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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 3285

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (15:59): I begin by reminding the House that the topic of the MPI today is 'The need to work with industry to phase out live sheep exports'. And I say that very deliberately, because no-one on this side of the House is suggesting that the industry ought to be cut at the knees as of today. We are saying quite clearly that we understand that this is an industry that is already in decline and that we need to work with the industry for the benefit of farmers who are sheep growers to ensure that they have a future. The 60 Minutes program has once again exposed the horrific cruelty associated with the live sheep export trade. This is a cruelty that was brought to the attention of this House in a parliamentary report, a report of a Senate committee chaired by Senator George Georges at the time, which, in 1985, brought to the House's attention the need to do something about the cruelty associated with the live sheep export trade. It seems that since then, with numerous examples of animal cruelty having been exposed—never by industry, might I say—we are still repeating the debates and discussions that would have happened 33 years ago.

It was the Howard government that in 2006 put a suspension on this trade because of the cruelty associated with it. So it is not something that simply arises out of the concern of members on this side of parliament. It beggars belief that industry insiders were unaware—oblivious—to the appalling conditions after years of voyages, countless exposes and the death of tens of thousands of sheep on those journeys. For the industry to pretend that this is an isolated case and something that we can deal with really takes the Australian community as fools. This is another example not only of the industry's denial but of its own failures.

As the member for Hunter quite rightly pointed out, the industry has had four decades to get itself in order and has failed to do so. Then we have the response from the government and in particular from the minister—initially feigned outrage about what happened on the Awassi but then condemnation of Labor when Labor called for action commensurate with the gravity of the offence and consistent with community expectations. The exporter involved in this case is responsible for about 71 per cent of all the trade between us and the Middle East and has been the subject of previous allegations of cruelty. The exporter was prosecuted in 2008, I believe, by the Western Australian government.

The Australian people do not need more inquiries, increased penalties, lower stocking rates or better ventilation on vessels in order to get the reassurance they need from this government. We already have penalties of up to five years jail and $50,000 fines that have never been applied or imposed on anybody. Yet the government's response is, 'We will increase the penalties.' Well, what's the point of that, if the current penalties are never even being applied? With respect to the lower stocking rates, the industry itself, in a submission to the Productivity Commission, stated that if you lower the stocking densities by 10 per cent or more you will increase the losses in profitability by anywhere between 35 and 100 per cent. They themselves will claim that lowering stocking densities will make the industry unviable. Yet this is the response we're now getting.

Let me turn to why this industry needs to be transitioned out. It's already an industry in decline. Numbers have fallen from around six million sheep exported in 2001-02 to 1.7 million last year. Those export numbers represent only five per cent of the industry value of $5.2 billion. We know that chilled sheepmeat exports to the Middle East—the very countries where these sheep are going—increased tenfold between 2006 and 2016. So the government should work with Labor on a response that helps to phase out the industry and provide the certainty to the growers that is needed by them. The reality is that there are alternatives. We can process the sheep here in Australia, and there are markets for the chilled meat overseas. Yes, that takes time, and it needs transition time in order to get the abattoirs in Australia up to speed and with the right skills and staff required. Already the RSPCA and Animals Australia have together committed $1 million towards a transition strategy. What we need now is a government that is prepared to do the same. If the government truly cares about the farmers it claims to represent, it will work with Labor to do exactly that. (Time expired)