FEDERATION CHAMBER, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 15 JUNE 2015
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Mr Deputy Speaker, I move the Motion circulated in my name.
Recent reports of unacceptable abuse of Australian cattle in other countries remind us how difficult a task it is to maintain in other - and often developing countries - the animal welfare standards Australians justifiably demand.
But it’s a task worthy of our continuing efforts.
There are two very good reasons:-
First, our live trade exports are providing much needed protein in markets which would be otherwise filled by those not so committed to animal welfare standards.
Second, it’s a trade which is critical to Australia’s economy, earning around $1.5 billion in foreign exchange each year while sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of producer families.
Each year Australia sends around 3 million cattle and sheep to around 26 countries to meet the food needs of their people.
I’m often asked, why don’t we slaughter the animals in Australia? That, it's suggested, would surely mean adding value and creating jobs here.
It would also, it's argued, give us total control over the treatment of the cattle and sheep.
To find the answer to that question we need to first understand that for many reasons, there is a market for live animals begging to be filled.
They range from cultural preferences through to logistical and infrastructure issues including refrigeration.
Further, in some markets, including Indonesia, the buyers are looking for lighter cattle which they can fatten and add value to in their quite efficient feedlots.
If we don’t fill these markets, some other country with lower animal welfare standards will.
That’s the demand side but what about supply?
Here there are three key points.
First, cattlemen in Australia’s far north don’t have the feed and conditions to grow cattle all the way to slaughter weight at this time.
Without the live trade industry, producers in the far north would not be viable.
Second, climatic issues like the North’s wet season and transport difficulties make slaughter, storage and transport to port difficult. Having said that, new abattoirs are emerging in our far north and I welcome that.
Third, the live trade sector provides producers with alternative selling options, bringing competition to the equation and often, better prices for producers.
Australia’s live trade sector is feeding the globe’s growing population in a food-constrained world.
It's creating wealth and jobs here, and raising handling and slaughter standards. It’s also putting pressure on exporters from other countries and the importers they deal with to raise their own standards.
So can Australians have confidence in our industry?
That more than anything else, is what this Parliamentary motion is all about – building public confidence. We have the best animal welfare system in the world.
The positive outcome from the regrettable 2011 live export pause was the introduction of the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS).
This regulatory regime forces exporters to show they have a plan to treat the animals humanely and provides a monitoring and auditing system all the way from port to abattoir.
Heavy sanctions and penalties can be applied for breaches of ESCAS. They range from financial penalties, the suspension of an export licence, the cancellation of a licence, or indeed imprisonment.
It also provides exporters with incentives to do the right thing because breaches tend to bring more oversight, regulatory burden, more regulatory delays, and more costs.
It’s also worth remembering incidents like higher-than-acceptable mortality rates on a voyage results in significant additional costs for exporters. It's in their interest to deliver the goods to the other end in good shape.
But despite the robustness of our regulatory system, reports of animal mistreatment continue to emerge.
These events undermine public support for the trade and this motion puts forward some initiatives designed to maintain and build upon that support.
I've learned that one of the things which undermines the sector's image is a lack of publicly available information about alleged breaches, action taken and sanctions imposed.
That's why I want the Minister to, in the future, regularly report to the Parliament and it’s why Labor wants the Abbott Government to revive our plans to establish an Independent Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports.
The Ministers report will place on the public record an easy to access and understandable account of the state of the sector, any animal welfare incidents and how they have been dealt.
As an independent statutory officer overseeing the work of the Department, the Inspector General will be critical to building and maintaining public trust.
Labor also wants the Government to provide reassurance that the resourcing of our animal welfare systems is keeping pace with growth in the sector.
No system can ever guarantee an incident-free industry, nor can we expect it to.
But we have a responsibility in this place to ensure the system is the best it can possible be and that people can have confidence in it.
This motion is about transparency and accountability and in the interests of the community and the sector alike.
I urge the Government to embrace it.