Senator Andrew BARTLETT
Leader of the Australian Democrats
Speech to the Senate 31 March 2004

Live Animal Exports

I would like to speak today on the issue of the live animal export trade. This issue is topical at the moment and, indeed, has been topical, off and on, for many years throughout Australia. The Senate set up the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare back in the 1980s. The committee was established on a motion by former Democrat leader Don Chipp, and one of the first inquiries of the committee was into the live sheep trade. It came down with a report and recommendations that highlighted significant problems with animal welfare in the live sheep trade nearly 20 years ago. Despite all of the concerns that have been expressed repeatedly by animal welfare organisations—from the RSPCA through to Animal Liberation and many other organisations in between—other community groups, industry organisations and, most importantly, the general community there continues to be a clear-cut situation where the level of cruelty involved in this trade is simply unacceptable. On top of that, we have clear-cut evidence that the trade costs jobs in Australia. We have a significant decline in the number of meatworks in Australia, and a clear opportunity for value adding in Australia is lost because of the export of live animals as what is obviously produce in its rawest form.

The trade has basically had 20 years to get its act together. Despite repeated assurances from consecutive governments that the trade will get its act together, that it has got its act together and that standards have been improved, time after time there is another incident, another public outcry, another inquiry and more assurances that it is fixed up—until the next time it happens. I believe the industry has had enough chances and it is time to genuinely look at moving to phasing it out. There is clearly an alternative industry that is actually bigger. The slaughtered meat trade, the processed meat trade, the frozen carcass trade, is already four to five times larger than the live animal trade. The processed meat and frozen carcass trade is the one that generates jobs in Australia, and it is conducted in a way that is much closer to acceptable animal welfare standards than those overseas.

Two things in the last week have once again reinforced the significance of this issue. On the weekend we had more footage screened on 60 Minutes highlighting the unbelievable cruelty involved in the live animal trade. It is not sufficient for the Australian government to say that they are concerned about animal welfare standards and to make all the right noises when it is clear that the animals that are involved in the trade are subjected to unspeakable cruelty. After 20 years it is clear that the trade, the industry, is either not willing or not able to address that level of cruelty. Some of the footage that was shown on 60 Minutes was simply stomach turning in its cruelty to the animals. What is particularly damning about the footage is that, yet again, it was up to animal activists, veterinarians, individuals and non-government organisations to get the evidence. The industry and governments have repeatedly failed in monitoring and providing the facts about the reality of what the animals endure, and it has been up to others to highlight the truth.

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I do admit and acknowledge that changes have been made over time, but a lot of those have been made only because the industry have been exposed in terms of the level of cruelty that is involved. The industry’s claim that they can, in the long term, influence animal welfare in countries that we export to simply does not stand up to the evidence. The trade has been going on for a long time now, and the animals are suffering enormously now. The handling and slaughter practices are completely unacceptable and would not come even remotely close to the standards that are required here in Australia. There is no way the industry can credibly claim that they are having a positive impact on standards overseas. The minimal improvements that have been made overseas have been happening only as a result of exposure to material such as that shown on 60 Minutes. Exposure such as that was in the Australian Veterinary Association magazine a year or two ago, and I spoke about it in the Senate at the time. The fact is that the reality of slaughtering and handling standards of such cruelty, way below the standards required in Australia, means that the processes in Australia are being undercut by others who do not have to meet those standards. In effect, they are subsidising the industries in other countries that do not have to meet those standards.

I draw the Senate’s attention to an article in the Australian on Monday of last week by Richard Yallop, which highlighted a Western Australian government report on the live animal export trade. That report has not been released, perhaps not surprisingly because it was critical of the live export trade in terms of its economic impact, not specifically about the animal welfare components. The report related to the issue of jobs in the live export trade versus jobs in Australia. It said that the federal government subsidises the services provided to live exporters. The report found that the government has distorted the competition between the live export trade and processed meat exporters by subjecting the processed meat sector to taxes and charges not levied on live exporters. So taxes and charges are levied on the meat sector in Australia that are not applied to the section of the industry that exports live animals. Also, higher standards are required of the processed meat sector than those that apply to the live animal sector. In effect, not only is this unspeakably cruel industry allowed to continue; it is doing so in a way that is costing Australians jobs and it is actually being subsidised by governments along the way. That is an absurdity, and it is something that needs to be responded to directly. It is time that that report was formally released.

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Yesterday we did have the response by the minister, Mr Truss, to the Keniry report, which was specifically commissioned following the latest in a long line of debacles surrounding the live export industry—the Cormo Express debacle. The report was a useful contribution and is something that at least gives an outline of some of the many problems with the industry. But the terms of reference for the Keniry review related only to the preparation, selection, loading and shipboard phase of the live export process. They did not address more comprehensively the inherent nature of transportation stress. In particular there was no brief in relation to the treatment of the animals in the importing countries, about what happens when they get to the other end, when they are offloaded, when they are transported again, when they are slaughtered, when they are taken to market—all of those aspects that are an inevitable component of Australia’s willingness to allow live animals to be exported from Australia.

So by necessity, because of the limited terms of reference, the Keniry review was only able to deal with a certain component of the industry. It did make some good recommendations, I must say. But it is disappointing that the minister did not accept all of those recommendations, and that is something that highlights again the fact that this industry continues to have the government in its sway despite the enormous amount of community concern about the issue. I have no doubt that all senators would be aware just how strong the concern is amongst the Australian community about this issue. Signatures from over 100,000 Australians have been tabled in the Senate expressing concern about the live animal export industry and wanting action. They have been waiting a long time. The changes that have been made over the last 20 years have not been adequate. We can see quite clearly—as we have seen on 60 Minutes and as we saw from the Cormo Express debacle—that the suffering continues and that the job losses continue in Australia.

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Whilst we welcome the fact there has been some movement from the government, some adoption of the recommendations, finally we have a requirement that there will actually be a vet on board all voyages to the Middle East. That is something that people have been calling for for well over a decade. What we need is to ensure that all those reports are provided—and they will be provided directly to AQIS. Previously we had the absurd situation of reports provided to Livecorp which this Senate asked for—I had motions successfully passed requiring reports to Livecorp be tabled in the Senate—not being tabled because the government said: ‘We can’t because Livecorp is an independent organisation; it’s not a government organisation. There are commercial-in-confidence issues.’ So we could not even get on the public record what the reports showed. We need to make sure that those reports that are provided to AQIS by these veterinarians are able to be made publicly available, that there is not just more of the industry closed shop. There will be a new code of practice, according to the government. That is welcome in theory. It is not going to be finalised until the end of this year. How long is it going to take? How many chances are they going to get? It might sound good, but that is what we have heard before, time after time: ‘We’ll improve the standards. We’ve done a review. We’ll get a new code of practice; we’ll fix it up.’ You can bet that the code of practice will not deal with the problems such as those that were outlined on 60 Minutes.

The government has outlined the requirements that will be needed for exporters to get a licence. It talks about requirements such as demonstrated competency in putting together export consignments, integrity and the company’s export history. There is no mention of animal welfare. It does not even bother to mention it in the requirements for getting a licence. I think it is only a partially positive response from the government, and some of that is really more words than deeds. The big thing, of course, is that the government has ignored the recommendations to not allow export of live animals from particular ports, which are Portland and Adelaide, at particular times of the year. That recommendation was made not because people were wanting to be difficult, just to make life hard; it was made because it was clearly identified that there were major problems involved in that that were not going to be able to be overcome. That has been ignored as well.

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That is a fairly disappointing response as far as the Democrats are concerned. Obviously any improvement is better than nothing, but there is no point in even pretending that it is going to address the serious and longstanding concerns about the cruelty involved in this trade. It is continuing and these sorts of changes are just not going to address them. The government has to acknowledge that the trade is taking jobs away from Australia and involves utterly unacceptable levels of cruelty. Clearly the industry is not capable of addressing those levels of cruelty. It also means, as the report in the Australian shows, that in effect the sector here in Australia that processes meat is subsidising—and losing jobs as a consequence—the lower value live export trade.

The reasons that are used in favour of live export against substitution have been used many times with very little basis. The suggestion that there is not enough refrigeration in Middle Eastern countries to take processed meat is simply not true. In relation to the suggestion that they have to take meat that is slaughtered in a particular way, halal slaughtering is done in Australia, and that meat is exported. In the vision that was shown on 60 Minutes on the weekend they were not even doing it in accordance with halal requirements. So there is very little substance to most of the arguments that are put forward. They are just excuses, and I think the Australian public has had enough of excuses. It is time to move to get rid of this trade.

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