Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (15:29): I too would like to take note of the minister's answers on this issue, and note that he did not actually answer one of my questions, which asked: what is the government going to do about Meat and Livestock Australia's role in this whole business?
They clearly had a responsibility to maintain—in fact, improve—animal welfare standards and clearly have not done that. I asked the question amongst all of the comments made here around the issues of evidence. I thought the evidence was pretty compelling when I saw Four Corners, I have to admit. Is the proposition here that we should go on allowing that sort of cruelty to occur while we collect even more evidence? It is quite plain that these animals were suffering terrible, inhumane treatment, and the government did the right thing, we believe, in suspending exports to Indonesia. That was the only humane approach that this government could take.
Having said that, we do believe that there are many, many questions unanswered. I know that the minister has an inquiry being undertaken, but he has not been clear about what he intends to do about the role that Meat and Livestock Australia took—what they knew about the ongoing treatment of these animals in Indonesia, what they did about and what the industry representatives knew about it. The representatives from these organisations have been in Indonesia; they have visited the abattoirs that we saw so graphically depicted on Four Corners. And they thought that sort of treatment was okay? How could our cattle industry be allowed to get into the crisis that it faces today? That is the big question. What were the industry representatives doing about that? Why were the MLA not taking action much earlier than they have?
The issue, then, is around compensation, which is what I asked the government about today. I must say that I was pleased that the government said that they are now going to be exercising their power to require Meat and Livestock Australia to open their contingency fund to help those producers that are affected by this decision. Meat and Livestock Australia should not have to be forced to open that contingency fund. They must bear at least some share of the responsibility for the outcome we have at this point for the industry. There is absolutely no doubt that they should have known what was going on, they should have taken action and they should not have allowed this sector to get into the position it is in now. Having not done that, they do not even want to open their contingency fund—funding that the industry has provided in order for them to improve welfare standards for these animals—and government now has to force them. They should have been dealing with this issue earlier. Now that they are, they need to act immediately so that funding can be made available. I would also like to know on what basis they think that the initial $5 million is adequate and whether they have done an analysis on how much funding is required.
We then need to be looking at how we can improve processing in this country so that this issue does not eventuate again. I think people are very clear about what the Greens' position is—that is, we do not support the live export of livestock for slaughter. We have made that very clear in our policies; we do not believe that should occur. What we believe we need to be doing is investing resources in this country so that we carry out processing in this country. Then we need to be using the marketing skills that bodies such as Meat and Livestock Australia are supposed to have to market processed and chilled meat, and we need to be generating jobs in regional Australia so that we are no longer exporting jobs and so that we can produce a quality product here in this country that supports our cattle industry and processing in this country but still enables us to export a quality product.
The Greens will be pursuing both a ban on the export of livestock for slaughter and we are also pursuing—and if people have read the motions that have been tabled or introduced today they will see that I have tabled a motion—referring Meat and Livestock Australia's role in this whole issue to a committee inquiry. We believe that we need to get to the bottom of exactly what role Meat and Livestock Australia had in this issue, how much they knew, what processes they have put in place to deal with those issues and how many times they have visited these abattoirs. First off, they told us in estimates that everything was okay; that animal practices in Indonesia were okay. Less than a week later, we saw that it was not okay on the Four Corners show. Less than a week before that, they were assuring a Senate committee that all was okay.