Mr WILKIE (Denison) (20:00): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Five weeks ago tonight the ABC Four Corners program exposed the shocking cruelty routinely meted out to Australian livestock in Indonesia. The images sent shockwaves throughout Australia, not just because of the severity of the cruelty but also because of the compelling evidence that we had been terribly let down by a succession of negligent Australian governments and betrayed by an industry fundamentally dishonest, uncaring and incompetent. How the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments allowed such terrible cruelty to go on day after day escapes me. And allow it they did, because few if any countries are subject to such intense Australian scrutiny as Indonesia. Nor is it as though Australia did not have cause to keep a close 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 the last eight years.
More broadly, Meat and Livestock Australia’s role in this sorry mess has been deservedly well remarked upon by now. While MLA’s response has been largely to claim that little of it is their fault, that they are being unfairly blamed and should not have to pay compensation from their bulging coffers, the fact is that countless primary producers put their faith in this iconic Australian organisation and they feel desperately let down. A case in point is a friend of mine from Longford in northern Tasmania. He pays about $5,000 each year to MLA on the assumption the organisation is competently safeguarding and growing Australia’s meat industry. Significantly, he recounts numerous events at which MLA assured him all was well overseas, and the result is that this saga has left him feeling terribly let down.
It is no wonder there has been such an extraordinary public reaction to the Four Corners program. Even those who, like me, have been concerned with live animal exports for a long time felt energised to do whatever we could to finally address the problem, and the Live Animal Export Restriction and Prohibition Bill 2011 will do just that. The bill has two essential parts, the first being the implementation of essential safeguards before the live animal trade with Indonesia can resume and the second being the winding up of the industry in three years time. In the first part of the bill the trade can resume as soon as the government can be confident livestock for slaughter will be treated satisfactorily in their country of destination. In essence this would be the case if Australian livestock are kept overseas in holding premises that comply with the Holding Standards; are transported to slaughter, unloaded, kept in lairage and slaughtered in accordance with the OIE guidelines; and are stunned using appropriate humane restraints immediately before slaughter.
Fast-tracking the implementation of such safeguards in Indonesia is in fact the only way to help the tens of thousands of animals currently in Indonesian feedlots who are being, and will continue to be, treated the same way as the poor animals we saw on Four Corners. For that reason alone we cannot just walk away. Moreover we should also consider the human dimension of this mess, namely the graziers, the station hands, the truck and ship operators, the feed producers and everyone else involved in the trade who need protection from the jolt of this warranted but unexpected decision by government.
The second essential component of this bill is that the export of all livestock to all countries will be prohibited from 1 July 2014. How this will address the animal welfare problems endemic to the industry, for instance the shocking conditions on the long-haul voyage to the Middle East, is self-evident. But also important is the way in which it will accommodate the compelling economic argument for ending live animal exports, on account of the way the trade is cannibalising the processed meat industry at the expense of thousands of Australian jobs. The decision to phase out live animal exports to Indonesia by 2014 has virtually been made for us anyway, because the Indonesian government has long planned to achieve beef self-sufficiency by about then. Yes, Jakarta’s goal is ambitious and its 2014 goal seems very unlikely to be achieved, but the writing is on the wall for the Australian live animal export industry and it would be foolish of us not to be preparing now for the closure of that significant market.
The three year phase-out period stipulated in the bill gives the industry enough time to move from live to processed meat. In that time, for instance, stockholdings could be adjusted and seasonal challenges and fattening arrangements addressed. Three years would also give plenty of time for the abattoirs in Katherine and Innisfail, for instance, to be reopened and the mooted abattoir in Darwin to be up and running. This bill obviously has its opponents and I respect their concerns. But it must be said that ending live animal exports will simply not destroy the Australian beef industry because live exports are only a small part of the overall red meat industry. In fact, while the direct and indirect value of the red meat industry in Australia is $17 billion dollars and employs 55,000 workers, the value of the live export trade is at best only $1 billion and 10,000 workers. Ending live animal exports will not cause famine in Indonesia because Australian meat is simply not on the menu for the vast majority of Indonesians. On average our near neighbours each consume just two kilograms of red meat each year so even the complete removal of Australian beef would make virtually no difference whatsoever to their nutrition, except perhaps for more affluent Indonesians who do tend to eat Australian beef and who have the means to purchase and store boxed Australian meat processed by Australian workers in Australian abattoirs. In other words, the ending of live animal exports to Indonesia alone will not destroy the Indonesia-Australia bilateral relationship. And in any case, the Indonesia-Australia relationship is easily strong enough to survive a genuinely serious jolt, let alone an Australian decision to stop selling Indonesia just one form of one particular foodstuff.
Moreover, ending live animal exports, and ritual slaughter in Australia for that matter, has obviously nothing to do with the fringe explanations that have bubbled up in recent weeks—for instance, that it is somehow anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic or part of some vegetarian agenda. No, this bill is simply to do with putting safeguards in place as quickly as we humanly can so live animal exports to Indonesia can resume, and then giving the industry the time it needs to transition to reliance on onshore processing.
I acknowledge that there is another bill currently before the parliament which would see Australia’s live animal export industry wound up immediately. But good policy must get the balance right and be progressed in such a way as to give it the best chance of success. Politics really is, after all, the art of the possible. So there is no point pursuing a policy to immediately end the trade, as popular as doing so would surely be for many Australians, only to have it fail to gain political support and thereby fail to help the tens of thousands of Australian animals already in Indonesia. Nor would there be sense in such a bill actually succeeding if it created too great an immediate jolt for the many people involved in the live animal export trade caught unawares by the Four Corners expose and the government’s response.
The true measure of the government is what it does next. In this regard, it must urgently put in place the safeguards needed to protect the beasts already in feedlots in Indonesia and those which would follow them once the trade is allowed to resume. Then it must move to wind up an industry which has proven many times to be deeply unsound. This should be a matter of conscience and I appeal to all in this place to follow your heart and support the bill. It already has the support of Animals Australia, the RSPCA and many people involved in the beef industry. 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. Finally, I thank Lyn White from Animals Australia for her courageous work to help the animals and make this world a better place.