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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3896

Senator WOODLEY(12.59 p.m.) —The first thing I need to do is indicate that I withdraw the amendments circulated in my name. The reason is that I had discussions with the parliamentary secretary last night, and I understand the necessity to have this legislation passed today. The Democrats certainly were not intending to put any spoke in that wheel by moving those amendments, and I will be seeking assurances from the minister in his reply, which I know he is going to give, that will answer many of the questions that we had. The last comment of Senator Bob Collins also goes to one of those questions, and perhaps part of the assurance that I was seeking has been given already.

We are dealing with a number of bills which are listed on the notice paper, including the Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Bill 1996. The council is a new instrumentality, established during the time of the previous Labor government. It is not required to prepare an annual report which must be tabled in parliament and it is not subject to the Audit Act. So you can understand the concerns that the Democrats had and the reason originally for wanting to move an amendment to make sure that the reporting would in fact be done and that the scrutiny of the parliament, and particularly of the Senate, would be assured. The comment made by Senator Collins certainly points in that direction, and I am sure the minister will comment further.

The Exotic Animal Disease Preparedness Consultative Council ceased operations on 30 June 1995 and the proposed Australian Animal Health Council Ltd has been established as a non-profit company limited by guarantee under the Corporations Law. The AAHC is jointly owned and funded by the Commonwealth government, state and territory governments and the peak national representative bodies of Australia's livestock based industries. The council's broad role is to ensure that the Australian animal health service system is capable of maintaining acceptable national animal health standards which will meet consumer needs and market requirements at home and overseas.

I am not going to read all of the speech I had prepared for today because I do want to leave time for the minister to make comments, in line with the agreement I have with him. But I will just comment on a couple of the other bills which are before us and which raise issues about welfare for the live sheep and live cattle export trade in particular.

Senator Panizza —Yes, we'll debate that one any day.

Senator WOODLEY —It is all right, Senator Panizza—the minister and I have an agreement that we will have a very fruitful discussion about this. The issue of live sheep exports has returned to prominence recently with the death of over 67,000 sheep when the ship they were travelling on caught fire. I understand this generated a particularly strong response in Western Australia. A rally and march is occurring in Perth this Sunday, 13 October, which is meant to tie in with over seas protests by the Compassion in World Farming Group. There is cruelty involved in the trade, from our perspective.

I would remind the Senate that the Senate animal welfare committee's report on the issue some 10 years ago acknowledged as much, but said that economic and other factors had to be taken into consideration. I agree with that; there is always a balance in these things. The main thrust of that report was to encourage the development of an alternative carcase trade. This does not appear to happen to any great degree, and the government's focus seems to be very much on expanding the live animal trade.

Senator Panizza —Especially if they don't want them.

Senator WOODLEY —I will not respond to all of your interjections, Senator Panizza, because I do not want to take up the time of the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Patterson) —I would suggest you do not respond to any of them, Senator Woodley. Just move on with what you were talking about.

Senator WOODLEY —I will take your advice, Madam Acting Deputy President, but you can see that I do get provoked sometimes.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Refrain from being tempted, Senator Woodley.

Senator WOODLEY —I will take your very wise advice. Figures show that farmers receive a much higher amount for sheep for live export—an average $24.90—than they do for sheep for slaughter—around $10.40. The meatworkers union, the AMIEU, estimates that there could be up to 10,000 people in Albany, Broome and Robb Jetty abattoirs who have lost jobs because of live sheep exports. I think that has to be taken into account.

The mortality rate of sheep on voyages is approximately two per cent, which does not include the death of sheep in the recent fire. Ships leaving from Australia are not required to have a vet on board, whereas in New Zealand sheep ships do require a vet on all voyages.

Senator Bob Collins —You shouldn't say that very quickly.

Senator WOODLEY —I said it very slowly, and I will have a word to the person who wrote the speech. The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation advises that the frozen carcase trade—

Senator Brownhill interjecting

Senator WOODLEY —You are wasting your own time, I might add. That trade actually declined by nearly half in the last financial year, due to the product simply not being available during the peak supply period. This would seem to indicate that priority in supply is being given to the live trade over the carcase trade.

Some of the questions which I would like the minister to address are as follows. Does the government have a comment on that report of the former Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare? Would the government indicate whether or not it believes the recommendation of the committee that there should be an effort to phase out the live sheep trade in favour of the carcase trade.

I would like the minister to indicate whether the AAHC will address animal welfare issues. The disease issues are absolutely critical, but I think there is a question there which the minister could comment on, and I would be happy to receive his answer. I realise that animal welfare is currently not in the AAHC's objectives, and perhaps the minister could give some indication of whether or not he believes they should be extended to include that.

The Democrats would be interested to know whether, if the government were inclined to accept and take up the recommendations in the report some years ago of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare, a differential in the levy between live sheep and carcase sheep would be an incentive for moving from live sheep trade to the carcase trade. The final question that the minister may be able to give me an answer on is whether or not it would be possible to use the levy to provide funds to pay for the presence of a vet on export ships.