Image for Shut down this fundamentally broken, systemically cruel trade

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, introducing his Private Members Bill, the Live Animal Export Restriction and Prohibition Bill 2011.

Mr Speaker who could forget the shocking images of animal cruelty we saw on the ABC Four Corners program exactly three weeks ago?

For me the image, more than any other, which is seared into my mind is that of the black beast shaking in fear, the look in its eyes one of abject terror because it was the last of a group to be slaughtered and it had been made to witness the shocking cruelty metered out to one animal after another.

How on earth could the Howard, Rudd and Gillard Governments have allowed such shocking animal mistreatment to have gone on day after day, night after night, in countless slaughterhouses in arguably our most important neighbour, especially the one with which we have such a close link and provide such significant aid?

It’s not like these governments didn’t have cause to keep an eye on our live animal export trade given all the problems the business has experienced year after year, in country after country. In the Middle East alone eight countries have been identified mistreating Australian livestock during just the last eight years.

It beggars belief a succession of Australian governments have let us down in this way, as does the revelation Meat and Livestock Australia has been fleecing producers for years, raking in enormous fees off the back of the lie it was looking after the interests of the Australian live animal export industry and the beasts it deals with, only to be busted as an irresponsible, incompetent, dishonest and uncaring bunch of cowboys.

Mr Speaker no wonder there has been such an extraordinary welling up of public concern since the Four Corners programme. Even those, like me, who have been concerned with live animal exports for a long time felt energised to do whatever we could to finally do something and this Bill, the Live Animal Export Restriction and Prohibition Bill 2011, will do just that.

Most importantly the Bill will end all live animals exports by mid-2014, as it should, because the live animal export system is broken and beyond repair, and the arguments against shutting it down baseless.

For a start ending all live animal exports will not destroy our relationship with Indonesia, because our ties with that country are stronger than critics give them credit for and are certainly strong enough to survive our decision to stop selling it just one form of one particular foodstuff.

Nor will Indonesians go hungry because on average they consume just two kilograms of red meat each a year. In other words, even the complete removal of Australian beef would make virtually no difference whatsoever, except for more affluent Indonesians who tend to eat Australian beef and who have the means to purchase and store boxed Australian meat processed by Australian workers in Australian abattoirs.

And the Indonesian Government plans to be beef self-sufficient by 2014 anyway.

The religious dimension of this matter has also been mischievously overcooked by the live animal export industry, because the fact is that the overwhelming number of relatively affluent Muslims who tend to consume Australian meat would have no objection to buying that meat so long as it’s been processed in an Australian Halal certified abattoir.

Moreover the argument is ridiculous that banning live cattle exports to Indonesia will somehow destroy the beef industry, because the direct and indirect value of the red meat industry in Australia is something in the order of $17 billion dollars and employs some 55,000 workers. By comparison the live export trade comes in at about $1 billion and 10,000 workers. In other words, ending the live export trade will have a marginal effect, even more so when the workers shift to the processed meat sector.

Mr Speaker the economic argument is in fact strongly in favour of banning live animal exports because of the way the trade is cannibalising the processed meat industry at the expense of thousands of Australian jobs. So any short-term commercial jolt will be limited while the medium- to long-term benefit will be enormous.

And in any case the three year phase out period stipulated in the Bill gives the industry more than enough time to move from live to processed meat. For a start within 12 months the mothballed abattoirs in Katherine and Innisfail could be refurbished and reopened, the mooted abattoir in Darwin could be well on its way to completion, and thousands of unemployed and underemployed workers could be trained.

Mr Speaker this Bill dovetails perfectly with the Member for Kennedy’s Motion seeking to energise the Government’s immediate response to Australia’s live animal export crisis. His Motion, which I seconded and which is endorsed by both Animals Australia and the RSPCA, demands the immediate implementation of safeguards in Indonesia including the deployment of Australian Government officials as well as the provision of stun guns and other equipment before a speedy resumption of exports.

This is, I feel, a sensible and politically realistic approach - to quickly put in place effective animal welfare safeguards before the resumption of trade, pending the wind up of the industry within three years.

Such an approach also considers the graziers, the indigenous station hands, the truckers, the shipping line operators, the feed producers, and everyone else involved in the live animal export industry who are in difficulty right now from the jolt of this entirely warranted but nonetheless unexpected decision by Government.

Fast-tracking safeguards in Indonesia is also the only way to help the tens of thousands of animals currently in Indonesian feedlots who are being, and will continue to be, treated in exactly the same way as the poor animals we saw on Four Corners three weeks ago.

Yes, I certainly do see the point in abolishing the industry immediately because the live animal export trade is deeply flawed and no amount of remedial action can be sure to safeguard the animals. But good public policy demands a balance between rhetoric and reality. And there’s no point coming in here with a popular response which fails to help at least the tens of thousands of Australian animals already in Indonesia. Nor is there any point coming in here and calling for an outcome knowing full well it’s just theatre and there’s no chance whatsoever of it being achieved.

Mr Speaker, much has been said of compensation for the Australian live animal export industry and yes, the Government should help the industry deal with the current moratorium’s commercial jolt. But let us not forget it’s Meat and Livestock Australia which stands out as the organisation funded and trusted to safeguard Australia’s live animal export trade and it’s Meat and Livestock Australia which has not given a toss except to suck up the cash while showing complete and utter contempt for the industry which pays its bills.

Nor has MLA apparently shown the slightest regard for the poor Australian beasts in its care which, by any ethical measure, should be treated overseas to the standard or better demanded in this country.

In other words it is MLA which should now put its grubby hands into its very deep pockets and pull out the cash needed to help support the live animal export industry while the Australian Government puts in place the safeguards necessary before trade can resume.

Mr Speaker this country is at a cross-road. Yes, the Government has done the right thing by imposing a moratorium on live animal exports to Indonesia and I applaud it along with the Minister for Agriculture for doing so.

But the real measure of the Government is what it does next. And in this regard the Government must put animal welfare and the public interest ahead of everything else. It must move urgently to put in place the safeguards needed to protect the tens of thousands of beasts already in feedlots in Indonesia, and those which would follow them once the trade is allowed to resume.

More broadly I call on everyone in this place to support the Live Animal Export restriction and Prohibition Bill 2011. It already has the support of Animals Australia and the RSPCA. The support of the Parliament will legislate the safeguards our animals need right now and shut down a trade that is fundamentally broken, systemically cruel and not in Australia’s economic interest.

Thank you Mr Speaker.