Uphill battle for Greens ban Bill

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

The Australian Greens renewed its push to ban the live export trade during a rigorous debate in the Senate last week.

The debate centred on the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012, which was re-introduced in March this year by NSW Senator and Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon after the 2011 version put up by Greens senator Rachel Siewert was defeated in the Senate and House of Representatives last year.

The 2012 Bill has now had its second reading and a vote will take place in the Senate at a date to be determined.

If the Bill is passed in the Senate, it will be introduced, debated and voted on in the House of Representatives. If passed there, it will come into effect immediately.

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But ALP senator Glenn Sterle, who spoke against the Bill in the Senate last week, said his party was committed to supporting the live export trade.

He said this was despite the passion of a couple of his colleagues to stop animal exports.

Mr Sterle said there had not been a motion put to the ALP party room to ban live exports but if this did occur in the near future he hoped common sense would prevail.

"The ALP appreciates the importance of the live export trade to Australia and the north-west and we will continue to support it," he said.

The Greens Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill amends the Export Control Act 1982 to prohibit export of cattle, calves, sheep, lambs, goats or other prescribed animals for slaughter overseas.

It was first introduced in 2011 in the weeks after the airing of the ABC Four Corners program about live animal exports, which featured footage from Animals Australia investigators who visited 10 abattoirs in four Indonesian cities in March 2011.

Ms Rhiannon said events surrounding Australian live sheep export consignments that ended up in Pakistan and Kuwait in recent weeks reiterated that it was time to ban the trade and this bill would achieve that.

She told the Senate that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and memorandums of understanding with Middle Eastern markets had failed at every step in the Pakistan case and were designed to provide the Federal Government with a political fix.

"Both the exporter involved and the Government failed to inject the resources on the ground necessary to ensure the sheep were sold, handled and slaughtered in accordance with the Agriculture Minister's own new system," she said.

Ms Rhiannon said the Greens Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2012 would reduce animal suffering and boost jobs and the economy of regional Australia by creating opportunities for onshore livestock processing.

She referred to a report released last week by ACIL Tasman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) that found 1300 jobs would be created if 400,000 head of cattle were slaughtered locally rather than being shipped live to Indonesian feedlots and this would be worth $204 million per annum to northern economies.

She said domestic sheep processing had a higher multiplier effect on investment than that associated with the live trade.

"It is also interesting to compare the benefits from the chilled trade with the live export trade," she said.

"Last year chilled meat exports earned some $5.7 billion, while the export of livestock earned $845 million."

Ms Rhiannon said rallies held across Australia this month that attracted thousands of people indicated strong public support for stopping the live export trade.

WA Liberal Party senator Chris Back joined ALP senators Mr Sterle and Mark Furner and Nationals senator Nigel Scullion in opposing the Greens' live export Bill during last week's debate.

Mr Back said Australia was not the only supplier of live animals to the Middle East and already there had been increased activity in those markets from countries including the US, South Africa, Argentina, Hungary and, of more concern, India, which was endemic for foot-and-mouth disease.

He said the Wellard shipment caught up in legal action in Pakistan had left Australian shores with the highest quality sheep on board, overseen by highly reputable people.

It offloaded some animals in excellent condition in Oman and Qatar without incident and had negligible losses on board.

Mr Back said after the decision was taken not to send this shipment of sheep into its initial destination market of Bahrain due to circumstances beyond the control of the shipper and exporter, they were unloaded in the Pakistani port of Karachi in perfectly good condition and into the feedlot of trusted importer PK Livestock.

He said after the Wellard ship - the Ocean Drover - had left to return to Australia, the sheep were hijacked from Wellard and PK Livestock.

At this point, it is estimated 5000 to 8000 head of the consignment were culled under an order issued by the Sindh High Court in Pakistan.

"The Australian and Pakistani overseers of those animals were driven out of the feedlot at gunpoint (before the cull commenced)," Mr Back said.

"So we are not talking about a breakdown of ESCAS or anything else - we are talking about an illegal activity."

Mr Back said he had been assured last Thursday by Wellard senior management that the remaining sheep in the Karachi feedlot - estimated to be 11,500 head - were fine and in excellent condition.

Independent testing has confirmed these sheep are disease-free and a court case that will determine their fate was due to reconvene in Pakistan yesterday.

Mr Back said the big discrepancy between the value of Australian chilled meat and live exports - highlighted by Ms Rhiannon during the Senate debate - was partly due to live export sales being well down on previous years and an increase in chilled meat exports to non-Middle Eastern markets such as the US, Korea and Japan.

He said there was strong evidence that over a long period, the number of animals exported live out of Australia did not impact on the number of animals sent to slaughter.

"At one of our biggest sheep abattoirs in WA at the moment you have to wait six to 12 weeks to get animals into the meatworks at Katanning," he said.

"So the assertion that we have ... abattoirs sitting around with nothing to do because animals are being exported is simply not the case."

Mr Back said producers would suffer price contractions if the live trade was taken out of the market.

In terms of global animal welfare, of the 109 countries that exported animals around the world Australia stood out as having invested time, money, people and effort for many years in its target markets to try to improve standards of nutrition, husbandry, management, housing and transport.

Mr Back said Australian expertise had helped lift the quality of Indonesian feedlots to world-best standards and Australia was a leader in ship design and maintenance.

This meant Australian cattle mortalities at sea were only 0.2 per cent and sheep mortalities 0.8 per cent, which was similar to mortality rates in the paddock.

"Do we need to continue increasing standards?" he said. "Of course we need to keep increasing standards but is this going to happen if Australia exits the (live) trade? Of course it is not going to happen."

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