Dr Chris Back - Liberal Senator for Western Australia

DOCUMENTS - Australian Livestock Export Corporation, Consideration

May 10, 2017

I rise to refute largely what Senator Rhiannon has said, simply because she does not know what she is talking about in this particular space. As is known in this chamber, I was a livestock veterinarian on vessels for some years in the 1980s. Contrasting with what Senator Rhiannon has told us, in fact the live weight of most animals actually increases significantly in the voyages, particularly to the Middle East. We all know from our experience as human beings what happens if people are under stress, and indeed I know as a veterinarian that if animals are under stress the first thing they do is stop eating. So when a consignment ends up being about 115 per cent of the weight it was when it left its port of origin, one would hardly say that that is extreme stress.

I have made the point here again and again, and I will continue to make it. The point is two-fold. First of all, if people are genuinely interested in animal welfare standards, they cannot stop at Australia's borders. They must be interested and committed right through to our end markets. Senator Rhiannon knows that I have made this statement so many times: of the 109 countries that export livestock around the world, we are the only one that now and ever has committed people and resources and money to the training of personnel in our target markets. Indeed, I could give this chamber an hour of illustrations of where the welfare standards of locally bred animals and those sourced from those other 108 countries are improved dramatically as a result of Australian present in those markets.

Contrary to the comments that have been made about the meat trade versus the live animal trade, do not worry too much about hypotheticals—let me give two illustrations. Saudi Arabia: we had both a meat trade and a live export trade to Saudi Arabia. When we lost the live export trade, you would have thought the meat trade would have gone up, on the logic of my colleague Senator Rhiannon. In fact, we lost the meat trade. In 2011, when the then Labor government decimated the live export trade and brought to their knees most of the cattle industry across the north of Australia, the number of animals exported to Indonesia that year halved. On the logic of those opposite and Senator Rhiannon, what would you think would have happened to the meat sales? You would think they would have doubled, wouldn't you? Do you know what they did? They halved.

There has always been a strong parallel in this country between live exports and meat exports. They have always been complementary. The live export trade is the underpinning for producers in this country, be they sheep producers or beef producers. Because there is competition in the market, because the buyers either may be buying for the live export trade or for the meat trade, it underpins a price for the producer. I am very pleased to see now that we are at long last seeing a dramatic increase in the capacity of our herd. I expect we will see our national sheep flock starting to rise, so that we can once again meet those market demands. We provide the best transport. We lead the world in the feedlotting of cattle, the land transport of cattle and the transport to ships. The shipboard management undertaken by Australians and those engaged in the trade is the best in the world. The rest of the world follows us, whether it is animals for breeding purposes or animals eventually going to be processed in those markets.

Yes, we have had a challenge in terms of increasing the standards in the meatworks overseas. I begged then Minister Ludwig—when he banned the trade at the direction of Ms Gillard, the then Prime Minister, and at the direction of the 457-employed adviser to her—to not ban the trade to those abattoirs that were internationally accepted by OIE, the international standards in animal welfare. But, of course, the decision was made for political purposes—nothing to do with animal welfare purposes—to ban the entire trade and deny millions of low socioeconomic Indonesian people their right to access protein. That is where the market started for us in the early 1990s. It was the need for low-socioeconomic Indonesian people to get access to protein—and it was denied them. With the cost of boxed meat out of Australia, where the cost of processing an animal is $400 versus the cost in Indonesia of about $80, there is no way in the world those low socioeconomic Indonesian people would be able to afford boxed meat—though the high-end restaurant trade and the hotel trade could. I congratulate the government for the initiative that it has made in the meat and livestock space.

Question agreed to.

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