21 May 2018


Amongst the headline issues my electorate office deals with on a daily basis—constituent problems with Centrelink, complaints about the NBN, complex case management for NDIS clients—it is notable that in the past few weeks I've received close to 1,000 representations from local Greenway residents by email, phone and in person regarding the latest reports of systemic abuse in the live animal trade for sheep.

On 8 April, 60 Minutes aired footage of the conditions on board an export ship bound for the Middle East in August 2017. During this voyage, approximately 2,400 sheep died of heat stress. The cruelty and mistreatment of livestock in this way is a disgrace. It is a disservice to the proud farmers who reared them and to a civilised nation where animal law is becoming more widely recognised as a branch in its own right.

I have long advocated for an end to the live-sheep export trade, with a sensible transition that builds up our domestic meat markets, including frozen and chilled export production. It is clear that many Australians also believe this trade should end. The latest representations I have received from local residents are in addition to the thousands more I have received prior. After several reviews over many years, it is now clear that this industry is unsustainable and that its practices have not improved to an acceptable level. The prospect of achieving such an acceptable level is remote—a prospect supported by scientific expertise. As my constituents have also rightly pointed out, I find it impossible to believe that these latest reports of cruelty to sheep on these ships of shame will be the last. It is for this reason that Labor has announced that we will end live-sheep exports and support the industry to transition. In addition, Labor will end the summer export trade at the first opportunity.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the latest reports is that they are neither new nor isolated. Instances of animal cruelty are systemic, despite some improvements in processes, which unfortunately have been undermined by the current government. It is therefore no surprise to me that many of my constituents have little confidence in the current system, and I share the cynicism felt by many people that it's only a matter of time before more abuses are reported. Unfortunately, the likely reality is that many more instances will go unreported.

I welcome the department of agriculture's decision to suspend live exports to Qatar in response to these damning reports. In the short term, the recent reports highlight the need for the implementation of an inspector-general for animal welfare, an independent body that enshrines the protection of animal rights. I believe that this is the most appropriate way to begin the transition away from live exports. I will continue to advocate for an independent office of animal welfare to ensure that such animal abuse is stopped.

The Turnbull government's confirmation that it will not further act in a meaningful way is disappointing but, unfortunately, expected, as evidenced by the Prime Minister's comments in question time today. It's clear the northern summer sheep trade and animal welfare expectations cannot be reconciled. No matter what the standards or stocking densities, sheep will continue to suffer in the searing heat. Even the industry itself has admitted animal welfare standards cannot be assured and that it cannot guarantee there won't be more incidents akin to those seen in the most recent footage.

The transition needs to begin now to ensure that we build up our frozen and chilled meat export sector. It is important that we continue to support Australian farmers during this process to ensure we can build a sustainable and humane meat-processing sector onshore. We will work with farmers to ensure these higher standards are implemented during the transition period and, in doing so, create a framework to support Australian sheep farmers to be successful and sustainable into the future. We know there are parts of the industry that also support a transition plan. It's time to get this done. This won't happen overnight. It will happen over time, but must happen because it's the right thing to do, including in an economic sense.

I end by noting that the suburb of Riverstone in Greenway was once home to a meatworks, established in 1878, which at one time reportedly processed an average of 2,000 sheep daily. It was expanded to include freezing facilities, a cannery and sheepskin treatment. In the 1970s, the construction of a new meatworks saw Riverstone home to one of the most advanced meat processing plants of its time, employing over 2,000 people. By the early 1990s it was all gone. It's notable now that a region where meat processing was once so integral is now so vocal in its opposition to a trade that undermines that domestic industry and jobs.