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Transcript of Rachel's Live Exports Speech

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 15 Oct 2012

Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on Agriculture speaks about the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012.

I of course rise to support this piece of legislation, the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012. I am glad I am a little down the speaking list because it gives me an opportunity to respond to some of the claims that have been made from both sides of the chamber. The reason we are having this debate is that the government and the industry have not been able to demonstrate that they can deal with the consistent cruelty we see in this trade. Last year we had a very substantive debate about export of live cattle—and I will go into some of the details of that in a minute. As a result of that debate, changes were made that were supposed to ensure that these sorts of things do not happen again. Yet playing out just recently we have seen the extremely cruel and tragic images of sheep being subjected to cruelty. The fact that those sheep have been subjected to that cruelty shows very clearly that the processes the government has put in place to supposedly ensure that this trade is no longer cruel have simply failed. 

This bill will put an end to the horrific treatment of Australian livestock that are currently transported overseas and processed in overseas abattoirs. We are the ones that prompted the wide-ranging inquiry into the live export industry that was carried out by the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee last year that did open up the trade to parliamentary scrutiny. 

There have been a number of claims made during this debate about organisations that have held onto images and supposedly planned this attack on the industry. The likes of Animals Australia and the RSPCA have for years and years been trying to highlight the cruelty of this industry. They have looked at the numbers of sheep and cattle that have died while being transported overseas—and I will go into some of those numbers shortly. For years these organisations have taken images that they have managed to get to ministers on both sides—both previously under the coalition but also under the ALP—and for years ministers and governments have ignored those images. Of course, organisations like Animals Australia and the RSPCA took those images elsewhere to try and get somebody to pay attention because governments and industry would not. 

Senator Scullion says, 'Senator Siewert, you go and explain to the Northern Territory pastoralists and to Aboriginal pastoralists why the ban was put in place and why you are seeking to change this.' Well, I put it back to the industry. Industry had responsibility to make sure that their industry was not cruel and that these measures were put in place, and they simply have not been able to do that. 

This sort of legislation is needed because there is an ongoing failure by both industry and government to be able to ensure, control and maintain welfare standards. The appalling treatment of animals in Kuwait markets, the stranding and the repeated filming and vision of mistreatment highlight yet again that we are not able to ensure welfare standards. The recent stranding of the 22,000 sheep offshore from Bahrain and then their subsequent treatment in Pakistan are the most recent and graphic examples of the failures of the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, the ESCAS. I understand we still do not know what has happened to the remaining animals. We know that about half of them were killed in what is reported to have been very cruel circumstances. We actually cannot find out what has happened to some of those remaining animals. 

It just shows that we cannot control what happens in other countries. We cannot guarantee that animals are treated humanely, that the process is cruelty free and that we are maintaining welfare standards. In other words, we cannot trust that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System is working. We have to continue to rely on investigations and revelations by animal welfare groups like Animals Australia, the RSPCA and investigative journalists to reveal this cruelty. Their work highlights what is going on. It gets back to my point that is these organisations that are highlighting it. If government will not listen then of course organisations are going to go elsewhere and show this footage and highlight what is going on. 

On that vision that we saw last year, people have been trying to raise this issue for years and years to no avail. I do get extremely frustrated when there are scurrilous attacks made on these organisations that are unfounded, when it is those organisations that have raised awareness and succeeded in getting adequate—no, not adequate they are still inadequate, but at least better—controls put in place than would have previously been there. Yet it is those organisations that get attacked. If those organisations had not got that footage and shown that footage those practices would still be happening right now. And we are still seeing cruelty. The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System was put in place as a quick fix. Really it was about saving face rather than significantly improving the conditions for Australian animals. 

We said at the time we had very, very strong concerns. We said at the time that this would not fix the issue. We expressed very strong concerns, for example, that it did not include preslaughter stunning. The assurance system is based on OIE standards, which are basic standards essentially prepared for developing countries. With that in mind, they are the minimum basic standards. The OIE guidelines offer significantly less protection than animal welfare standards enforced in Australia. They allow practices to take place in foreign markets that would be illegal in Australia. These guidelines do not require animals to be stunned before slaughter and do not prevent the roping, tripping and casting of animals. 

Ultimately the Australian Greens believe that there is no way to implement safeguards that can guarantee the humane transport and slaughter of animals in overseas markets and we do not believe that the implementation of a traceability system will adequately prevent Australian animals from cruel treatment. We can see this in the latest debacle that has unfolded before our eyes, where sheep are sent over, claims of disease are made and then what we do we do? 'Oh, we'll take them to Pakistan; we can guarantee the safeguards there, can't we?' No, we cannot—we have seen that. 

My office certainly received a huge number of phone calls and emails from people expressing their concern—and I know the export company concerned did. Well, I am relying on media for that. We have seen media reports where they also received a large number of concerns. I am sure they were very frustrated, because they could not control what was going on. They could not guarantee the sheep under their control were being appropriately treated. We cannot guarantee that. 

We need to look at how to improve and increase processing in Australia. We should be able to support local producers and jobs. The community benefits of processing meat in Australia have been underestimated for too long and have been talked down by the live export industry. Live exports compete and undermine Australia's ability to look at domestic processing, both in the beef and sheep markets. This leads to lost processing opportunities in Australia. Senator Rhiannon, when she was opening the debate on this legislation, referred to some work that was done by ACIL Tasman on the opportunity to do processing in Australia. A report in 2009 by ACIL Tasman reported that WA sheep processors estimated that the number of jobs in meat processing would increase to about 4,000 from the 2,000 then employed in WA if sheep were processed domestically rather than exported live. 

Taking into account multiplier effects, it is likely that the increase in employment would in fact be much higher than that. In 2012 ACIL Tasman estimated that the construction of an abattoir in Northern Australia, which would provide Northern Australian cattle producers with an alternative market for their cattle and eliminate their reliance on the live cattle trade, would create about 160 to 170 jobs directly and an estimated 1,300 jobs indirectly in the region. 

Senator Sterle touched on this issue and was implying that we had rocks in our heads if we thought that that sort of thing was going to happen and also highlighted the importance of jobs in the Kimberley. I could not agree more with him about the importance of jobs in the Kimberley. But if you look at where the jobs are being generated in the Kimberley, if you look at where the highest employment rates in the Kimberley are, the four biggest industries by employment in the Kimberley are healthcare and social assistance, public administration and safety, education and training and the retail trade. Followed closely behind retail trade is accommodation/tourism and food and construction. So food is in there but lower down. That is where the job opportunities are. 

My point here is that we should be investing in alternatives to live cattle exports. If we did we would generate more jobs. Why isn't the government looking at the tariffs, subsidies, quotas and other distortions of the market in the countries to which we export that actually distort the market, so it is more favourable to them to import live cattle or sheep rather than meat? The government need to be reviewing barriers in the countries that we export to and start discussing with these countries removing those barriers to the meat trade so that there are not the inappropriate distortions which favour live export rather than the chilled meat trade. 

Where the recent debate started of course was over the appalling treatment of cattle that we saw last year. The debate has focused heavily on that trade to Indonesia. A couple of years ago, as was very quickly touched on, the Indonesians brought in a rule that you could no longer trade in cattle over 350 kilograms because they wanted to take those cattle and fatten them up in Indonesia. Around that time they clearly said that they wanted Indonesia to be self-sustaining and they would then base their decisions, on live imports or on bringing cattle in, on that. Of course, this year they made that announcement and the industry seems to be shocked by it. We need to be looking at how we can be processing our meat in Australia rather than being shocked every time the Indonesians think about how they make their own trade sustainable. That is why we believe government needs to be doing more to look at what are the barriers to our being able to improve our exports of chilled meat or processed meat, which would generate jobs in Australia rather than exporting those jobs overseas. There is some work that has been done on that and we need to be doing more. 

I would also like to touch on the issue of the Greens and agriculture. I find in particular Senator Sterle's comments rather a joke, quite frankly, coming from the government, coming from Labor, who do not understand agriculture, do not understand the bush, have wrecked Caring for our Country funding, have moved away from a sustainable approach, are moving away from a planning approach, are moving away from a landscape scale planning approach and landscape scar repair, have moved away from funding research that is absolutely critical to agriculture if it is going to move into the future and have moved away from funding extension officers—all the very things that are going to keep our agriculture sustainable into the future. They are not adequately addressing the need for research which is going to be absolutely critical in the future. 

I am really sick of arguments that try to denigrate the Greens rather than actually deal with the issue at heart: a truly sustainable agriculture that is competitive. We need that research so that our agriculture is competitive, but it has to be sustainable. It has to have that leading edge. Where is the money for investment in that research? That has been cut and I have had a lot of farming organisation representatives at my door talking about the need for improved research and about the need to make our agriculture sustainable and competitive. We do understand that clearly and we also understand about generating jobs in Australia and not exporting them overseas, which is what the live export trade does. We believe we need to be processing much more in Australia and we need to be focusing on how we can support further processing facilities in Australia. 

Articulated economic analysis shows how we can improve job prospects in Australia and we can benefit producers if we can do more processing in Australia, and that, of course, will help regional communities. We support the development of these facilities that are sustainable, meet environmental development standards and are supported by local communities. We believe we need support across the board for this to happen and for investment to be made in the long-term future of the livestock industry. We believe that we can build up a market that demands high-quality frozen meat and that Australia needs to be able to step up and help generate and meet that demand. Processing animals in Australia protects them from inhumane treatment that we would otherwise continue to see because we cannot guarantee that welfare standards are met. We have seen that we cannot rely on the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. We have now seen that we cannot rely on that. Yes, the government is carrying out an investigation but it cannot adequately enforce these standards overseas. 

We need to be moving to ensure that the cruelty that happens to these animals does not continue to happen. There needs to be a multipronged approach to this. I accept that the processing market needs significant investment and that it needs time to develop, but we do not want to see the continuation of deaths, like those of the 19,000 sheep that died at sea in 2011 or the 1,000 cattle that died in transport, and we do not want to see images of the cruel and inhumane treatment that occurs in some overseas abattoirs to the animals that do survive those journeys splashed across not only Australia but also across the world. 

The government wanted us to think that when they put this assurance scheme in place cruelty would end and we would not see it anymore. Well, it did not end. It has continued and nobody can guarantee that it will end, because we cannot ensure enforcement of this system overseas. It is unfortunate, and it distresses me immensely, that we cannot and that we will see those images again. As I said, we do not know what has happened to those remaining sheep that were alive just last week. We just do not know what has happened to them. 

This sort of trade cannot continue. We need to be looking at how we can foster truly sustainable agriculture in this country. That requires thinking outside the box. That requires investment. That requires talking to our trading partners and looking at those barriers. We are 'supposed' to be doing that in this country, and our agriculture has suffered because of that. Talk to the apple growers, and we were talking in this chamber earlier today about pineapples. We need to be doing things differently and we need to be protecting animals while growing sustainable agriculture in this country. 


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