More than just red tape

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The Hon Michael Danby MP

With graphic images of the mistreatment of Australian livestock in foreign abattoirs on national TV, live exports is a topic of great concern for locals, as it is for people all around Australia.

In June, images from an abattoir in the Arab Israeli town of Deir al-Asad shocked Australian television audiences. This came just weeks after similar images from Vietnam. Sickened by the footage, I rang the Israeli Embassy and was told Israel’s agriculture minister had called an investigation even before Animals Australia had screened their footage in Australia. The abattoir at Deir al-Asad was closed pending the investigation’s outcome. And the Israelis announced an increase in penalties for the mistreatment of animals.

Regardless of whether we can secure improvements in individual cases like this, cruelty to animals is unacceptable. That is why, in 2011, the then-Labor Government worked with farmers and industry to establish the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS), 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. On top of ESCAS, Labor established the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to provide relevant advice on standards and practices, and proposed establishing an independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, to scrutinise the industry to ensure that incidents of this nature did not occur.

Unfortunately, just a month after the Coalition formed government, the new Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce scrapped the Committee and binned the Inspector-General proposal. Mr Joyce’s disappointing explanation was, “this is one bit of red tape we can do without” and “we all need to be realistic about the fact that livestock are raised for food.” Now Mr Joyce 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. The humane treatment of animals is compatible with maintaining a sustainable agriculture sector in this country.

In June, I told Parliament that “Animal welfare is more than just red tape… Proper animal welfare should be a standard to which any self-respecting Government should strive to achieve; indeed it is in the enlightened self-interest of the industry that adequate regulations be enforced.”

Exporting livestock accounts for close to $1 billion of Australia’s economic output, tens of thousands of jobs rely entirely on the industry. Labor has consistently been a strong supporter of sustaining and fostering Australia’s reputable agricultural sector, and it is in this light that our reputation will hang or fall, depending on the treatment of livestock in global exports.

The attitude of the current Government highlights how disconnected the Liberal–National Coalition is with the Australian people. People in St Kilda and across Australia have made it abundantly clear that animal cruelty should be stamped out. I, and the Labor Party, will continue to fight any Abbott Government plans to wind back the instruments of animal welfare protection.

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