| May 30, 2018

Live Export Speech

This certainly is an emotive issue and one that has hit the interest of the broader community. We need to make sure that we fix this industry—and by saying 'fix this industry', I don't mean 'ban this industry'. It's such an easy target just to make decisions here in Canberra that we're going to ban this industry, and to not understand, as Ms Marino has said in this House, the true human cost of the decisions that the people in this parliament are prepared to make on this issue. Banning this industry is not going to stop sheep being imported into the Middle East. The countries have explained very, very clearly that there is a strong demand for the live sheep trade to Kuwait, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries. If they can't get that produce from Australia then they will look to other countries to secure that produce—countries that have a far poorer animal welfare standard than the one that we enjoy here in Australia and the one that Minister Littleproud is going to work exceptionally hard at trying to strengthen over and above what we currently have.

Minister Littleproud has acted quickly in relation to these revelations. The footage is certainly shocking. I think, yes, we all saw the footage and we were all appalled by it. But, again, as I said, when the Labor Party did this back in 2011 with the beef trade after some shocking vision of the slaughterhouses of Indonesia was seen, the beef trade was shut down for approximately six months. It was only when the true cost of the human pain here in Australia, the human cost in Australia, was revealed to the Labor government at the time that they realised that they had to get this industry up and going again. Of course, what happened then was that the Indonesians said: 'Sorry, we've already found our markets elsewhere. We've already got our suppliers coming in from other countries.' We have been paying for that knee-jerk decision from the Labor government ever since.

As previous speakers have said, this trade is not about the lamb trade. Australia is well-renowned for its lamb, and we sell our lamb all around the world. Most of it goes in chilled boxes. However, in the Middle East, they have a strong demand for mutton. This is more to do with the wool industry. This is more to do with the wool farmers of Australia. As the sheep get older, they are only good for mutton. We eat very little mutton here in Australia, but we can actually sell it into these export markets for a substantial premium compared to what it's worth here in Australia. Make no mistake, if the Labor Party get their way and they shut down this trade, they won't stop there. They will just keep coming after the farmers. They will go after the beef industry. It has been very, very clear, as Minister Littleproud heard firsthand when he was in the Middle East last week, meeting with ministers from Qatar and Kuwait, that, if Australia is going to back away from its live sheep trade export, these countries are also going to look elsewhere for their chilled meat. It's not as though they're prepared to replace one with the other.

We need to find ways to fix this trade. We've been down the path before that Labor wanted to go. We were then made aware of the human cost associated with the extra pressure that we were going to put on our farmers in Western Australia and predominantly in South Australia, which are the two major states that enjoy the opportunity to export their mutton, their older sheep. We understand that we have to fix this trade. I will go through some of the penalties that this livestock bill is going to introduce for those who think that they can get away with poor animal welfare in the process of exporting our sheep. These new penalties are substantial. What we have to continually look at are the facts. As Minister Littleproud has said, we need to make sure that we go through this with a very calm head and that we make decisions that are based on science and evidence, as opposed to emotion. As I said, last week Kuwait were very clear in their explanation to Minister Littleproud that, if they are forced to look elsewhere for live animals, they will also look elsewhere for chilled meat. So, if Australia wants to phase out the live trade, the chilled trade would likely shrink, and Australians could lose selling on both markets.

This happened in Bahrain, where the removal of a government subsidy saw the end of Australia's live sheep imports in 2015. Australia's exports of chilled meat to Bahrain then shrank from 11,987 tonnes in 2014 to just over 8,000 tonnes in 2015, and was not even 7,500 tonnes in 2017. Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE import between 80 and 90 per cent of their meat. In 2016, Australia supplied Kuwait, Qatar and UAE with 60, 86 and 28 per cent respectively of their live sheep, and 68, 78, and 56 per cent respectively of their chilled sheepmeat. So these countries are currently very heavily reliant on Australia for their sheepmeat.

Further, as I said earlier, the sheep exported are mostly the older sheep, the mutton, whereas the chilled sheep trade is mostly lamb. It must be understood very clearly that once we take this option away from our farmers we are going to leave them with one option, and one option only. And that is that they will be at the mercy of the processors here in Australia. We understand what happens then, that the farmers become, yet again, price takers. Again, having no option but to succumb to the price offered by the local processors is what waits for our farmers if the Labor Party is to have its way on this issue.

It's quite pointed that the citizens of these Middle Eastern countries believe they have a right to freshly-killed meat. They have already reduced their live sheep import levels as much as they can, and they want to keep their current import levels where they are right now. They want to keep them there. So it's wrong to claim that the sheep trade is in terminal decline. The MLA analysis indicates that total global sheep exports into the Middle East have increased, with more supply from countries such as Romania, India and Georgia, as well as unknown numbers from countries such as Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. This concept that the live sheep trade is in terminal decline and that we may as well just hurry it up anyway is simply a false claim.

There's also the claim that the Australian export of live sheep is in terminal decline. That's also false. Sheep exports from Australia declined over the past decade in line with the shrinking of the Australian sheep flock and the wish of some Middle Eastern countries to reduce their huge reliance on live sheep from Australia. And that's happened now—that happened years ago. Our sheep flock is now stable and our live sheep exports to the Middle East have hovered between 1.8 and 2.3 million tonnes per million sheep per calendar year. That has been constant since 2012.

The other claims that we hear, that this demand only comes due to government subsidies is also false, because due to a combination of historical, cultural and economic factors, locally slaughtered animals are still perceived to offer the freshest meat in the Middle East. And these markets are calling out for the freshest meat that they can possibly get.

So, as I said earlier, Minister Littleproud has put together a raft of penalties to ensure that no-one will be looking to take these penalties on, thinking that they can do this as part of business as usual. This will no longer be seen as the cost of doing business, to be happy to pay for these fines. We understand that under the offence, if a company were committing an offence intending to obtain commercial advantage over their competitors by committing the offence, and causing an economic consequence for Australia, they would face penalties to the tune of $4.2 million for a company and $420,000 for an individual. A director of a guilty company could face 10 years in jail. These are substantial fines, and the fines for every other offence in this are consistent with what we have here.

This is a very, very serious issue. I implore the people of Australia to look beyond the emotion, because this is a very emotive issue—as we understand, the vision was shocking. However, if we can improve the welfare of our sheep through those summer months—give them additional space, put the independent monitors on these ships and look out for the welfare of the—

Debate interrupted.

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