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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 3

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (12:38 PM) —On Thursday of last week I was interrupted in speaking to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2004, which deals with modifying the existing laws to enable money from levies to be directed towards a separate industry body for the promotion and research of aspects to do with the livestock export trade—predominantly the live cattle and sheep trade. I should emphasise that as well as sheep and cattle this trade is now starting to expand into goats and other animals. Opportunities are always being examined by various industries to seek to expand trade in these areas.

Without recapping what I said last week and, indeed, without recapping 20 years of speeches in this place by the Democrats, we have had a longstanding concern about the extreme levels of animal cruelty involved in the livestock export trade. The Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare—established by Senator Don Chipp back in the mid-eighties because of concern about animal welfare issues in the community, of which this was one of the most significant—detailed some of those problems nearly 20 years ago. There have been many changes made since then, and I am sure the government and the minister would tell us that the changes contained in this bill are in response to concerns in the community about animal welfare aspects of the trade. That is true as far as it goes.

These changes, in part, come out of the Keniry inquiry. This inquiry was established by the government following the MV Cormo Expressdebacle of over a year ago which involved enormous suffering of tens of thousands of sheep and the premature death of many of them. The MV Cormo Express incident reignited community debate about the livestock export trade and highlighted the enormous level of public concern about the high level of animal cruelty and suffering involved in the trade. As I mentioned last week, petitions from over 100,000 Australians were tabled in this chamber—the largest petition we have had for a number of years by a long way—expressing their concern. So it is an issue that does concern many people, and I am sure that senators from across the political spectrum would recognise that it is an issue that does concern many Australians, some of them very strongly.

Whilst there have been and there continues to be improvements made in some aspects of the trade—the conditions faced by the animals on board the ship and some of the monitoring issues—in my view, and it is obviously not a universally held view in this place, the level of suffering involved is so high, intrinsic and inevitable to the trade that it simply cannot be ameliorated to a level that is satisfactory to a large proportion of the community. Whilst any action that reduces suffering has to be welcomed, the bottom line is that it cannot be reduced to a level that is satisfactory. That being the case, these continual efforts to look like we are improving the situation, these continual changes here and there, bits and pieces of action to try and address the community concern, can really be little more than window-dressing. They do not get to the heart of the problem; they do not get to the core, which is that the level of suffering is intrinsic and cannot be adequately reduced and any attempt to reduce it by small amounts is in many cases simply an attempt to try and deal with the public relations problems that the industry has faced repeatedly over many years rather than really to get to the heart of the matter. That is what this bill does. Indeed, I would suggest that this bill further entrenches the economic viability of the industry without addressing the core problems of animal suffering and, on top of that, the large degree of job loss that happens in Australia in the meat-processing and animal slaughter industries as a result of the animals being shipped directly offshore.

This bill enables money to be put directly into the live export industry to help with research and development and with promoting the industry. We should not be promoting an industry when we should be looking at replacing the industry. That is the core problem with the government's approach and, I would suggest, with the opposition's approach, and this has been continuing over a long period of time. It is an industry that is, in effect, being subsidised by government and by job losses here in Australia. That is not satisfactory. It is also not satisfactory for money to be directed towards the body to help it continue to promote an industry when there is not anywhere near the same level of energy, priority and commitment being put into promoting the alternative.

This is one area where there is, if you like, the benefit of a clear and viable alternative to the live animal export trade. It is not an absolute one-for-one replacement, I acknowledge that, but there is clearly an alternative industry in the export of slaughtered and processed meat that is not being promoted to anywhere near the degree that the live animal export trade continues to be promoted. This is something that baffles me. I do not know why we do not put as much energy into promoting the export opportunities for a value added industry as we do into one which is basically exporting the product—that is, the animal—in its rawest form.

As most senators know, I am a vegetarian and an animal rights activist and as such personally am not keen on expanding the slaughter of animals whether in Australia or in the Middle East. But I separate my personal views from the broader community views and the policy on this—that is, that there are clearly markets for animal products and for meat and meat products. The fact is that those markets can be serviced via slaughtering the animals and processing the products here in Australia, which would enable more of the money and more of the jobs to stay in Australia while at the same time dramatically reduce the suffering of the animals. I have heard over many years the argument, which continues to be put, that if we do not export animals then some other country will and their standards will be worse than ours so the suffering will be greater. That argument is continually put alongside the other argument that they do not have refrigeration in the Middle East so the animals have to be slaughtered there. That is simply a furphy.

The argument that for religious reasons the animals have to be slaughtered there is again a furphy. We have halal accredited slaughtering in Australia. From my discussions with people involved in that industry and in the halal accreditation process, it seems to me that significant improvements could be made. One hurdle to our further exporting halal slaughtered meat from Australia is the lack of faith in the adequacy of our accreditation process. That is something I have heard from meat workers unions as well as from people involved with the accreditation process. That is just another example of the fact that if we were genuinely serious about developing export industries for processed meat we would be ensuring our accreditation process in Australia for halal slaughtering was topnotch and beyond reproach. The information available to me is that it clearly is not. One reason it is not is that the priority continues to be expanding the live animal trade to the exclusion and detriment of other export opportunities.

I would be more accepting of this government's genuineness and its arguments in this area if there were an equivalent degree of enthusiasm, energy and commitment to expanding, promoting and removing the barriers to alternative trade. I see very little of that. What I see are continual efforts to expand the live animal trade. I recall evidence from a budget estimates committee hearing earlier this year that national and state trade delegations to the Middle East regularly explore opportunities to develop the live animal export trade or deal with the problems that continually arise—and this bill came out of the problems that arise—but that those delegations very rarely seek to develop opportunities for the processed meat trade.

The evidence about the level of cruelty involved in not just the transportation of animals to the ships and the shipping of the animals but the offloading and slaughtering in the various countries in the Middle East is overwhelming. Frankly, it is at the stage where you cannot use the excuse `well, if we don't do it someone else will and they'll do it even worse'. That excuse is simply not true. Animals over there are treated in the same way whether they are exported from Australia or anywhere else, and we are complicit in the enormous cruelty involved by virtue of continuing to be a part of that trade. I believe that if we as a nation set standards in this area the long-term impact would have far more value than it would if we simply raced to the lowest common denominator, which is basically what we have been doing to date.

The bill in its narrower scope goes some way to implementing the Keniry report recommendations. Inasmuch as that is a step forward, I suppose that should be welcomed, but I have to say that anything that enables further promotion of this trade is still moving in the wrong direction. It is continuing to attempt to entrench a trade that will never be able to overcome the major problem of being seen by a significant proportion of the Australian public as intrinsically cruel and as taking away Australian jobs. The industry has had 20 years to try and overcome that problem. I would suggest that, if anything, the industry is even more on the nose now than it was 20 years ago and that it will continue to be. All of the efforts to address that are simply continuing to deny the undeniable. A real forward-thinking approach would be to accept that and seek to develop a viable alternative that addresses the potential impacts on people who earn a living from this trade. That would be a better approach than the industry continuing to put all of its energies into fighting the sorts of PR battles it is perpetually engaged in.

The Keniry report is notable for the fact that the government did not accept all of its recommendations. So even this inquiry, set up by the government with the government's terms of reference, did not have all of its recommendations picked up because the government is doing everything it can to keep this trade alive. I do not support this trade; many Australians do not support it. I acknowledge that there are people whose livelihoods depend on this trade, and I am not seeking to ignore them. But I would also say that there are people whose livelihoods have been lost to this trade and who are being ignored and denied by this government. In acknowledging that, the Democrats' amendment does not seek to amend the core of the legislation but, whilst not opposing the bill, does seek to draw attention to the concerns that I have just raised. The core problem is that it is a trade that is intrinsically cruel and takes Australians' jobs. Until we attempt to prioritise the development of alternatives to this industry then those problems will continue, the community concerns will continue and I will continue to raise those concerns in the Senate through questions. I move:

At the end of the motion, add “but the Senate, recognising there is a strong and ongoing opposition to continuing the live trade of animals from Australia due to both animal welfare concerns and concerns that domestic jobs are exported along with the animals, urges that priority be given to phasing out the live trade of animals as soon as possible.”