Senate inquiry backs live export industry

James Nason, 23/11/2011

A senate committee investigating animal welfare standards in Australia’s live export trade has recommended that two parliamentary bills calling for the trade to be scrapped should not be passed.

Last night's report from the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport committee is the culmination of a five-month long inquiry that involved 426 public submissions and six public hearings in Canberra, Darwin, Broome and Katherine during August and September.

Key recommendations range from improving performance standards around the Mark IV restraint boxes; improving the lines of communication between industry, Government and the public, and urging the Government to develop further assistance for those businesses financially-affected by the two-month halt on live exports to Indonesia earlier this year.

In addition to recommending that calls for the trade to be abolished not be supported, the committee’s recommendations were that:

  • MLA and LIvecorp work to ensure performance standards outlined by the World Organisation for Animal Health are developed and implemented for Mark IV restraint boxes;
  • Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer oversee the performance of Mark IV boxes and their impact on animal welfare outcomes;
  • The Australian Government, in consultation with the Australian live export industry and peak animal welfare groups, clarify the range of information relating to compliance with the supply chain assurance system that will be made public, the form in which the information will be published, and the frequency with which it will be published.
  • The Australian Government continue to work with the Australian livestock industry toward the implementation of a national permanent lifetime livestock traceability system.
  • The Australian live export industry undertake a review of the responsibilities of peak bodies that act and speak on behalf of the industry with a view to clarifying the lines of authority and communication within the industry.
  • The Australian Government establishes ongoing dialogue with the Governments of each of our live export trading partners and ensures that agreements reached as a result of the dialogue are clearly communicated to Australian Government officials and Australian industry represenatatives.
  • The Australian Government, in consultation with the live export industry and other ancillary businesses, develop a package of further assistance or re-allocates existing packages of assistance to address those identifiable and otherwise irrecoverable financial costs incurred as a result of the temporary suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia.
  • The Australian Government establish dialogue with financial institutions with regard to the financial difficulties faced by producers and businesses involved in the live export industry as a result of the temporary ban. It recommends that the Australian Government seek to encourage financial institutions to adopt a supportive approach to the repayment of loans and the imposition of interest penalties in the event of default on such payments.

The two senators who moved the bills calling for an end to the trade – Greens senator Rachel Siewert and independent SA senator Nick Xenophon – both submitted dissenting reports opposing the committee's stance that the trade be continued.

Senators' views

In tabling the report in the Senate, committee chair Bill Heffernan described the Four Corners report that prompted the ban as the "perfect ambush of the northern cattle industry".

“I congratulate its makers, because the ambush worked," Senator Heffernan said.

“I think the ambush was driven largely by the opportunity for a Walkley award or ratings and by Animals Australia's wanting to shut down the industry. Animals Australia still wants to shut down the industry.”

Despite the upheaval, he noted that a number of long-term benefits had emerged as a result. The event had created the opportunity to develop greater public understanding of the strategic importance of the live export trade to Australian agriculture, through providing market tension and a complementary market for northern cattle.

It had triggered the adoption of the NLIS electronic identification system by all cattle producers in Australia, and had sharpened the Government and industry’s oversight of the industry.

WA Liberal Senator Chris Back said the inquiry's report "puts to bed the nonsense that that goes on about the capacity of the live export trade for the cattle industry to be replaced by an abattoir-based industry in Australia".

“It is simply not the case," Senator Back said. "The capacity of the north to Australia is not there to produce finished cattle.

“The economic essential is the fact that abattoirs across the top of Australia all closed years before the live export trade got underway.”

Senator Back added that of the 109 countries around the world, only one – Australia – invested heavily in animal welfare improvements in the target markets in which it operates.

“If we exit those markets, or are caused to do so, the losers will be animals because animal welfare standards will once again deteriorate.”

Coalition senators uniformly criticised the Federal Government for panicking in the face of public pressure and banning the trade outright without recognising the extensive and devastating impact that decision would have.  

NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the report was a lost opportunity to end the trade and to introduce mandatory strunning. 

"Ultimately the Australian Greens believe that there is no way to implement safeguards that can guarantee the humane transport and slaughter of animals in oversees markets, and so do not believe that the implementation of a traceability system will adequately protect Australian animals from cruel treatment."

Senator Nick Xenophon said it was clear from his visit to the Northern Territory and Western Australia during the inquiry that cattle producers had high standards of animal welfare and acted in good faith when it came to live exports. 

However he said serious failures in regulatory processes had let Australian producers down. 

"It is still my belief that in the longer term we need to phase out the live animal trade, to process animals here and to add value here."

He added that he agreed with coalition counterparts that producers affected by the ban deserved a much better system of compensation and more generous compensation, particularly focused on covering essential expenses.

To view the full report click here

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