Speech - Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports Bill 2018 - House of Representatives - Monday, 18 June 2018

I indicate to the House that I have allocated 50 per cent of my time to the member for Richmond, who will be supporting and seconding the bill.

Community concern about the live trade sector is not new.

Parliamentary reports responding to real and alleged breaches of animal welfare standards date back at least to the early 1980s.

In recent years the drum beat has grown louder. In the 21st century, people have so much access to information. Undesirable events have never before been so easy to record and distribute. It is more difficult than ever before for those doing the wrong thing to hide breaches of animal welfare standards.

In 2011, an ABC Four Corners program screened terrible acts of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs. The weight of community reaction left the then government with little choice but to suspend the live cattle trade until practices in those abattoirs could be changed and modernised.

It was an extraordinarily difficult time for producers and exporters alike. But what grew from it was the Export Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), an internationally recognised animal welfare assurance guarantee.

It is doubtful the industry would ever have accepted ESCAS if it had not been for the suspension of the trade. There were those who argued the regulation and enforcement of animal welfare standards in other countries was not possible.

But ESCAS has been a great success story and a proud Labor achievement.

ESCAS has placed the live cattle trade on a sustainable footing. The sector continues to earn significant export income, create thousands of jobs along the supply chain, create price competition for cattle producers, and provide a market for those northern producers unable to grow cattle to slaughter weight.

The work of the former Labor government persuaded the live export sector of the need to build and maintain a social licence. That is, community support for the industry, its methods and behaviour.

Despite the success of ESCAS and associated efforts, by 2013 it became clear to me that more would need to be done to maintain community support and guarantee compliance with mandated animal welfare standards.

Further incidents in the trade had given weight to claims the regulator was not sufficiently independent and had become captured by the industry.

That's why in July 2013, a Labor government announced the appointment of an independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. As minister at the time, I made an interim appointment pending enabling legislation.

Sadly, an election soon followed and the new Coalition government chose to let the position lapse. It was a most regrettable decision and one driven entirely by political opportunism.

There can be no doubt the decision to abolish the inspector-general has cost the live export industry dearly. It sent a clear message to the industry that the new government would be more tolerant of animal abuse. That it saw no need for a further strengthening of the regulatory system.

The situation was exacerbated by the antics of then Minister Joyce, who encouraged and nurtured the wrong culture within both the industry and the regulator. A culture which in turn promoted a cavalier approach to animal welfare matters.

If the independent oversight of the regulator had continued, we may never have heard of the Awassi Express, and the live sheep sector may have had a future.

In introducing this private member's bill, I make an appeal to all members to back the re-establishment of an independent statutory officer to watch over the regulation of the live export sector.

His or her role will be to ensure correct animal welfare standards are maintained and when there is an alleged breach, the regulator fully and properly investigates the matter, comes to right conclusions and imposes appropriate sanctions.

There can be no argument against the re-establishment of the Inspector-General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports.

Arguments it will result in more red tape for farmers are just silly and mischievous.

The inspector-general will have no reason to interact with producers in the red meat sector.

This proposition now enjoys, it's worth noting, the support of the live export industry. It now just needs the support of this Parliament. A sustainably profitable agriculture sector needs a strong and sustainable animal welfare assurance system, and I commend the bill to the House.


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