More than two years after the Federal Government controversially banned live exports to Indonesia, the decision and the impact it caused continues to fuel debate in Canberra.
The issue was back on the agenda in the Senate this week as Labor and Coalition senators clashed over the consequences and repercussions of the ban.
Labor senator Mark Bishop fired up his opposition counterparts when he said Australia’s live export industry had recovered in both volume and price terms since the 2011 ban.
He acknowledged that the ban had caused difficulties for property owners and others in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, whose income relied upon the live export trade.
However he said the decision had been motivated by the core purpose of having a strong, viable and sustainable live cattle, sheep and meat export industry from Australia, which had now been achieved.
“That is what we wanted then, that is what we want now and, most importantly in this discussion, that is what we have now.
“All of our markets have been restored. Sheep, cattle and goats are being exported in larger and larger numbers and the significant community opposition that did exist and brought this to media attention has dropped right off.”
In response, Liberal Senator and career veterinarian Chris Back said the live export ban had left Australia facing ‘the worst animal welfare disaster in Australia’s history’.
“I regret that Senator Bishop came in here now and said that the trade has increased, that prices have increased,” Senator Back said.
“I can assure Senator Bishop and anyone else listening today: that is false. We do have cattle dying. I indicated after 2011 that, if we had a poor season, if we had an ongoing drought and if we had poor conditions, we would see an animal welfare disaster of a type we have never seen before.
“You are right, Senator Boswell, we will see the death of up to a million cattle.”
He also hit out at federal environment minister Tony Burke for his recent opposition to moves by AgForce and the Queensland Government to re-open parks and reserves, mostly former cattle stations, to cattle for emergency grazing relief.
“We now have environment minister Burke threatening to use the legislation to not only demand those cattle be removed but actually to fine those graziers. Be clear on this: why do we have that disaster?
“The cows are about to calve in North Queensland and across the North.
“The calves from last year should be being prepared to be shipped overseas—they are still here.
“And the calves from two seasons ago should long have been in our export markets.
“I have to stand there now, talking to colleagues from Indonesia, to those from the Middle East with whom I was associated when I was a veterinarian in the live animal trade, and explain to them why it is that Australia's reputation has been trashed.”
Senator Back said that of all the 109 countries in the world that export live animals, Australia remained the only country that attended to the management of welfare, husbandry and transport in its target markets.
“It is Australia that has elevated the standards of animal welfare in our target markets, and if we are caused to exit those markets then I will tell you what will happen to animal welfare standards in those countries.
“Rest assured, they are still importing. The Saudis, who used to import three million sheep a year from us, are still importing nine million sheep a year. I have to stand there and face the pastoralists and the farmers who are shooting stock and who themselves are facing suicide as a result of the decisions of this government.”
Senator Bishop said Australia’s live export trade ensured food security for many countries including Indonesia, and no other country could match the product Australia offered and the regulatory framework that now underpinned welfare standards in Australia’s live export trade.