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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 109

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:55 PM) —This interim report of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee titled Provisions of the National Animal Welfare Bill 2003 was required because of the election and the committee being dissolved on the resumption of parliament. It deals with the National Animal Welfare Bill 2003 [2004], a bill which I introduced to this place. It is a private senator's bill. As the interim report says, the committee could not complete the inquiry in the previous parliament but that if the bill were reintroduced in the next parliament and referred to the committee then the committee would recommence the inquiry. That bill has been reintroduced. At this stage I have not determined whether to seek to re-refer it to the committee but, as senators would know, it is an area that I and the Democrats more broadly have a strong interest in.

There is no doubt that we need better animal welfare standards in this country and better enforcement of the standards. In particular, we need to do better at the federal level. Not only do we need a nationally coordinated approach but the federal government must take its own responsibility seriously in areas where it does have direct responsibility; and it does have direct responsibility in relation to the import and export of animals, not just in the case of the notorious live sheep and cattle trade but many other animals imported into and exported from this country live—for example, dogs and native wildlife. Other animals are imported and exported into and out of research facilities and zoos and for other reasons. Those imports and exports happen with very little consideration given to the animal welfare implications and I believe they need to be addressed. Whether this bill is the best way to do it is one question, but there is no doubt that using Senate committees can be immensely valuable to inquire into private members' bills to generate greater awareness and discussion about an issue. The bill may not be the best way to deal with it, but it generates a requirement for the public and the Senate to consider what is the best way to deal with a genuine problem.

Indeed, we saw that today with the report of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee into invasive species. That committee also considered my private senator's bill. I do not know whether I should draw attention to the fact that the committee unanimously decided that my bill was not the way to go and could not be supported. Even the Democrat on the committee, Senator Cherry, the chair, decided that my bill was not the way to go. But the report said that the process of referring the bill to the committee had been very successful in moving the issue out of the realm of debate amongst a small number of cognoscenti and into the public domain where people who had a specialist interest were able to engage with the political and parliamentary process to look at ways of addressing a serious environmental issue—weeds and invasive species. I am pleased to see that the committee came down with a large number of unanimous recommendations. It did far more than just reject my bill. It proposed a number of recommendations to address and to get better action at a national level on a much underrated environmental problem—weeds and invasive species.

This report addressed what I think is another underaddressed problem at the political and parliamentary level—that is, animal welfare standards at the national level. It is certainly appropriate to draw attention to this interim report as a way of signalling where that process is up to. The bill has been reintroduced into the Senate. We must look at the best way to use that to try and generate further engagement on an issue that does need attention and that does attract public interest. This is something that the Democrats and I will continue to explore over the life of this parliament.

Question agreed to.