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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 118

Senator GEORGES(6.03) —in reply-Mr Acting Deputy President-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Senator Georges, I take it you are exercising the right of reply.

Senator GEORGES —Yes. The reason I do this is that the methods we now use in the Senate to table reports limit the ability of the person tabling the report and those who follow to engage in a careful debate, not a garbled debate, on very important subjects. I believe that the Standing Orders Committee ought to take a look at what has happened and try to allocate more time for the presentation of these reports which have taken so much time and investigation to produce. For that reason I am taking advantage of replying briefly to what has been said whereas I could have done that, perhaps, at a later stage.

I think it is necessary to make it perfectly clear that the report of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare concludes that on animal welfare grounds there is sufficient evidence that the live sheep export trade should be stopped immediately. Those grounds will persist and the industry should very carefully look at the fact that the pressures that have been applied in the past will not go away. Any major disaster at sea in this trade would lead to an increase of pressure to stop the trade, with more justification, perhaps, than there has been in the past. Some comments I made-incidentally, I say to Senator Boswell that I did not make those comments on the run-were reported in the Press. The best report of those comments came not in the Australian which contained a misreport, possibly not by the reporter himself but by the sub-editor who threw a very large subject into about three or four paragraphs, but from the Daily Commercial News which is a valuable journal to commerce, especially rural commerce. It contained the most balanced report of what happened.

I used terms such as the trade being fragile. I also said that on the basis of my experience the nature of the trade was changing. It is fairly obvious that Senator Boswell and Senator Brownhill are not aware of the changing nature of the trade. Perhaps they will not be aware, until they fully read the report, of who controls the trade, who can make the decisions that could alter the trade and who can, perhaps, make the decisions that could bring the trade to an end no matter what we want. There is a changing nature to the requirements of the Middle East towards younger sheep and the dependence of the wool industry upon this export trade might be, to use the word again, tenuous.

We said in the report that certain aspects of this trade ought to be carefully examined. The industry, if it fails to do so, does so at its own peril. For instance, on religious grounds-how important are these religious grounds is indicated by the fact that Iran was so quickly able to bring the live sheep trade to an end-we received evidence from the Federation of Islamic councils in Australia. It is responsible for the supervision of the slaughter of sheep in Australia for the Middle East. It receives a benefit from that. From its point of view it would be better if all the sheep were slaughtered in Australia. It is its view, on religious grounds, that the treatment of sheep and the way they are handled is not acceptable on animal welfare grounds. The Federation may have a vested interest in that it receives a return for every sheep slaughtered in Australia. I think the figure given to us was that the benefit to it for all sheep slaughtered in Australia for one year is $400,000. It is quite possible that it believes that to have more sheep slaughtered in Australia rather than transported live overseas would be to its benefit. It would be. There is no doubt that the Federation could bring influence to change religious attitudes overseas. Those attitudes are changing. Therefore, we should look very carefully at this industry and at the suggestion of the Committee. The Committee recommends on animal welfare grounds that the live sheep trade be phased out and substituted by refrigerated trade. If we look at this recommendation, not on animal welfare grounds but on economic grounds, we see that it is in the best interests of industry. It could diversify refrigerated trade away from the volatile Middle East.

Senator Boswell —But they do not want it.

Senator GEORGES —One thing we can be certain of is that those who control the industry in the Middle East will not want it because they own the ships, by and large, but when the problems, such as drought, in Africa and in other countries that surround the Middle east start to disappear the greatest volume of live sheep supplied to the Middle East will come from those countries. It is quite possible that unless we anticipate this the trade could cease, not on animal welfare grounds but on economic grounds. I am saying to those who represent the rural industry that they should read the full report. They should read the recommendations on the basis that they are sound and responsible. Had they been made on purely animal welfare grounds we could have said: `The trade should stop. You sort it out'. We took the responsible course of going through the matter. We understood that trade was likely for a number of years in spite of whatever happened. We then looked at how best we could protect the interests of animals. I repeat, I hope that the comments made by the President of the National Farmers Federation were made from the hip. If I correctly recall the gentleman's attitude on other issues, he is inclined to fire from the hip. He has a sort of hip reaction to all politicians, particularly National Party politicians and, especially Mr Sinclair. Honourable senators should look at his comments.

Senator Brownhill —He gave Bob a few serves today.

Senator GEORGES —He has possibly given Bob a few serves. He gave me a serve in a letter which I have here. I put it to one side and did not answer it angrily. Today I took the opportunity of trying to correct him. The National Farmers Federation and the Animal Welfare Committee will be in close communication over the next two or three years when we come to investigate animal husbandry practices and examine intensive farming practices. It will be necessary to have the NFF's full co-operation and understanding and I am sure that we will get it.

I am sure the new Committee will endeavour to bring down balanced reports, as we have to this point, no matter what the pressures happen to be from either side of the debate. Honourable senators must realise that the Committee comes to conclusions and makes recommendations; it does not make the laws. That is somebody else's responsibility. However, a report of this magnitude, coming to these conclusions and recommendations, cannot be ignored by government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.