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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8408


Mr WILKIE (Denison) (16:09): There are obviously a great many reasons that politicians, and federal politicians in particular, are being held in contempt by many members of the community. One of the reasons that the community has lost confidence in federal politicians and the federal parliament is that, somewhere along the line, we stopped representing them. Whether it be climate change or asylum seekers or animal welfare, this place has stopped representing the majority of Australians. There is no better example than when it comes to animal welfare. There is no way in the world that a majority of Australians support the live animal export trade. Every poll you can come up with that is conducted fairly and among the broad members of the community shows overwhelming public support for shutting the trade down—the beef trade, the sheep trade, the whole lot. Because the only way to end the cruelty is to end the trade.

I know the bill that has come down from the Senate is far from perfect because it only would phase out the trade over five years and shut down eventually, in five years time, the sheep trade just to the Middle East. But in the absence of anything else, or everything else, it's a bill that should be brought on for debate and should be supported. In the first instance, this parliament should get behind the opposition motion to at least schedule debate on the bill that has come down from the Senate. That's what the community wants. If we want to do the right thing by the community, if we want to act in the public interest, if we want to start in a little way to restore the public faith in federal politics and the federal parliament, we should get behind this opposition motion to at least schedule the bill that's come down from the Senate. That's what the community wants.

Who can forget the shocking footage from the Awassi Express a few months ago? Thank God there was one brave whistleblower that had the strength and the means to record the scenes on that vessel. About 2,500 sheep perished on that ship of horrors. Remember the scenes of the little lambs dying in the filth on the floor and the scenes of the sheep panting with the extreme heat stress just before they died. No-one can defend that, and no-one can say that the cruelty on the Awassi Express was a one-off. What was rare about the Awassi Express was that there was a whistleblower on board with a camera. Because we know it's a fact that the trade is systemically cruel and it is not unusual to have that sort of cruelty on the sheep ships to the Middle East. It's not unusual to have similar cruelty on the sheep ships to Indonesia, to Vietnam and in increasing numbers to China. It is a systemically cruel trade. The only way to end the cruelty is to end the trade.

It's a systemic cruelty. It's not one off. Since 2010, 2011, 2012, how many exposes have we seen in the media of cruelty to Australian livestock being sent to and arriving in China, in Vietnam and repeatedly in Indonesia? Who can forget the scenes on our TV of live Australian sheep being thrown in to a hole in Pakistan and covered up with dirt—all the time approved by the Australian government, encouraged by the Australian government, a government that rubs its hands together in glee at every announcement of an expansion of the trade. What about the cruelty that we know happened to Australian animals in Turkey, in Israel, in numerous countries in the Middle East? This is a trade that is systemically cruel. The only way to end the cruelty is to end the trade. The only way to do the right thing by Australian workers in the Australian economy is to process those animals in Australia. If you draw a line from Perth to Townsville, I think there's only one abattoir north of that line that's licensed for export markets. All the rest have been shut down. No wonder the unions oppose the trade, because it's cost us thousands of jobs. Indeed, if you want to put sheep and cattle production in this country on a sustainable footing, if you want to safeguard Australia's reputation as an ethical producer of food, then you'd shut the trade down. It is systemically cruel. It's not in Australia's best interests. The excuses for keeping the trade are preposterous. If you were to believe the nonsense from some quarters, you'd think Australian farmers are doing this for free because they want to do the right thing by low-income people elsewhere in the world—that it's an act of altruism; nothing to do with money; it's about providing protein to the world's poor. What bunkum. There's no altruism here. It's business and it's all about what sort of business will give a small number of farmers the best return on their investment. There's nothing fair dinkum about this claim to provide protein to the poor. It's bunkum.

There's the nonsense about religious practice—that we can only send live sheep to the Middle East because that's the only sort of sheepmeat that we could possibly send there. What nonsense. The fact is that the value of the processed red meat that Australia exports to the Middle East, and specifically sheep, is almost three times the value of the live sheep we send to the Middle East. There's the nonsense about no refrigeration. My godfather! Let's not be so condescending and paternalistic. They have fridges in other countries; they have fridges in the Middle East, they have fridges in South-East Asia, they have fridges in Indonesia and they have fridges in Pakistan—all those places. Let's stop being so racist by coming up with the nonsense about them not having fridges and that, if we're going to feed them, we need to send live animals.

And there's the issue that someone else will fill the gap—that, if we don't send those sheep to the Middle East, someone else will. Absolute nonsense. The fact is that there is a strong demand for meat from this country which is fine meat, carefully processed in Australia and ethically produced. That's one of the reasons the Middle East is taking almost three times the value of processed Australian sheepmeat compared to the live export trade. Even if they do go somewhere else, wouldn't it be nice that we act like a country with integrity and that we will say that we will not be party to systemic animal cruelty in those markets? That's what we should be doing: acting like a rich and civilised country with integrity that will do the right thing. I'll tell you what: by doing that, we enhance the value of what we do export, because so many people in the world will be increasingly attracted to Australian suppliers because they know that Australian suppliers raise their sheep and their cattle in as humane a condition as possible and they process it in Australia in as humane a condition as possible. They'd be buying ethically produced meat from Australia.

If I had my way, we'd shut the whole live animal export industry down this afternoon because the only way to end the cruelty is to end the industry. But, if we're not going to do that, then let's at least phase out, over five years, the sheep exports to the Middle East—ban them completely at the height of summer and be done with them in five years. That is enough time, particularly with some government assistance, for the sheep export industry, especially in WA, to prepare for that transition. If nothing else, let's at least debate the issue. That's why I think that everyone in this House with any common sense and any decency should get behind the opposition's motion to at least schedule the bill that has come from the Senate, because the Manager of Opposition Business is quite correct: if we don't debate this bill shortly, then nothing will be debated. Like so much else that's said in this chamber in all of those grand speeches and all those wonderful press conferences, with all of those looks of anguish, will amount to nothing. Then we'll wonder why the community still has no time for politicians. It's because the community thinks that words are worthless unless they're backed up by action. Why doesn't this parliament for once do something in the public interest and for once represent the majority of the community? Let's pass this motion, let's schedule this bill and let's have a debate of ideas because I'm quite confident that, in a debate of ideas, the best idea will win and we will decide to back the bill that's come from the Senate and we'll at least wind up the sheep exports to the Middle East.