MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Live Animal Exports – 06 Jul 2011

I stand today to speak on the matter of public importance and, in particular, to defend the comments that the Gillard government has decimated the live cattle trade to Indonesia. The Gillard government is trying to bring the live cattle trade to Indonesia up to standard. We are interested in the long-term sustainability of the industry. I draw attention to a speech that was made on Monday night in the House of Represent­atives by the member for Farrer, Ms Ley. As part of her speech, Ms Ley said:

We urge the government to do everything in its power to restart the live cattle export trade to facilities that can demonstrate humane killing methods.

I could not agree more. Once we have established supply chain assurance to be sure that cattle are processed in appropriate abattoirs with tracking and transparency and independent auditing, we will restart the trade. Ms Ley’s further comments were particularly interesting. She went on to say:

Having been a farmer it broke my heart to see footage of the mistreatment of cattle in some Indonesian abattoirs. There is no excuse for this shameful behaviour. If any person, organisation, industry or government body knew of it and yet did nothing, they would stand condemned, no less by the opposition than by the supporters of this bill.

I find these comments interesting, especially when considering Colin Bettles’s report in Stock & Landonlinelast Friday, which has already been referred to by my colleague Senator Sterle. The article is entitled Coonan forewarned of export footage. If that is accurate, I have a few problems. The article began:

NSW Liberal Senator, Helen Coonan, was given the shocking Indonesian abattoir footage by Animals Australia and the RSPCA in confidence, at least one month prior to the ABC Four Corners program airing on May 30.

It went on to say:

Senator Coonan said having the footage gave her time, before the issue “blew up”, to begin asking Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, questions in Senate budget estimates …

If those reports are accurate, I wonder what Ms Ley thinks of her coalition colleague. Is doing nothing more than coming up with some estimates questions enough to escape her condemnation? Nobody wants to see this kind of cruelty that we saw on Four Corners repeated and I am sure that most cattle farmers would not want to see their cattle mistreated in such a cruel manner.

When some members of the opposition started expressing fabricated outrage they missed the point that allowing this treatment not only is devastating for the cattle but also in the long term will be devastating for the live export industry. The long-term sustainable future of the cattle industry depends on animal welfare assurances all the way down the supply chain. Unless we can guarantee that cattle will not be mistreated, we cannot ensure that sustainable future. That is why the government has taken the action it has. This is not just about ensuring the welfare of the animals we are supplying to the international beef market but about making sure we have an industry that continues to operate into the future.

I think the opposition live in glass houses. I say that because they had more than a decade in government to ensure a sustainable future for the industry yet failed to do anything about it. This is just another example of how the opposition are good at sound bites, they are good at three-word slogans and they know how to deliver bluster, hyperbole and silly political stunts, but what they cannot do is deliver a long-term reform. To illustrate the opposition’s approach to this matter, just look at the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, was reported yesterday as saying there is no reason why the trade could not be resumed straight away. Mr Abbott not only is astonishingly ignorant of the steps the government is taking to ensure improved animal welfare but shows absolutely no interest in finding out about it. He could not even make the time to attend a government briefing that was offered to him on this issue. It just goes to show that Mr Abbott is not the least bit interested in the long-term viability of this industry. What Mr Abbott is interested in is the short term politics.

We understand the difficulties that are being experienced by the industry in the face of this suspension, and that is why we are working hard with the industry, with state governments and with our Indonesian counterparts, to resume the trade on a sustainable basis. We want to see this trade get back up and running. We do not want the suspension to last a day longer than it needs to.

But when we commence that trade we must have appropriate supply chain assurances in place that can guarantee the welfare of livestock, as I said, not only now but into the future. Senator Sterle also mentioned that there are three government ministers working hard to this end. We have got the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd, the Minister for Trade, Dr Emerson, and of course, leading the government’s response to animal welfare issues in Indonesian abattoirs is the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig.

The Gillard government appreciates the importance of the live export industry—in Indonesia and beyond—to Australia’s economy. There is no question about the importance of this industry to the livelihoods of graziers, producers and other stakeholders. During the suspension, we are providing assistance measures to provide short-term support to help the industry through this period. We welcome the establishment of a $5 million industry contingency fund to address animal welfare needs in the short term.

In addition to this, the Prime Minister has announced a $30 million Live Exports Assistance Package to provide short-term help to individual primary producers and related businesses affected by the temporary suspension. This package will build on previous assistance measures, and will provide immediate grants of up to $5,000 for eligible businesses with further grants of $20,000 also to be made available.

Senator Ludwig has also announced income recovery subsidy payments to employees and small business owners who earn the majority of their income from the live cattle trade to Indonesia. Individuals can register straight away with Centrelink for this assistance and receive payments up to the level of Newstart allowance from 7 June for up to 13 weeks. Anyone who has lost their employment can register for priority assistance through Job Services Australia. They will receive immediate and personalised employment services.

Of course the minister is not just working hard with industry and with the Indonesian government to establish supply chain assurances. He has appointed an independent reviewer, Mr Bill Farmer AO, to undertake a complete supply chain review of the live export trade for all markets. He has also met with key animal welfare advocates including the RSPCA and Animals Australia. The minister and the government are committed to reaching the best possible outcome for the industry and the welfare of livestock.

If the opposition doubts our claims that the actions this government have taken, including the temporary suspension, are necessary, then they should listen to the voices of the industry itself. On 8 June, the day after the suspension was announced, Luke Bowen of the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association was reported as saying:

This is something that needs to be fixed and producers more so than anyone are committed to see that happen.

Paul Holmes a Court, of Heytesbury Cattle Company, one of the biggest exporters of live cattle to Indonesia, on 10 June was reported as saying:

Currently our industry can’t guarantee that our standards will be met all the way down the line …


The ban should only be lifted once we have an independent, auditable system which will allow that to happen.

And, on 22 June, Luke Bowen said on Sky:

Clearly we don’t want to see any cattle going into this market unless those supply chains are secure, and there’s no leakage out of those supply chains.

Producers are demanding that.

They don’t want to see their animals going into a situation where they’re going to be exposed to any of the things that we saw, certainly, or any sloppy practice.

So producers, most of all, are demanding that we have to have secure supply chains, and assured, independently accredited supply chains and that’s where we are right now we’re actually making sure that that happens.

So while members of the opposition wax lyrical about the consequences of this suspension for family farms and supporting businesses, they should consider the consequences for business of not getting this right. They should consider the conse­quences that industry have identified because industry know that they do not have a long-term sustainable future if supply chain assurances for animal welfare are not secured.

The Australian government will continue to work with the Indonesian government, the cattle industry and animal welfare organ­isations to develop a robust framework to ensure Australian cattle exports are handled appropriately and in line with community expectations throughout the supply chain. Once those assurances are in place, trade can resume. Until trade resumes, and this industry is back on a sustainable footing, I fully expect we will hear more slogans, more howls of derision, more attempts— (Time expired)