Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:44): Evidence emerged in 2011 of cattle being systematically tortured in Indonesia: their eyes gouged and their tails broken, repeatedly stabbed until the ground below then ran red with blood. Many beasts were even allowed to witness the brutal slaughter of other animals. In other words: the brutal slaughter that awaited them, even though scientific research tells us that cattle experience the emotion of fear every bit as much as humans do. One black steer was filmed trembling as he watched and waited, all the time seeing the terrible suffering of the animals before him. The fear was plain in his eyes.
At that time I introduced a bill to ban live exports, but, despite the unprecedented community uprising against the trade, the bill was defeated in this place, with just two votes in its favour. The only tangible outcome of the dreadful footage out of Indonesia was that the government introduced ESCAS, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, about which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said:
These reforms give certainty to the community who made it clear they want better welfare standards …
In August 2011 Animals Australia revealed more shocking cruelty—this time the abuse of Australian sheep in Turkey. Live sheep were hoisted by their legs and left flailing in pain and stress until they were slaughtered while fully conscious, the end often taking several throat cuts, with a blunt knife. Then, in February 2012, more cattle torture was documented back in Indonesia’s abattoirs including, in some cases, the butchering process beginning without anyone even checking that the animal was dead. In other words, Australian cattle were being carved up live, even though these abattoirs were covered by the government’s ESCAS scheme.
In September 2012, Australian sheep were sent, in breach of regulations, to one of the most notoriously cruel livestock markets in the Middle East, the Al Rai market in Kuwait, where a local investigator witnessed at least 200 Australian sheep being sold by traders in the market. Cruelty was commonplace. For instance, one live sheep was dragged across the concrete, dumped on the body of a dead sheep and then kept fully conscious while its throat was sawed out with a small knife.
Then, in October 2012, a shipment of 21,000 Australian sheep was rejected by authorities in Bahrain and the exporter received fast-track approval from the Australian government to offload the sheep in Pakistan, even though that country had not previously been an approved destination for Australian livestock. Curiously, neither the exporter nor the Australian government apparently informed the Pakistan authorities that Bahrain had rejected the sheep for concern about the diseases. In any case, the sheep were ordered cold, with the result that many were beaten to death, their throats sawed at repeatedly. In some cases, they were simply dumped live into mass graves. Many of the buried sheep were still alive hours later.
ESCAS was intended to bring certainty, but, since the introduction of ESCAS, the cruelty has continued unchecked. For instance, video footage taken in a major Israeli abattoir just two months after it had been audited by the Australian government and approved under ESCAS showed Australian cattle being punched, kicked and beaten. It showed cattle unable to regain their feet being repeatedly shocked by electric prodders in their eyes, faces, genitals and anuses. It showed a routine failure of abattoir workers to check whether animals had actually died before commencing processing. Again, Australian cattle were likely being butchered alive. But the only action taken by the Australian government was to require a further audit of the facility, which concluded that the abattoir was operating in accordance with ESCAS standards.
Meanwhile, in January 2013, animal welfare investigators returned to the livestock market in Kuwait I referred to earlier, where the numerous ESCAS breaches had been reported to the Australian government. Nothing had changed. Australian sheep were still being sold and still suffering abuse. Just this month, shocking evidence emerged of live export cruelty in Egypt. Australian cattle had their eyes stabbed and their tendons slashed. One animal remained fully conscious and standing minutes after having its throat cut wide open. Again, the butchering process sometimes began while the animal was still conscious and alive. All this took place in closed-loop facilities claimed by the Australian industry to be state-of-the-art. Yes, the brutalisation of the Australian cattle in Egypt is being investigated under ESCAS. But the latest update from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is that one of the abattoirs in which the brutal footage was filmed has facilities and practices which meet ESCAS standards—the same ESCAS standards that the agriculture minister recently called:
… a once-in-a-generation reform of the live animal export industry to ensure animal welfare.
The very fact that evidence of live export cruelty continues to emerge is bizarrely twisted by the government into evidence that ESCAS actually works. Again, in the words of the agriculture minister, we apparently have in place ‘a system that allows us to investigate those complaints and fix them’. In other words, any evidence of ESCAS breaches is taken to be evidence of ESCAS’s success. No wonder the Australian people have no confidence in the live export industry and that, every time new footage emerges, my office is swamped by correspondence from people who simply cannot understand how we in this place have allowed the cruelty to continue. In the wake of the Indonesian revelations some two years ago, the member for New England spoke for a lot of people when he said:
… the industry will only get one opportunity to get this right …
But, since then, we have seen case after case of continued live export cruelty, including in Indonesia. There is simply no doubt the industry and, ultimately, the government have got it wrong. Surely they are out of last chances.
This is my fourth legislative attempt to curtail live exports, and each time I am met by a hail of reasons why banning or restricting live exports would be a disaster for farmers and rural communities. But that claim is patently false, and the industry and the government well know it—not least because less than 10 per cent of Australian sheep and eight per cent of Australian beef cattle are exported live. In fact, Australia’s sheep and cattle meat industry is worth $16 billion annually, but live exports are worth just $730 million. That is just five per cent. Moreover, our boxed meat trade is booming, with exports to the Middle East up by 65 per cent over the past 12 months. In fact, meat exports to the Middle East are now worth $100 million more a year than the live export trade to that same region.
A report by Sapere Research Group, commissioned by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, determined that Western Australian abattoirs have sufficient spare capacity to process Australia’s entire live sheep trade. So the capacity is there—capacity that would create jobs and build wealth because each sheep processed in Australia is worth 20 per cent more to the economy than a sheep exported. Furthermore, the Australian Agricultural Company is building an abattoir in the Livingstone Valley just south of Darwin which will have the capacity to process some 1,000 head of cattle per day, which will boost the regional economy and create jobs.
The export of processed meat is in Australia’s economic interests. So, by peddling the fiction that Australia’s live export industry has a bright future or indeed any future, the government is actually doing a disservice to the farmers and communities who will have to go through the inevitable transition away from live exports.
On 18 August 2011, my bill to phase out live exports over a period of three years was overwhelmingly rejected in this place. Had it been accepted, we would be 20 months into the transition process by now, and the farmers and those employed in the supply chain would have genuine certainty about their future. Instead we have this tortured circus where revelations of shocking cruelty are followed by dishonest crocodile tears from the government in the face of the mounting community outcry.
The live animal export trade must end and indeed it will, the only question being exactly when. Of course, we have the opportunity to end it here and to pass the bill to do so this very week. Those who do not take this opportunity are either heartless or gutless, or both. Thank you.