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Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Page: 3370


Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (10:57): As I was saying yesterday, South Australia supplies about 15 per cent of the live sheep export market. I'd have to say at the moment I think we're at a high-water mark for the next couple of years, because I can tell you that the drought across much of my electorate, which is much of regional South Australia, is really taking effect and stock numbers are plummeting. South Australia probably won't be looking to send a lot of sheep offshore in the near future, but things will return; things will change. The rains will come. We'll restock and we'll be looking for outlets for our stock again.

But it is in Western Australia in particular that the live trade is just so important. Western Australia is supplying over 70 per cent—75 per cent—of the Australian trade, and it's 30 per cent of the annual turn-off. One of the things that a lot of people don't understand about livestock businesses is that not all sheep are equal. People love their lamb, but you'd be hard-pressed—I've often spoken about that ugly word—to get them to eat hogget. How many times have you heard people say, 'I like lamb, but I wouldn't want to eat old hogget'? There is no such thing as old hogget, of course. Hogget is a yearling lamb, so it is dressed up in the wrong name. In fact, when sheep get past a certain age in Australia they don't really have much of a market. It is particularly in the wether trade that we see this, because there is not much point keeping an ageing male wether just to produce wool when you could have something else producing wool.

So they need a market, and the boat trade supplies that. What the boat trade does, besides supporting farmers, is support shearers, stock agents, merchandisers and freight operators. In my own electorate a stock food manufacturer invested heavily in providing pellets for the boat trade. When the suspension of the cattle trade happened in 2011, it really sent a very stressful time through their business. So, there is a whole investment chain right across Australia that actually benefits from this trade.

The government is committed to trade and those who rely on it for a living. We in this government have worked very hard to expand Australia's trade opportunities with a range of free trade agreements opening up access across the world not just for farmers particularly but also for livestock producers, grain producers and wine producers. This is just part of it: supporting those people who need to export.

In 2011—and I did say I would come back to this—there was a suspension of the live cattle trade for one month. One month doesn't sound very long, but it did enormous damage. I was referring to the members comments before of a stupid mistake with terrible consequences. That was certainly the case with the 2011 suspension. It happened in the middle of the mustering season in the Northern Territory. The mustering season up there is controlled by the weather. When it becomes wet you can no longer muster. As a result of that one-month ban, 500,000 cattle were not exported, even though they wouldn't have all gone out in that one month—that's what happened to the mustering process. Coupled with the wet season, thousands were then forced into southern markets. The beef market in Australia was down by 30 per cent over a two-year period after the one-month suspension of the live trade to Indonesia.

Therein lies a salient lesson. The thing I often say when we are in this place in Canberra is that we should work very hard to make sure that whatever we do causes no harm, that we don't make the world a worse place. We make it better, not worse. For every policy that comes before us in this place, we should run that slide rule over it to make sure that we are actually improving the situation. Certainly, that closure, for just the one month, did not meet that criterion.

Now, we seek to build on the strengths of what we have done to rebuild the system, on the establishment of the ESCAS system, which protects stock at the destination. If a customer country does not agree to treat stock in the manner we insist on, they will be cut off from the supply chain. That is working well. Those incidents have decreased. You can never say never, just as we cannot say never when we jump in the car and drive down to the shop to get a lettuce. We are not dead-sure we are going to come back. There is a risk in everything. But we are doing well in that space.

The change that we have made to increase the on-board space per animal is making a difference, as has the suspension of the trade during the northern summer, where we saw the worst of the footage from the Awassi Express. They are all good things. The mortality rate thus far this year is 0.61 per cent. That can happen in a lot of places. I suspect we are going to see better than that in the near future, because these changes are still washing through the system. So we know we can operate this trade safely and humanely. We have runs on the board and we have proof. What we need to do is ensure that we don't have a bad voyage or a couple of bad voyages or outcomes. We need to eliminate the outliers. One of the ways we will do that is to install the Office of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. It will be the inspector-general's job to continue the improvements in the industry, to monitor the industry and to provide what I would call oversight of the industry or an audit of it. Importantly, they will be able to conduct reviews and compel people to contribute to that review. They will also be able to compel them to answer questions. The defence of self-incrimination will not be accepted.

So I think that indicates that the government is fair dinkum about this. We're fair dinkum about it because we know how important this trade is to Australian farmers, those other industries that I mentioned, the local communities and decentralised jobs. We know how important this trade is. That's why we're committed to it and to making sure it is safe and humane and that we do not see repeated atrocities on our television screens, which, ultimately, will lose the trade if they come about. So we are making the solid commitment to the people that we're going to get this right, and we'll keep that up.