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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4374


Senator MARGETTS(11.33 a.m.) —in reply—In closing the debate today, I would like to agree with Senator Cooney that this is an important and timely debate. In my opinion, it is not wasting the Senate's time to ensure that the right and proper platform is used for these important debates. Sometimes it is assumed that only the government's agenda is important. But that is not the case; the community agenda is also important.

I need to take up one point that I have mentioned privately to Senator Brownhill. Senator Brownhill gave an indication, presumably from a briefing note that he has, that the Greens did not take up an offer to change the wording of the motion or to defer it. We did defer the motion; in fact we have deferred it a couple of times. I believe the briefing is out of date. So I believe it is necessary for Senator Brownhill at the first available time to correct the inference that was given because, quite late last night, the office of Senator Parer, the Minister for Resources and Energy, contacted my office saying, in effect, that all bets were off and that the motion would be opposed. It is fine for the motion to be opposed, but it is simply not true that the Greens were not interested in changing the wording. We offered that to the minister. In the end, the minister said he was not interested in changing the wording. So I would like to invite Senator Brownhill to correct that.


Senator Brownhill —Can I say that what you have just said is correct.


Senator MARGETTS —I will allow you to do that on the Hansard ; that would be fine—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President.


Senator Brownhill —It is in Hansard now.


Senator MARGETTS —Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I do not think an interjection in this case is adequate; I think time should be made available for a statement to be made.

An Australian cargo was involved. The indication is that Australia has no rights to conduct an investigation. It is true that Australia has no rights under the international convention to either participate in an investigation or to insist on access from the flag registry, the underwriters or the owners. That does not mean to say that Australia has no rights to an investigation.

It should also be noted here that the Uniceb, the ship involved, is registered in Panama. Often ships registered in Panama are considered to have flags of convenience. Panama has had many problems with its standard of shipping. On many occasions we have had debates as to the adequacy of what we in Australia can do in relation to the standard of shipping. I do not think it is sufficient—


Senator Woodley —Ships of shame.


Senator MARGETTS —The Ships of shame report, as Senator Woodley interjects. It is not sufficient to say that Australia can do nothing. We have had debates here about the ability of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to undertake adequate inspections. I am on record as saying that the resources that are available to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority simply do not give it the ability to make full and adequate safety inspections. In the past we have had very damning reports from the Auditor-General indicating similar things, that there have been problems.

The fact that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority inspection in May 1996 passed the Uniceb as fit for operation in Australian waters needs to be taken further. Perhaps we need to know what was the nature of the inspection, how long it took, and how adequate it was. What did AMSA inspect, and what was the basis of its being able to say it was fit for operation? If it is as a result of a lack of resources that AMSA was not alerted to potential problems, or if it is something that was nothing whatever to do with adequate inspection, we are entitled to know these things. If we see what is an AMSA report, that is fine, but perhaps there needs to be some scrutiny as to whether AMSA simply has a lack of resources or whether something different is the problem.

I am pleased to see that there is some interest. A number of people have been alerted to the issue and will be watching carefully for, firstly, the outcome of the international investigation and, secondly, the AMSA response. You can be sure that we will revisit this debate when we hear that response. If it be a matter of AMSA resourcing, the Australian government has a responsibility to address the matter. If AMSA does not have proper resources—I am just surmising that—it has to be dealt with.

I also want to deal briefly with comments that Senator Bob Collins made in relation to the cattle trade. Senator Collins made an assumption which, I believe, was unwarranted. The assumption was that if I move a motion in relation to the standards of the shipping of live sheep, I am associated automatically with an attack on the live cattle export trade.


Senator Bob Collins —I didn't say you were, Senator.


Senator MARGETTS —There was an implication. The word `ingenuous' was used.


Senator Bob Collins —But not in respect of your good self.


Senator MARGETTS —Despite that, I make it very clear that within my support base—the Greens (WA) and the green movement in general—there is no clear-cut deci sion on live cattle exports. There are a number of reasons for that.

Those reasons include the fact that there is a great deal of concern about the level of overstocking and land degradation in pastoral areas of Western Australia. One way of getting cattle growers to look after their land better and not overstock it is by convincing them to produce higher value breeding stock. That is an issue which we, as well as other people in the community, are considering.

Further, there is no single opinion on the farming of native animals. There are people in the environment movement who believe that emus and kangaroos should not be considered for farming. There are other people in the environment movement who believe it is more beneficial to the environment to farm animals appropriate to our environment and climate. That debate still occurs and it is very healthy.

It is wrong to assume that there is one view in the environment movement, and it is wrong to assume that there is one view among the Greens in relation to these issues. It is right to assume that these debates should occur. The problem is suggesting that the issue is about animal exports in general. That detracts from the fact that because sheep exports are, on a unit by unit basis, a much lower value product, the pressures, understandably, are much greater on growers not to create a requirement for improved conditions.

I can understand these issues. We should not look at them and simply say that we know that standards could be considerably better for cattle exports. But that does not mean that as a community and a parliament we should not be looking at the standard of shipping, the standard of crewing and the health and humane standards of live sheep exports.

I am very pleased that this debate has occurred. I still call on the Senate to support the motion, but I can count. I look forward to the outcome of any inquiry that takes place on this matter.