Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Amendment) (Tagging Live-stock) Bill 2016:

Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Amendment) (Tagging Live-stock) Bill 2016:

Explanatory memorandum

That this bill be now read a second time.

To be absolutely clear, and I think I can speak for the member for Melbourne, who is seconding this Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry (Amendment) (Tagging Live-stock) Bill 2016: I—we—oppose the live animal export trade in the strongest possible terms. It is clearly systemically cruel; it is clearly not in Australia’s economic self-interest, in the way that it has taken thousands of jobs; and it is unpopular, as evidenced by a number of opinion polls which show strong public support for shutting the trade down.

In essence, this government’s policy and the policy of the alternative government, are bad policies. This shows a very worrying failure of governance in this country, that we would allow—and in fact, this government encourages—an industry and a trade which is so wrong in so many ways, ethically and economically.

Now, the government—and the alternative government—say to people like me and the member for Melbourne that there is nothing to worry about here; that, since the introduction of the Export Supply Chain Assurance System, or ESCAS, all is well; that now the trade is very well regulated; that we know where Australian livestock are going; and that we know that they are going through a supply chain of acceptable standards. But the reality is that ESCAS does not work.

We know it does not work, because we are still seeing expose after expose of cruelty to Australian livestock in other countries. Only a month or so ago we saw the shocking revelations out of the Middle East and Malaysia during the Festival of Sacrifice. We saw in that footage Australian sheep in particular being handled in the most dreadful way, in a way that no reasonable person—a person with any heart—could approve of. But what is the response? Next to nothing, at least in this place. In fact, it is very interesting that no exporter has yet been prosecuted for the mistreatment of Australian livestock, even though this government and the alternative government would say that all is well, and they keep coming back to ESCAS: ‘ESCAS has fixed it.’ Well, it has not fixed it. It has not fixed it in a number of ways.

It is interesting that ESCAS—and I have gone to the department’s own material here—is based on four principles: animal welfare, control through the supply chain, traceability through the supply chain, and independent audit. But the problem is that you cannot achieve any of those principles when exported animals cannot be properly identified.

That now goes to the essence of this bill: the need to properly identify all livestock that are exported to other countries. I will just quickly read a summary of the situation with tagging as it now stands. In regard to cattle, all Australian cattle are required to have electronic ear tags as part of the National Livestock Identification System, which is a scheme run by the state and territory governments. The tags are required to be read when the beast leaves a farm and throughout the supply chain until it reaches the port, but—and this is the crucial bit—there is no requirement for the tag to be read after the animal leaves Australia. The beast is simply marked as ‘exported’ after it gets on the boat, and no further information is collected.

The situation is even worse with sheep and goats. They are currently only required to have a plastic ear tag bearing the property identification code of the property where they came from—in other words, a tag showing a property number—and each individual animal is not identified. We have seen, time and time again when there is an expose, particularly in the Middle East, where many of our sheep go, that the tags have been ripped off, so they cannot identify even what farm that animal came from, and hence they cannot identify which exporter was responsible for sending that sheep to that market.

With other livestock—and people might be interested to know that we export a lot of camels and a lot of goats—generally, under state and territory law, all livestock that leave a property must be plastic tagged, like the sheep, with the property identification code, and the transfer must be registered in some way with the relevant state or territory authority. However, as with sheep and goats, there is no requirement that the tags be able to individually identify the animal, and, as with all exported livestock including cattle, there is no electronic traceability of the animal after it is exported.

In other words, it is all well and good for the government to say that ESCAS has solved all of the problems, but it has not. It has not for a number of reasons. Probably the most significant reason—other than perhaps a failure of political leadership to address this issue more broadly—that ESCAS has not solved the problem is that our current tagging arrangements are completely and utterly unsatisfactory. We have cattle, as I read there, that are electronically tagged, but there is no legal requirement for those tags to be read after the animals leave Australia. And sheep, goats and camels are not even required to be electronically tagged.

This bill will remedy that. I hold out some hope that the government, the alternative government and the industry will at least give some measure of support to this bill.

This bill remedies things because it would require all livestock exported to be fitted with an electronic identification tag of the kind approved by the secretary of the department. And the data from that tag is to be collected and recorded at each stage during the live export process, including when the beasts—and sheep, goats and camels—are taken off the vessel in a foreign port, when perhaps they are transferred to a feedlot, when perhaps they are transferred to a market for sale and when perhaps they are transferred to an abattoir or a slaughterhouse.

In other words, we will know, if this is done right—and it can be done right—where every single animal is at any point in time and exactly who is responsible for that animal. That alone will go some considerable way to forcing the industry to clean up its act. There will be no more ripping off plastic tags and suddenly a sheep’s identity is lost. There will be no more not using the electronic tag overseas. We will know exactly where every Australian-sourced animal is, who is responsible for it and, by implication, who is responsible for any mistreatment.

I am doing what I am doing today at the behest of a number of people in the industry—people who see the risks to their industry. They see that there are real problems with the industry and that unless they clean up their act—unless they can be seen to be acting more ethically and unless they can be seen to be minimising, at least, the cruelty to Australian livestock—they know that their industry is on notice.

I, for one, will continue to do everything I can to see the industry shut down. People might see a contradiction in what I am trying to do here—in some ways I am trying to help the industry to be put on a more sustainable footing. I suppose what I am doing, ultimately, is saying that I will keep fighting to wind up the live animal export trade. But until we get a government that has a strong sense of integrity, until we get a government that has a clear understanding of the public interest and the national self-interest and until we get a government that is prepared to show a bit of strength and do what the public wants—shut this industry down—then let’s at least do what we can in the interim to ensure that all livestock exported from this country are properly identified. I think that will go some way to ensuring that animals are better treated throughout the supply chain.

And then, and only then, the government will be able to stand up and say that ESCAS actually means something—that the ESCAS principles of animal welfare mean something, that the principle of control through the supply chain means something and that traceability through the supply chain means something. An independent audit: how can you even audit ESCAS when we do not know where our livestock are, who is responsible for them or where they are going? We cannot audit it. So, at the moment, until there is proper electronic tagging of all Australian livestock exported overseas that will be completely hollow, and just theatre.

I notice that the Victorian government, to its credit, has just introduced—or is in the process of introducing—electronic tagging for sheep and goats born in Victoria from 1 January 2017. So, good on the Victorian government!

Ms McGowan: Hear, hear!

Mr WILKIE: Thank you, member for Indi. Again, how predictable and how upsetting it is to see our own Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture condemn the Victorian government.

Mr Speaker, I thank you for your time and I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.


Posted on

December 1, 2016

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