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THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

It was Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said, ‘The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.’ That may be true, but I say tonight that an additional degree of civilisation may also be revealed by entering its abattoirs and by looking at the way a society allows animals to be treated. We were all shocked at the recent footage of Australian cattle being cruelly treated in both Vietnam and Israel.

 

Mr DANBY  (Melbourne Ports) (21:10): It was Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said, ‘The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.’ That may be true, but I say tonight that an additional degree of civilisation may also be revealed by entering its abattoirs and by looking at the way a society allows animals to be treated. We were all shocked at the recent footage of Australian cattle being cruelly treated in both Vietnam and Israel. When I heard about the abuse in the Arab town of Deir Al Asad I contacted the Israeli embassy to inquire as to the facts about what had happened there, and the result of the revelations. The House can be reassured that the Israeli minister for agriculture told me that he had already announced an investigation into both the abattoir and the veterinarian responsible for overseeing the conditions. The Dabbah abattoir in question has been closed pending an outcome of the investigation.

Of course, Israel has a legal framework in regard to animal cruelty, like Australia; but the agriculture minister, to his credit, has announced an increase in penalties for the mistreatment of animals. The Israeli reaction to these revelations is positive. It remains true that there has been a pattern of animal abuse scandals that have unfortunately affected the Live export industry ever since this government has been in office. Its pattern has been underpinned by Agriculture Minister Joyce’s contempt for animal protection. Need I remind some of the people of this House of the minister’s explanations for the scrapping of Labor’s proposed quality assurance body, the Independent Office of Animal Welfare? He said:

This is one bit of red tape that we can do without.

Or, more brutally, he said:

Animal welfare is more than just red tape. Their treatment demands more than just fleeting consideration as food production. Proper animal welfare should be a standard to which any self-respecting government should strive. Indeed, it is in the enlightened self-interest of the industry that adequate regulations be enforced.We all need to be realistic about the fact that livestock are raised for food.

Whilst in government, Labor worked with farmers and industry to establish the strongest «live» trade and animal standards in the world. Back in 2011 Labor established the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme, forcing exporters to show that they have a plan to treat Australian live exports humanely and providing a monitoring and auditing system all the way from the port to the abattoir. The previous government committed itself to the establishment of an independent inspector-general of animal welfare. It was Labor that committed to establishing an animal welfare advisory committee in order to advise governments on standards for both sheep and cattle production, and livestock transportation. In the previous government I worked hard to implement new ways of improving animal welfare; recent scandals have shown that the work is not yet complete. I call on this government to work harder to put an end to the mistreatment of Australian livestock abroad.

First on the list of shame with this government, however, must be their plan to abandon Labor’s plan to establish an inspector-general and to abolish the Animal Welfare Strategy Advisory Committee. Now it is talking of watering down ESCAS. A strong regulatory system is good for animal welfare, it is good for farmers and it is good for exporters. Let me be clear: the humane treatment of livestock is compatible with maintaining a sustainable agriculture sector in this country. However, the government’s unpredictable changes to live export policy and its cuts to animal welfare programs should be of concern to both the industry and the community alike.

‘Clean and green’—that should be Australia’s export image. Minister Joyce’s inaction is degrading our international brand. Labor will continue to fight any plans to wind back the animal welfare protections put in place while we were in government. To that end, the member for Hunter, my colleague the shadow minister for agriculture, introduced a motion into this House yesterday calling on the Minister for Agriculture to provide quarterly reports to parliament on any new markets, the number of head exported, any allegations of animal welfare breaches, investigations undertaken and any actions taken against those who have breached, or should have prevented breaches, of Australian standards. The member for Hunter has also called on the government to appoint an inspector-general of animal welfare.

As the member for Hunter said last night, the minister’s report will place on the public record an easy-to-access and understandable account of the state of the sector, any animal welfare incidents and how they have been dealt with. This and the appointment of an inspector-general will be critical to rebuilding and maintaining public trust. The ball is now in the government’s court.