03 June 2013 

Andrew seconded the Voice for Animals (Independent Office of Animal Welfare) Bill 2013 to establish a statutory authority to oversee animal welfare matters.

I second that motion and will take this opportunity to briefly explain my support. There is an urgent need for someone or something to oversee animal welfare in Commonwealth regulated activities because, as sure as hell, the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig and, regrettably, his department do not seem to be up to the job. How else to explain the repeated revelations of animal cruelty in Australia’s live animal export industry since the ABC Four Corners program blew the whistle two years ago on the shocking animal abuse in Indonesian slaughter houses? Revelations are as widespread as at least in Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan and Turkey and probably in more places given the practical limitations on Animal Australia’s investigations and the likelihood of much more abuse going on undiscovered and unreported. Revelations are as diverse as the cutting of tendons to immobilise animals, the butchering of animals still alive because of haste and incompetence, the burying of animals alive because that is one way of disposing of unwanted animals—so long as you do not give a toss about extreme cruelty—and the stabbing of eyes seemingly for fun.

Yes, I know the government reckons all is well now it has implemented that Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. The trouble is all of the cruelty in recent times has occurred despite ESCAS being up and running—the implication being that the system does not guarantee anything or in fact do much other than produce theatre for the government to hide behind.

Bizarrely, the more ESCAS is found to be an entirely inadequate animal welfare safeguard, the more the government trumpets the system’s success on the basis that any breaches highlight the effectiveness of the oversight brought to bear by the system. The trouble is, the breaches are not being picked up by ESCAS but in almost every case by the brave souls in Animals Australia.

The current system does not work and there is genuinely an urgent need to put in place something that does. To that end, I feel that an independent office of animal welfare would be a good solution, not least because it would have an unambiguous mandate to ensure appropriate animal welfare standards are maintained. In other words, the office would not be conflicted like the department and its minister, who juggle what they see as the competing demands of industry profits and animal welfare—and invariably juggle them badly.

This matter does not reflect well on the Liberal and Labor parties because the live animal export industry went unchecked during the 11 years of the Howard government and next to nothing has been done to clean it up during the six years of the Rudd and Gillard governments. In recent years there has been a concerted effort by some in the Labor Party to establish an independent office of animal welfare, which is obviously good thing. But apparently it is a move going nowhere fast, and that reflects very poorly on the Labor Party more broadly. I simply do not understand why the government and the alternative government are so weak on animal welfare. Surely there are enough men and women of good heart populating those parties to ensure animal welfare has a higher priority. But they are largely silenced, in another demonstration of how the party system in this country quashed independent thought at the expense of the public interest and, in this case, animal welfare. It is also another demonstration of the power of big business in this country and its ability to corrupt the development and implementation of good public policy.

Frankly, I believe strongly that the live animal export trade must be stopped and am heartened to know that one day it will be, the only question being when. But, so long as it does continue, at least this bill would provide some protection for the animals. I am proud to second this bill and I congratulate the Greens on progressing it. I can only hope that enough members in this place have the heart and backbone to support it. Those who do not either do not care much about animal welfare or care more about their political self-interest.

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