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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11837

Ms PARKE (8:18 PM) —I welcome this motion from the member for Kalgoorlie on the subject of live animal exports, as it gives me an opportunity to speak on an issue that is of considerable interest and concern to the people of Fremantle. Around 80 per cent of Australia’s live sheep exports, a total of approximately four million sheep annually, are shipped out through Fremantle Port. I have received and continue to receive a substantial amount of correspondence from my constituents on this issue, the overwhelming majority of whom want to see significant reform of the live sheep export industry.

The concerns raised by constituents fall into two main categories. First is the concern that WA is missing out on jobs and export income by sending live sheep offshore instead of value-adding by processing them in WA and exporting to the rapidly expanding overseas market for sheep meat. People are rightly interested in developing industries that make more of our primary products and our natural resources and that bring a healthy return to our farmers. Second, there is a concern for the welfare of the animals that are the basis of the live sheep export trade. In Fremantle this is not a concern formed at a distance, since Fremantle residents watch, smell and hear the trucks that contain sheep en route to the port. On the long sea journeys that follow, thousands of sheep die—some 40,000 last year—while many more suffer from conditions such as heat stress and salmonellosis. Those that survive the transport typically face an inhumane death, as they are slaughtered without pre-stunning.

These concerns about animal welfare are shared by organisations like the RSPCA and the World Society for the Protection of Animals and by an organisation in my electorate called Stop Live Exports, formerly known as People Against Cruelty in Animal Transport, or PACAT. I understand very well that the live sheep trade generates significant export income and is the foundation of thousands of jobs in Western Australia; however, it is misleading for those who support the unreformed maintenance of the current live export trade to suggest that proponents of reform advocate some kind of overnight change or that they regard jobs and economic activity as irrelevant. The RSPCA has said that it would like to see a phased and appropriately supported shift from the live export trade to a 21st century on-shore processing industry.

The recent ACIL Tasman report titled Australian live sheep exports: economic analysis of Australian live sheep and sheep meat trade found not only that a very low-cost or cost-free transition is possible but also that greater economic benefits are to be gained from local processing of sheep in terms of Australian jobs and sheep meat exports. The report calculates that a sheep processed in WA is worth approximately $20 more to gross state product than a sheep sent overseas for slaughter. Sheep meat exports contributed $1.5 billion to the Australian economy last year compared to the live sheep trade’s $341 million. ACIL Tasman found that an additional 2,000 jobs would be created immediately if two million sheep that would otherwise be exported live were processed domestically. It also noted that the majority of jobs currently supported by live sheep exports would still exist if the trade were transitioned to a sheep meat export trade. The interests of my constituents in seeing a change of policy in this matter is premised on a careful and sensible transition to a more productive and humane use of sheep and an industry of equivalent or greater economic value to Australia.

The Labor Party is a party of progressive change, and earlier this year I was glad to be part of the effort that saw the following statement of principle added to the platform at the ALP national conference:

Labor believes that all animals should be treated humanely and will work to achieve better animal welfare through harmonisation of relevant State, Territory and Commonwealth laws and codes to ensure consistent application and enforcement of animal protection statutes.

I also welcome this government’s initiatives to improve animal welfare within the live export trade—namely, the approved projects under the $2.4 million Live Animal Trade Program and the $3.2 million Live Trade Animal Welfare Partnership, which is to be jointly funded on a dollar-for-dollar basis with Australia’s live export industry. These initiatives show that the old dichotomy that sets economic value against animal welfare is as misconceived as the dichotomy that sets economic value against the protection and conservation of our environment.

However, there is further progress to be made. In a recent letter to the Parliamentary Friends of the RSPCA, the RSPCA said that it is ‘keen to have a positive discussion about new opportunities for Australia’s sheep industry—Australian opportunities that will create jobs, boost the economy and markedly improve animal welfare’. I believe it is necessary to have this discussion and to give proper consideration to what would be involved in delivering an Australian industry that can provide better treatment for animals and better economic and productive outcomes.