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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4644

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (19:45): According to the animal protection organisation Animals Australia, over the last three decades Australia's live export industry has sent over 150 million animals to the Middle East, of which an estimated 2.5 million animals died during transportation. Much of the Middle East is yet to embrace animal welfare legislation, and those animals that did get there were often subsequently treated in a cruel, brutal and inhumane manner.

I understand that Animals Australia has compiled a significant body of evidence as a result of seven investigations conducted in the Middle East since 2003. Some of the footage secretly filmed by investigators, which is publicly accessible on the Animals Australia website, would be disturbing to many Australians, including, I expect, many of the farmers who grew those animals. I am also aware that other organisations have highlighted similar mistreatment of animals.

I understand that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig, has met with the Australian livestock export industry and asked it to assess progress made in improving animal-handling practices in importing countries and to find ways of achieving a higher standard of animal welfare in relevant countries.

I acknowledge that in recent years significant improvements have been made in relation to animal welfare in several importing countries and in relation to the transport of animals to those countries. The situation in many places, including here in Australia, is still, however, far from satisfactory. Those who receive our animals often point out that, if the Australian government allows animals to be sent to them, cognisant of how those animals will be treated, then surely Australians cannot be too concerned about what goes on in such places. From the emails and letters that I receive and the people that I speak to, nothing could be further from the truth.

I am also not convinced that there is a strong economic argument for live exports. The numbers given by lobbyists working on behalf of the industry to evaluate a particular sector's contribution are often accepted without being questioned. I understand that a number of institutes and organisations are looking closely at the actual contribution the live export industry makes to the Australian economy. I expect that members of this House will be interested to see how the numbers presented by lobbyists for the live export industry stand up to that scrutiny when their findings become available.

It is very likely that those who are dependent on the industry may in fact stand to benefit financially from a ban on live exports. The argument that being part of the international livestock export trade means Australia can help the way the international market operates, benefiting all animals involved in the trade by seeking to raise standards across the board, also has merit. Australia, however, is often one of the few countries that can provide the quantity and type of meat our export partners require.

If Australia ceases live exports, we could fundamentally change the game in respect of the welfare of these animals while simultaneously yielding economic benefits for rural communities and businesses in Australia. Slaughtering the animals locally and selling chilled meat value-adds to the sector. Conversely, the sale of live export animals has already caused the loss of hundreds of jobs in Australia. I understand that a 2009 report by ACIL Tasman found that sheep processed in Australia are worth 20 per cent more to our economy than when they are processed overseas. Further, in instances where live exports had been temporarily banned, the report found that a dramatic increase in meat exports to that particular country took place. It is clear that the Middle East customers do accept chilled meats, and the need to export live animals is therefore questionable.

I know that this is a matter of deep concern to many Australians and certainly to people in my community. I also note that this matter was the subject of a private member's motion moved by the member for Page and debated in this place on 21 March. I commend the member for Page for moving that motion, and I also commend all of those members who spoke in support of her motion at the time.