Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:24): I speak to the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports Bill 2019, denying the amendment. The bill builds on success in, if you like, cleaning up the live sheep trade in particular and the live export trade generally. The government has, since 2013, in the wake of the 2011 suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia, sought to rebuild the trust of the Australian public in this trade.
I was interested in the comments of the member for Fremantle—as he leaves the chamber—where he said that sometimes we make stupid mistakes with terrible consequences. I thought he was referring to the shutdown of the live cattle export industry in 2011, because that was terrible. That was terrible. There were terrible consequences, terrible human consequences. We had cattlemen in the Northern Territory beside themselves. I don’t want to draw the link that I could, but let me say that people were under terrible mental stress. We saw them down here in Canberra. They came down to speak to us. Their industry was decimated overnight, in the true sense of the term—one-tenth of it was washed away. I will say some more about that event a little later, but it was a stupid mistake with terrible consequences.
In 2013 we set about rebuilding trust in the industry and we established ESCAS, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which is aimed at making sure that the places that receive our live animals treat them in the same manner that they would be treated if they entered the slaughter lines in Australia. This demand by Australia—that if you want to get Australian livestock you have to meet these standards—has had a knock-on effect for all animals that are slaughtered pretty much all over the world, certainly in the markets that import Australian livestock, because, as facilities are upgraded, local stock are treated in the same manner. Those of us in the industry know that if you treat animals correctly, if you keep stress levels down, you’ll actually end up with a better product at the end of the chain. So, if countries and recipients of Australian animals don’t do the right thing, they don’t get the livestock. They have to shut down until they can comply with the ESCAS. So that’s been a really good development, and it has made a lot of changes. We’ve seen a lot of investment in our markets where better slaughter facilities have been put in place.
Some very disturbing footage of the Awassi Express 2017 voyage was aired in 2018. I note the comments of the member for Barker, who has thrown some doubt on these images. I guess that’s a game that has to be played out. He says he has information—and perhaps the member for O’Connor also has information—that he believes is a smoking gun. Whether or not those accusations, if you like, will be proved, we will know in time. But I just note that he, at least, has made those comments.
We’re moving to bring in new requirements for shipping, by, firstly, increasing the space that live sheep will enjoy when they are on the transport vessels, and we have eliminated shipping in the northern summer. This has led, at least anecdotally from the advice I’m getting, to better results than we were achieving even before that time. On the mortality rate, I note that, for the year to date, it is 0.61 per cent, which is the lowest in a decade and which would indicate we are making further ground. I know there are some figures that will imminently be tabled by the minister—perhaps in the other place, given that’s where the minister sits—and I’m pretty confident, or I’m hopeful, that those figures will be lower again. I was with a pastoralist today, who was here in Canberra on other issues. He’s a friend of mine. He has 130,000 sheep, and when he heard the figure of 0.61 per cent he said, ‘That’s pretty much like they are in the paddock.’ We teased that out a little bit more and he said, ‘No, perhaps it’s a bit higher if they’re in the paddock.’ But it probably aligns pretty accurately with an intense livestock handling period such as you might get at shearing time. So, if we can get those kinds of results on a vessel, as opposed to other times, I think we are making real ground in this space. As I said, I believe we will continue to improve on those particular outcomes.
My state of South Australia supplies about 15 per cent of the trade, and there have been statements in this place saying that the trade is in decline. Well, it has declined a bit over 10 years, but it is far from being in a spiral of extinction.