The Export Legislation Amendment (Live Stock) Bill 2018 is about export legislation, it is about the treatment of livestock and it is about the conditions upon which we as a civilised society allow farmers and businesses who are engaged in sheep husbandry to export those animals overseas. I want to note at the outset that the way in which we treat our animals—animals that are within our care—is an insight into our own humanity.
It is not always a direct indication of how we will treat fellow human beings, but it is a pretty good indication of our underlying values as a society. I believe that we have an obligation to be good custodians of animals within our care, whether they are domestic animals or animals that are raised for the specific purpose of adding to our food supply. It makes no difference. We have an obligation to be good custodians of these animals.
On 24 May this year, the government introduced this bill into the House, a bill to amend the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997. We will support the bill, but it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. Labor have announced that we will end the export of live sheep. If a Shorten Labor government is elected, we will end the live export of sheep. We will phase out that export over a five-year period and we will work with the industry to ensure that it is able to adjust. To be very, very clear: a Shorten Labor government will phase out the export of live sheep and we will do it because it is simply not sustainable on a humanitarian basis.
The government is claiming that these amendments will ensure that the penalties and sanctions available are sufficiently high to provide a level of deterrence and punishment necessary to protect animals carried on livestock export voyages. We are only here because of the footage that was aired by the 60 Minutes program on 8 April this year—a program which exposed the horrendous treatment of animals crammed into a boat, sent on an extraordinarily long voyage in unbearable and intolerable conditions. The significant loss of life, which I will detail shortly, led to a predictable public outcry. People are saying: 'This should not be done in our name. As a country, we are better than this.'
The act purports to put in place a set of conditions and arrangements, and the bill puts in place some additional penalties that aren't currently available within the act. We are going to support them, because they do no harm to exporters who are doing the right thing. However, the new penalties and sanctions will do nothing to reduce the suffering of sheep, which will continue if we allow the voyages during the Middle Eastern northern summer. I've got to say to those members opposite who are complaining that they have somehow been hijacked by this issue that, in many respects, they have nobody to blame but themselves and their own inaction on this issue.
The live sheep export industry has been controversial for decades. Indeed, the industry has been in substantial decline for decades as well. In the 1980s, we were exporting somewhere in the vicinity of nine million head of sheep compared to the two million head of sheep that are exported today. Australian live sheep exports fell by 1.97 million in 2013—the lowest recorded level since 1975. Now, whilst only six per cent of the sheep production market goes to live exports, 82 per cent of that disembarks from Fremantle. So you can see from this that the West Australian producers are overwhelmingly more reliant upon it than their eastern state counterparts. The major markets for live sheep exports are the countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Oman. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have also been significant export markets during the past 10 years.
To say that this issue has crept up on the government is simply dishonest. It is not true. There has been significant public concern. It has been a matter of debate within this place and you could not have been a member of parliament over the last decade and not have received emails and letters from constituents who are deeply concerned about practices within the live sheep export trade. It has continued to attract significant public concern, and veterinary and other animal health and welfare sector concerns. From the 1980s onwards there have been ongoing incidents, reviews and reports into the welfare standards of the live export trades. These have recommended—serially—greater veterinarian oversight, more-comprehensive standards and mandatory reporting of incidents. I give you one example: back in 1985, a review of the live sheep trade by the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare found:
… if a decision were to be made on the future of the trade purely on animal welfare grounds, there is enough evidence to stop the trade. The trade is, in many respects, inimical to good animal welfare, and it is not in the interests of the animal to be transported to the Middle East for slaughter.
This was the finding of a committee in 1985! Here we are in 2018 debating the same issue. Neither the industry, the exporters nor the members opposite who defend the practices, could complain that this issue has crept up on them. It simply has not. The export incident that has sparked the latest round of concerns occurred on a ship that the company Emanuel Exports used to ship sheep from Fremantle to the Middle East in August 2017. Around 2,400 sheep died on that voyage. The overwhelming majority of them died of heat stress. We know that this is not an isolated incident. What is revealed is that despite many chances the live sheep trade has been unable to demonstrate that it is capable of meeting reasonable animal welfare standards.
Exporters and the National Farmers' Federation—and it's worth noting that it is both the exporters and the National Farmers' Federation—when asked if they could guarantee that there wouldn't be such incidents in future have said that, no, they could not. Well, faced with a history of incidents, faced with overwhelming— overwhelming—evidence, we have to ask, 'Why is the government introducing a bill today that is so modest in its reach?'
I want to go through a chronology of some of the events. In 1980, one crew member and more than 40,000 sheep died when a Lebanese-registered livestock carrier, the Farid Fares, caught fire and sank en route from Tasmania to Iran. In June 1985, a Senate report into animal welfare, specifically on the live sheep export trade, was released. In 1989-90, trade with Saudi Arabia was suspended after two vessels, in July and August 1989, were prevented from unloading due to a scabby mouth infection of the sheep on board a ship. In 1996, one crew member and 67,000 sheep were killed when the Uniceb, registered in Panama and chartered by Wellard Rural Exports, caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean while travelling from Fremantle to Jordan.
In January 2004 we had the Keniry report, which said that the industry needs to improve its standards and that drastic reform was needed. In September 2012 Kuwait and Bahrain rejected sheep shipments due to claimed outbreaks of scabby mouth. Bahrain blocked the Ocean Drover, which was subsequently diverted to Karachi in Pakistan, where the sheep were culled by Pakistani disease control authorities. In January 2014, 4,000 sheep were reported to have died heat stress aboard the Bader III travelling from Adelaide and Fremantle to the Middle East.
From this chronology of events you can see that there has been occasion upon occasion where the industry has been sent a clear warning that the behaviours are not sustainable, that the practice is not sustainable and that change is necessary. Instead of apologising for the practices and stonewalling the inevitable change, we call on the government to do the right thing. The government could bring on for debate a bill before the House this week, introduced into this House by one of their own rural and regional backbench MPs, the member for Farrer.
Members of the Labor opposition have said they are willing to have this bill brought on for debate and for it to be voted on in this House. That can be done at the next sitting of this parliament, so there is no need for further delay. We call on the government to do the right thing and ensure this private members' bill gets debated and voted on in this session of parliament. We do not need to wait until the next election to have this issue determined. In my own electorate I asked my office staff to do a count of the number of emails, letters and phone calls we have had from constituents since the April incident. There were a full 1,054 letters, emails and phone calls of complaint from constituents on this matter. When compared to most of the other issues that I hear about through my office, this is one of the highest numbers of complaints I have received. On this alone we should say that the parliament needs to respond to deeply held community concerns. We should take the opportunity provided by the member for Farrer and her private members' bill to have this issue put before parliament. We would do it differently, but we respect that the member for Farrer has brought a bill into this place in good faith. We can vote to end this cruel trade, we can do it within the next sitting of parliament, and we should do it. Our constituents demand it, and it is the right thing to do.
The way that we treat animals in our care is an insight into our humanity. We have an obligation to be good custodians of the animals within our care. Whether they be domesticated animals, pets, or animals we are keeping to supply our food chain, the obligation is the same. I commend to the House the second reading amendment moved by the member for Hunter and again call upon the government to allow its members to vote on the private members' bill, moved by one of its own members, on this issue.