Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:14): At 8.30 pm on Monday, 30 May this year, an estimated 494,000 Australians gathered in front of their television sets to watch the Four Corners episode ‘A bloody business’. Half a million viewers is significantly fewer than what would normally tune into Four Corners. Apparently, a lot of people did not watch this particular episode because they had seen the promotions and knew they simply would not be able to bring themselves to watch the shocking footage.
The people who did watch that night saw exactly how Australian cattle were treated in Indonesia, as part of our supposedly world-leading live export industry. They saw our beasts beaten, their legs and tails broken, eyes gouged, heads slapped repeatedly against concrete blocks and throats hacked at with blunt knives. In other words, they were left shocked and disgusted and wanting to know how such things could happen right under the noses of Australian regulators and the industry body, the MLA.
The next morning—five months ago to the day—Australians were talking about little else. The issue dominated TV news, talkback radio, social media and the newspapers. Online news sites were flooded with comments and politicians were overwhelmed by correspondence. My office received thousands of emails in the weeks following the program. This was the public of Australia sending a very clear message to this parliament and to this government that something needed to be done, and done quickly. But when Senator Nick Xenophon and I attempted to legislate a three-year phase-out of Australia’s cruel and economically counterproductive live animal export trade, the government and the opposition teamed up to defeat the proposal. And many months later the Labor caucus gutted a motion from the member for Makin which would have required the stunning of Australian livestock sent overseas for slaughter. As we know, the ALP, in a cynical endorsement of the status quo, diminished his motion to ‘encourage’ stunning.
It is because of this failure by the government that I now present this bill, the Livestock Export (Animal Welfare Conditions) Bill 2011. It is still my belief that Australia’s live export industry should eventually be phased out. But incremental reform is better than no reform, and it is to that end that I now propose to legislate stunning before slaughter in all of Australia’s live export markets.
This is not a radical proposal and it does not spell the end of Australia’s live export industry. What it does promise to do is simply ensure that when we do export livestock to be slaughtered, there be at least some sensible animal welfare conditions attached—in particular that livestock are kept and transported in accordance with international animal welfare standards, and that they are slaughtered according to the same standards we expect when animals are slaughtered in Australia. These are measures supported by a large majority of the Australian community and, I might add, by many farmers, who were deeply shocked by the images they saw on Four Corners.
Now, the government and the opposition have previously argued against mandatory stunning, and to support their position they have brought out the same two arguments, both of which are demonstrably untrue. The first is that mandatory stunning is neither feasible nor cost-effective to implement in our overseas markets. In support, a May 2010 report from Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp points to ‘significant impediments in Indonesia to slow the movement’ towards widespread stunning of cattle before slaughter. The report concluded that ‘the general adoption of stunning in the slaughter of Australian cattle in Indonesia should be an aspirational goal’.
But the reality is that the experience in Indonesia shows clearly that stunning can be rolled out across a large number of abattoirs very quickly and cheaply. Prior to the Four Corners episode going to air only five Indonesian abattoirs stunned Australian cattle prior to slaughter. But by the end of this year that number will be closer to 70, which will account for up to 90 per cent of Australian cattle slaughtered in Indonesia. In other words, over a period of less than six months 65 Indonesian abattoirs have gained or will gain a stunning capability which will allow them to slaughter Australian livestock to an Australian standard. This is a major development and one that the industry told us was impossible. So in reality, none of the ‘significant impediments’ the industry identified caused any real problems and Indonesian processors have got on with the job of improving animal welfare outcomes.
The second argument we hear against mandating stunning in our live export markets is that we do not require stunning here in Australia and that it would therefore be hypocritical to require it overseas. But this claim is patently untrue—a lie, in other words—because the relevant Australian standard states very clearly:
Before sticking commences animals are stunned in a way that ensures the animals are unconscious and insensible to pain before sticking occurs and do not regain consciousness or sensibility before dying.
Perhaps there is confusion about the limited exceptions that exist in some circumstances in Australia under arrangements for ritual slaughter. But in these cases the Australian standard ensures:
An animal that is stuck without first being stunned and is not rendered unconscious as part of its ritual slaughter is stunned without delay after it is stuck to ensure that it is rendered unconscious.
Now, while this practice has certainly been questioned by animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA and is clearly in need of urgent revision, it does show us very clearly that it is misleading to state that we do not require animals to be stunned here in Australia.
Moreover, there can simply be no argument whatsoever mounted to claim that this bill, the Livestock Export (Animal Welfare Conditions) Bill 2011, would legislate anything above and beyond what is required in Australia. This bill states very clearly that it only places a requirement that Australian livestock slaughtered overseas must be ‘slaughtered in accordance with the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption’. Put at its simplest, there is nothing whatsoever in this bill which would require anything beyond what is required in Australia, and any claim otherwise is clearly false. The Australian people are disgusted by the horrific treatment of animals in some of Australia’s live export markets. The footage we have seen time and time again shows us that if this industry is going to continue into the future then it must operate under the strictest possible controls.
I have praised the efforts of Animals Australia and the RSPCA in this place before and I wish to do so once more. Decades of reliance on industry self-regulation have done next to nothing to improve animal welfare in our live export trade. The limited improvements we have seen can mostly be put down to the tireless advocacy of these and other animal welfare groups. This should not have to be the case. The responsibility for regulating Australia’s life export industry should not be put down to a video camera, the courage of Lyn White from Animals Australia and the collective outrage of the Australian people.
From now on, we must know that animals we export will be treated humanely wherever we send them. We must have confidence they will be stunned before slaughter and slaughtered in accordance with the basic principles of animal welfare. What would we have become to allow anything else? We know that this is possible and we know that this is affordable. We know exactly what we can again expect if this does not happen. Five months ago, almost to the day, I was one of the 494,000 Australians watching Four Corners and seeing some of the most horrific and inexcusable treatment of animals imaginable. I vowed at that time to do whatever I could to do something about it. I found one image particularly moving. A black beast was standing in an Indonesian abattoir, wide-eyed and trembling, having witnessed the cattle in front of him being brutally and painfully slaughtered, clearly knowing the awful fate he was to suffer.
A lot of things must have gone wrong to allow this to happen. As elected representatives and legislators, we have a clear responsibility to genuinely ensure that these episodes are not repeated. It is to that end I commend the bill to the House.