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Wednesday, 31 May 2023
Page: 4017

Dr ANANDA-RAJAH (Higgins) (12:34): I'm no expert on animal husbandry, but, like my colleagues and my constituents, I am highly exercised on the topic of animal welfare. Far from being an activist agenda, the people who approach me in my community on this topic are ordinary Australians. They are studying or working. They may be raising children or, indeed, paying their taxes. All of these people are highly concerned about animal cruelty and animal welfare because they want to ensure that the animal products that they source are humanely delivered. They are also concerned around the social licence for the live animal export trade industry. I cannot lie that I, too, am fairly queasy about this industry. I have been a long-time supporter of Animals Australia.

I want to ensure that this industry continues to operate because it is commercially important for Australia. It amounts to $1.3 billion in trade, and that's nothing to be sniffed at. It certainly supports the lives of many people in the regions in particular. But I think it's really important that as a government and as a parliament we safeguard this industry with adequate controls. This was sorely tested back in 2018 around the AwassiExpress disaster, when that came to light. It was absolutely horrific. All of us have been touched by that. Certainly those images are seared onto our national psyche.

I'm proud to be part of a government that has committed to phasing out the live sheep export trade. I know there are many members of this parliament and in the community who want to see us go further. However, I think this is a really positive first step. This trade has been on the decline. It amounts to around $82 million of a much larger export trade. In March this year the government committed to installing an independent panel of experts to consult with industry and other stakeholders as to how this phase-out will occur, but we have indeed committed to that.

The amendments put forward are also welcome because they expand on our agenda on how to ensure the viability of this industry going forward by strengthening safeguards around animal welfare. Initially it's emphasised by the change of the name, with the insertion of the words 'animal welfare'. We go from calling it the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports to calling it the Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. There is an explicit name change with the insertion of 'animal welfare'. I think that's really important because language matters; it directs how we operate.

There are also additional objectives that are focused on animal welfare in the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023 which are designed to monitor, investigate and report on how the Commonwealth implements improvements to animal welfare in the live export trade. We want to see and promote a culture of continuous improvement in the practice and performance of the live export trade and provide an additional layer of accountability over the regulation of the live export trade. We want to ensure that animal welfare is explicitly taken into account by live export officials. All of these amendments are incorporated in this bill.

For the first time, the inspector-general will provide independent oversight specific to animal welfare. The focus will be on strengthening activities, systems, standards and reporting to help us achieve positive animal welfare outcomes. The bill requires the inspector-general to prepare and publish an annual work plan for each financial year including the details and the timing of the review's priorities and outcomes relating to this program of work. This work will be published on the website for all to see, so there is a degree of transparency there. It will also enable industry and stakeholders to plan ahead. The independence of the inspector-general will be put beyond doubt with this bill. Certainly the inspector-general will be operating at arm's length from the government and the minister of the day. The minister can, however, direct the inspector-general to focus on particular areas of concern, and that will continue.

I'm pleased to see that we are advancing the agenda around strengthening safeguards around animal cruelty because, ultimately, this speaks to our core values as Australians. We are nature lovers and we care deeply about not only each other but also the natural world and the animals encompassed in that world, but we want to ensure that the viability of this industry is protected going forward. It's important that this industry meets community expectations, because it's those community expectations that provide the social licence for this industry to operate. It is important that we maintain our clean, green agricultural credentials going forward because this is, in addition, a huge value-add to our nation. I commend this bill to the House.