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Live Animal Exports

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:33):  My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Given that the live cattle export industry is now facing serious financial hardship as a result of the necessary suspension of exports to Indonesia, and given the failure of organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia to maintain welfare standards, I would like to know when and how the government will hold these organisations to account?

Senator RONALDSON:  The farmers' friends, the Greens—what a joke that is!

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT:  I will not call the minister until the debate has stopped. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:33):  Thank you, Mr President, and I thank Senator Siewert for her interest in this industry, unlike those opposite. I understand that the suspension of trade will have an impact on Australian producers and those involved in the live export trade. We know this will be particularly acute in the areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The government and the department are committed to working with industry every step of the way to achieve the best outcome for all involved. Any short-term impacts will be for the longer term sustainability of the industry.

In terms of the short-term impact in that area, I have DAFF officials looking at the current onshore areas as well, but in terms of support broadly for industry can I say that I have written to Meat and Livestock Australia asking the association to consider making an initial contribution of $5 million to an industry contingency fund. I have received a reply from the MLA stating that the board would not provide those funds. This is a disappointing response from an industry body representing the major producers in this area who have failed to take responsibility for their actions and, of course, not accept the substantial role that they have played in the current issues as well. I have now acted to exercise my powers to direct the MLA to use some of its substantial reserves to manage the immediate domestic impact of the suspension of trade. The government believes that the industry body should support its industry itself, particularly given the funding base which includes both industry and government contributions. To that end, I have acted to deal with that issue and ensure— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:36):  Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Although it was very useful, he did not answer the question I asked, which was: what are you doing about MLA to hold them to account? So I ask him to please answer my first question, but my supplementary question is: now that he has exercised his power to direct MLA to do this, what is his time frame for ensuring that happens as a matter of urgency?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:36):  Under the statutory requirements, I do have to give them an opportunity to consult with me about the decision I have made in terms of the time frame. Given the urgency of this issue, I expect that to be a relatively short period of time. I would have expected the industry to take responsibility for itself and for these circumstances. The industry have failed to do that, and that is why I have acted to ensure that they do take responsibility. That $5 million is important to provide support and relief for onshore domestic producers, to ensure that they can maintain their stock and defray some of the initial impacts that the decision has caused. In terms of a broader industry question about MLA, I foreshadow that I will be— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:37):  Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question—and the minister might roll the final part of his answer to the previous question into this one. You said that they have to come back to you, Minister; could you please outline the time frame for that? Could you also please outline what analysis you did to determine the amount of $5 million initially put into the fund for compensation? On what information is that based, on what analysis is that
based; and how confident are you that that is enough to significantly help the industry?

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:38):  Can I finish the last answer first, then. It was disappointing to get that response from MLA. The initial $5 million—and I use the word 'initial'—is to deal with the immediate impacts on the onshore domestic supply chain. In terms of the broader issue, what I was saying before is that I foreshadow that I will be pursuing a reference to a joint committee to look at not only the broader representative bodies but also the domestic impacts and a range of other matters that I want the parliament to address, because it is important that the parliament have oversight of these important issues. A joint committee would be an appropriate way to deal with that. Of course, I do need the support of the parliament to be able to undertake that process, so at this stage I will simply foreshadow that I do want a joint committee to be able to look into some of these issues that you have raised— (Time expired)

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