We need to change the way we are dealing with Live Export Trade

live_exports_2.jpgThe way we deal with animals in our care speaks volumes about our values. That is why every parent teaches their children the importance of caring for their pets. It does not always follow that people who are kind to animals extend that affection to their fellow human beings, but it is one insight into our humanity. That is why I have expressed more than a little concern in this place and elsewhere about the treatment of livestock in the live export trade. As custodians of these creatures we have a duty of responsibility.

When we apply these values to the subject of live animal export we are found wanting. If ever we were able to turn a blind eye to this issue, the internet extends our gaze and our television can bring it into our lounge rooms on an all-too-frequent basis.

In recent times we have been shocked at footage of barbaric treatment of animals in slaughterhouses around the world. We cannot distance ourselves from this horror, as we are critical links in the supply chain that ends in this misery. It is not just the end point of the process because, when we export livestock to another country, we know that it is done for a purpose: the animal will be slaughtered for food for others. I have no quarrel with this.

It is not just the end point in the process that should attract our concern. The transportation of distressed animals in crowded ships over long distances is accompanied by high mortality rates, which is also of deep concern.

I believe that Australia will play an increasingly important role in the supply of food, including protein, to the growing, developing population of our region. That is one reason why we have to get the trade right.

I want to see an end to the live export trade. I do not think it is sustainable on humane grounds and I think there are sound economic grounds for acting as well.

We talk about value-adding to our raw materials for national wealth. We should also look at the live export trade through the same prism. I believe that it is far better that we should be developing our meat export market on the basis of domestic slaughter than on value-adding. It is better for jobs and it is better for wealth generation that we do it this way.

When I have raised this issue in parliament in the past I have been met with numerous arguments. I am told that we have a lack of infrastructure, particularly refrigeration infrastructure, in the regions we wish to export to.

I am told we no longer have export abattoirs in the regions where the cattle are raised and exported from. I am told that the disruption of the live export trade would have a significant impact on jobs and income for the businesses and workers involved. I do not lightly dismiss these arguments. They are not without merit, but they must be met.

It is true that the lack of refrigeration in, for example, Indonesia is a barrier but this will not always be the case. Indonesia is our most important regional neighbour and should be at the front of our economic and diplomatic planning.

Indonesia is a rapidly-developing country. It currently accounts for around 40 per cent of our live export trade. Clearly, it is significant. But it also has an avowed policy of reducing its reliance on our live exports. Self-sufficiency targets for beef have been set. We need to develop a plan which accounts for these changes and which also acknowledges that the capacity and demand for boxed meat will expand. Quite simply, we should be working with Indonesia as a trading partner to transform and expand our trade, including our trade of meat, respectfully and without the shocks and surprises that sudden changes in policy bring to those relationships. Of course, Indonesia is not the only country to which we export meat, but it is the biggest. Other countries where issues have been raised include Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Kuwait and Israel. Over 100 countries are involved in the live export trade.

I am proud to say that Australia has the strictest standards for the export of live animals of any country in the world. That is an achievement of this Labor government. But there is no doubt that there has been a breakdown in the trust the community has on this issue. Graphic evidence of far too many cases of animal abuse have shone a light on the dark side of the live export industry. That is why I say we need to have a plan to address this. The community's confidence in the way we are doing it at the moment has been broken. There are many people within my electorate who contact me on a daily and weekly basis and demand action from the government. I add my voice to theirs and say we need a change of policy. It cannot be delivered overnight, but we cannot assume that we can continue to do things the way we are doing them at the moment. So I say that, on the basis of humane treatment of animals and on the basis of a sustainable economic model, we need to change the way we are dealing with the live export trade.