Inspector-General of Live Animal ExportsAmendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023

As we’ve heard, the federal coalition opposes the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Amendment (Animal Welfare) Bill 2023, which is before the House here. The bill is part of federal Labor’s broader animal welfare and activist agenda, aimed at actually getting rid of more production animals in Australia. Unfortunately for our farmers, this was a cynical political decision. For you, the farmers out there, it’s your families, your communities and the countless small businesses and workers who rely on you for their living who will be affected and who like you, are the collateral damage of Labor’s decision, because, as we’ve just heard, it’s not just about live export animals; it’s about all animals in Australia. This is the federal Labor government and its Canberra appointed bureaucrats coming onto our farms and saleyards and overseeing the loading and carting of live animals, and I have no doubt that there’s a broader agenda. I believe it’s the Trojan horse Labor will use to once again shut down live cattle exports, as they did in 2011, either directly or indirectly by their actions. We’ve also seen the reports that buyers, customers, in the Middle East—one of the largest markets for WA rangeland cattle and sheep—are saying they will no longer take cattle from Australia if they cannot also buy sheep.

As I said, by direct or indirect means, the federal Labor government is well into the process of shutting down the live sheep export industry, which is worth between $85 to $92 million and employs more than 3,000 Western Australians through the supply chain. The total value of livestock exported from Australia in 2021-22 was around $1.3 billion, at the same time that mortality rates are at record lows.

I want to talk about what impact this decision to end live exports has on the farmers themselves and the communities and businesses that rely on them, the personal cost. And it’s a great one ignored by those opposite. I’ve lived through—and tried my best to help my dairy farmers through—dairy deregulation. That was profound. The effect on the families is extreme, and the stress is appalling—the individuals and families that fall apart, the relationships that are ruined, the businesses that are gone, the mental health problems and intense stress this is creating right now. You heard the member for O’Connor talking about this earlier. It is there right now. But there has been no concern and no care for these people from the Labor government. The bigger issue is the absolute disrespect for us as farmers and the disrespect for rural and regional people.

We know that the majority of the impact of this ban falls on WA, because the majority of sheep shipped from Australia last year were from WA—97 per cent of them. So here we have a Labor government directly attacking a WA industry. It’s an industry that’s done so much along the whole production, stock handling, supply, delivery and overseas abattoirs chain management, and with the most robust export supply chain assurance scheme in the world. These are standards that continue to be raised and improve global standards as well.

We have a minister and a government with no idea about rural and regional Australia and certainly no idea about the live export industry. We’ve even seen, through Senate estimates, the government admitting it had no idea that ending live export sheep could also cause the collapse of livestock export corporation LiveCorp. That is sheer incompetence, at best. Both the minister and the government have a responsibility to know exactly what the impacts of the closure of the industry will be. What’s worse, the Labor government simply does not care about agriculture, our farmers, our small and family businesses and our communities in regional and more remote parts of Australia that are so dependent on this industry.

It isn’t just farmers who will be affected, it is the whole community. It’s the grain sector. I’ve read that Australia’s merino sheep flock will diminish significantly as well. The western wool industry will shrink by up to 15 per cent. It’s the livestock transporters, truck drivers, small-business owners, vets, local mechanics, fuel suppliers, feed providers, local businesses and community service organisations, the sporting groups and others supported by both the farmers and those local businesses who rely on that live sheep industry. They’re all in the firing line here. But I also believe that the Labor government is very cleverly working to get rid of many of us farmers and graziers and primary and agricultural producers as they can, and our livestock, whether it’s by natural attrition or more directly. This will service their No. 1 policy agenda of reducing emissions. So what’s next?

I’m waiting for the Labor government’s methane tax on production animals to follow this. We’ve even recently seen this pressure building, from Labor branches, to halve emissions from agriculture and the transport sector as well. That’s a methane tax. This is on top of the Labor government’s truckies tax. Both of these disproportionately affect regional and rural Australians. Perhaps those of us living in the regions shouldn’t be so worried, because, apparently, according to Labor’s budget papers, we will simply be the hosts for renewable energy—not the producers of some of the highest quality food and fibre in the world, feeding millions of people, Australians and people overseas.

This is just the beginning of what the Labor government is planning with this bill. As I said, I’m warning every farmer: federal Labor is coming to your farm. It’s not just the activists harassing our farmers that we will see— we’re seeing them now—coming to your local saleyards, your local piggery, and any and every animal production, transport and processing facility and business. I suspect that the Labor government also wants to exercise these new animal welfare powers in the thoroughbred breeding industry and horse racing and trotting, which is the practical effect, as the previous member said. This involves all animals. This is not the last attack on farmers, on production animals and on regional and rural communities by the Labor government. I suspect that Labor will weaponise the role being created by this bill to attack farmers and livestock transporters in all forms and all ways, whether it’s those raising animals on their farms or cattle or sheep properties, or those carting live animals by truck, by horse float, or those transporting live animals by sea or air. This role, as we have heard, will focus on all forms of animal welfare.

Now, the federal coalition has been and is committed to upholding and preserving the highest standards of animal health and welfare while supporting a lawful and sustainable live export trade. Well, so are our farmers. These animals are our livelihoods. We raise them from birth. If you’re a dairy farmer like me, you often know them by name. In the early years on our farm, we had cows with wonderful names like Long-wheel Base, Bonnie and Brindle, and our neighbours, the Mannings, knew every cow had a name. They are precious to us, and that’s not the impression given by those opposite. Now not only will we have to put up with the activists patrolling our roads, putting those drones up over our properties and harassing our local farmers both on their farms and at the local abattoir saleyards; like we heard from the pork producers recently in Senate estimates, we will have representatives from the federal government as well. So will the road transport industry and the livestock transporters who do such an amazing job right around Australia.

This bill and the government’s actions come in spite of the now minister for agriculture saying in 2020:

… the live export industry continues to be a world leader with regard to animal welfare and continues to operate on a sustainable basis.

They are the words of the current minister. We do take animal welfare seriously, as do our farmers and the whole of the livestock transport sector in all its forms. We also understand its importance as an issue within the Australian community but also the broader agricultural industry and the vital role that animal welfare has for our international reputation.

Under Australia’s current constitutional arrangements, state and territory governments are actually responsible for animal protection and welfare laws and their enforcement, but it seems that the federal government does not trust or have confidence in states or territories, the overwhelming majority of which are Labor states, to effectively and efficiently manage animal welfare as defined by constitutional arrangements. I wonder if it’s the plan to duplicate each state and territory law or rule or regulation as well as what we see in live export.

We have a live export system that operates very well. It’s underpinned by the highest standards of animal welfare and record low mortality rates. Australia is the only country in the world with an existing federal framework for animal health and welfare conditions: the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, ESCAS, combined with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock. No other country has this level of compliance. This system has seen extended animal welfare measures actually adopted by our training partners already. They are lifting their standards in response to what we’re doing here in Australia. I am proud of how the federal coalition, when in government, worked so constructively in partnership and collaboration with the sector to deliver the improvements in animal welfare outcomes.

The bill also seeks to expand the objects of the act to enable monitoring and investigation and reporting in relation to live exports, but it’s already happening. A review of monitoring and reporting during livestock export voyages is already on the current work program of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports. Also the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, ASEL, currently undertakes extensive monitoring and reporting requirements. It’s regularly updated, and every six months the minister for agriculture must table in the parliament a report that includes livestock mortalities on every sea voyage. Given Australia’s animal welfare, ASEL and ESCAS conditions, when the Labor government shuts the live sheep trade our international trading partners will not stop importing live sheep. They will simply source them from other countries that do not have Australia’s animal welfare standards. Is that really what the government wants to achieve in relation to animal welfare outcomes? I wouldn’t have thought so.

This bill will significantly increase the role of the inspector-general into the animal welfare responsibility of state and federal governments. So what does concern me? As we saw with the NDIS, once the federal government became involved in that space, states and territories actually reduced and removed funding and resources from those various sectors. That’s what I’m concerned about here: how will the states react to this and what will their response be?

The bill will add more red tape to the office of the inspector-general and could well end up duplicating or replacing existing animal welfare efforts and initiatives that we currently see across governments and the live export industry. They are the reasons why I oppose these measures in this bill.