australian Government take to compel compliance with welfare requirements within an MoU, apart from refusing to supply livestock.

(12)   (a) What assurances, if any, has Egypt provided that any other shipment of animals from Australia to Egypt will be treated humanely; and (b) if such assurances have been made, does the Minister believe that the conditions of the MoU will be complied with in future given that the Egyptian Government has no capacity to enforce the conditions of the MoU in slaughterhouses or in private premises.

(13)   What further measures will the Australian Government put in place to ensure, and to assure the Australian public, that Australian animals exported to Egypt will be treated in accordance with the OIE guidelines.

(14)   Will the Australian Government refrain from issuing any further export permits for animals from Australia to Egypt if no additional and effective measures are in place to protect these animals.

(15)   Is the Minister aware that the Egyptian Government Organisation of Veterinary Services Animal Welfare Office has recently renewed its policy and practice of authorising the shooting and use of strychnine on stray dogs in the streets of Cairo.

(16)   Given that the Australian Government has, in recent years, negotiated MoUs with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Eritrea and Jordan on the trade in live animals which relate to the agreed off-loading of animals into the importing country in the event of a suspected disease issue, and were intended to protect against a rejection of Australian livestock similar to the Cormo Express incident and given the breaches of the MoU between Australia and Egypt that have been acknowledged in public statements by the Minister, and the apparent disregard by Egypt of the MoU, what confidence does the Minister have that similar MoUs entered into with the remaining countries will be honoured in the event of a suspected major on-board disease event.

(17)   Will the Australian Government report the failure of the Egyptian Government to adhere to the minimum animal handling and slaughter guidelines to the OIE.


Senator Sherry (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) —The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   For the purposes of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Handling and Slaughter of Australian Live Animals between Egypt and Australia, live animals are defined as “cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, goats or other animals prescribed for the purpose” under the Australian Meat and Live-Stock Industry Act 1997.

(2)   The MoU requires the handling of all Australian live animals to be consistent with World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines for animal welfare.

(3)  

(a)   The Government understands that Egyptian Agriculture Law No. 53 of 1966 relates to the protection of animal welfare and related aspects in Egypt. Questions about the enforceability of legislation for animal welfare in Egypt would be better directed to the Egyptian authorities.

(b)   Mr Amin Abaza, Egypt’s Minister for Agriculture and Land Reclamation, signed the MoU giving ministerial assurance that Egypt would fulfil its undertakings that were stated in the agreements.

(4)   Yes, Animals Australia provided verbal and written comment that indicated their opinion of the capacity of the Egyptian government to comply with the requirements of the MoU prior to its finalisation.

(5)   The MoU on handling and slaughter signed in Egypt on 19 September 2006 and in Australia on 3 October 2006 provided assurances that Australian livestock would be handled in accordance with the OIE guidelines for animal welfare.

(6) (a)   and (b) The shipment was a one-off shipment that was diverted at short notice due to a capacity constraint in another market. The commitment to closely monitor initial shipments for compliance with the MoU provisions is related to cattle shipments.

(7)   Government officials observed transport and handling, markets, abattoirs and feedlots when they visited Egypt for negotiations prior to the signing of the MoUs. Accompanied by representatives of the Australian export industry, the delegations noted areas for attention and in consultation with the Government are developing a draft work plan to address the infrastructure and operational requirements of the MoU.

(8)   Minister Abaza signed the MoU giving ministerial assurance that Egypt would fulfil its undertakings that were stated in the agreements. The Government has been working with Australian industry and Egyptian authorities to address the infrastructure and operational requirements of the MoU.

(9)  

(a)   The Government understands that Egyptian Agriculture Law No. 53 of 1966 relates to the protection of animal welfare and related aspects in Egypt, including the handling and slaughter of livestock.

(b)   AQIS certified a single shipment of 52,000 in December 2004, 35,000 in October 2005 and 40,000 sheep in November 2006 for export from Australia to Egypt. In each case, the arrival of the shipments preceded the annual Eid-al-Adha festival that occurred on 1 February 2005, 10 January 2006 and 1 January 2007 respectively. The Government is not involved in the commercial negotiations between livestock exporters and Egyptian importers and is unable to confirm the arrangements for sale of the livestock. In signing the MoU on handling and slaughter, the Egyptian Government has provided an assurance that all Australian animals would be handled in accordance with the OIE guidelines for animal welfare irrespective of the commercial arrangements affecting the livestock.

(10)   The Government has made both formal and informal representations to the Egyptian Minister which includes provision of a copy of Animals Australia’s documentary footage on DVD. The Egyptian Minister for Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Mr Amin Abaza, restated his assurance that Egypt abides by the OIE guidelines for animal welfare and his willingness to cooperate with Australia. The Government has been working with Australian industry and Egyptian authorities to address the infrastructure and operational requirements of the MoU.

(11)   Australia has no jurisdiction on the activities of another country. The Government has reached a bilateral understanding with the Egyptian government, which places an onus on the Egyptian government to apply the OIE guidelines for animal welfare to all Australian livestock. The Government and Australian livestock export industry will continue to work with the Egyptian government to address post arrival animal welfare concerns.

(12)   (a) and (b) The Government and Australian industry will continue to work with the Egyptian government to improve the infrastructure and operational procedures to meet the commitments made in the MoU, and in doing so to improve the welfare of livestock exported from Australia.

(13)   The Government is working closely with Australian industry and Egyptian officials to implement satisfactory arrangements for the handling and slaughter of Australian livestock in Egypt.

(14)   No decision has been made on this matter at this time.

(15)   The Minister has had no contact from the Egyptian government on this matter.

(16)   The text of the MoUs on trade in live animals provide Government-to-Government assurances that where there is a potential concern with any shipment, all animals will be offloaded into government-approved land-based quarantine facilities where the animals can be further assessed prior to a final decision being made on their clearance. Since these MoUs were signed we have not had an incident with these countries requiring the application of the procedures to unload animals.

(17)   No, the MoU is a bilateral agreement between Australia and Egypt.