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Live Animal Exports

I rise to speak today on the private member's motion regarding animal welfare. I want to start by stating categorically that I do not support animal cruelty in any form. Australia is regarded as a world leader in welfare standards for livestock exports. The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, known as ESCAS, which was rolled out in Australia in 2012, is a system which not only maintains but also reinforces Australia's solid reputation as a world leader in animal welfare.

Australia is the world's second largest exporter of live sheep and the fifth largest exporter of live cattle. To hold that mantle is something that we should be proud of and should support. I am proud to say that Australia's leadership has positively influenced animal welfare in other countries. It is imperative that we support our local farmers, and I repeat once again that I do not support cruelty to animals.

Following the review of ESCAS released in January, it is clear that Australia sets a bar in animal welfare standards. Since ESCAS was introduced, Australia has exported eight million head of livestock to nearly 20 countries, in 1,139 consignments, with just 22 incidents of animal welfare noted. I want to repeat: that is 22 incidents in over eight million head of livestock, which equates to 0.000275 per cent. I will admit that no percentage is acceptable, but I think it is worthwhile keeping this number in perspective. The report also found that an awareness of animal welfare issues in livestock handling and slaughter facilities overseas has been improved, and ESCAS has provided a valuable source of previously unreported data about the movement and the treatment of animals. Importing countries have said that the implementation of ESCAS has led to a greater efficiency in processing animals at the point of slaughter.

The World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE, said the Australian livestock export industry is 'leading the world in animal welfare'. They also said the industry's investments in improved implementation of OIE standards have its 'full and unequivocal support'.

WA and Durack's contribution to Australia's live export market is significant. Last year WA contributed a whopping 84 per cent to Australia's sheep exports and a very large proportion were from Durack. During the 2013-14 financial year, WA's live exports rose by 56 per cent, the equivalent of an additional 300,000 head and again, a large portion were from Durack.

I am not convinced that appointing an independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, as proposed by this motion, is going to help farmers or the industries. This could simply be adding another layer of bureaucracy, when the report found the system is already 'costly to administer for both industry and the Department of Agriculture'.

It is worth noting that the live export industry is currently working on an alternative or an amendment to ESCAS which would dispense with the need to have every single link in the supply chain audited on every single occasion. What they are proposing seems very sensible. I applaud the industry for showing such initiative and I wish them well with their deliberations with the Department of Agriculture.

It is imperative that we support farmers, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable. I am committed to the farmers and pastoralists of Durack and the Abbott government is committed to farmers around Australia. Hence we have seen the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme and the Farm Management Deposits Scheme. More recently we have seen significant drought assistance and also the farm household allowance, for which I have supported the government in delivering since we came to office nearly two years ago—together with the latest budget announcements with respect to small business and primary producer instant tax deductions.

I conclude by referring to the bill proposed recently by Senator Chris Back, the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015, which makes it a criminal offence for people in possession of film footage showing cruelty to animals who fail to bring the information to the attention of authorities as soon as practicable. The objective of this bill is to cease the practice of withholding such important information by so-called animal welfare groups who release the information at a time which suits their own political agenda, while, due to the time delay, the perpetrators of the apparent animal cruelty are not held to account. I commend Senator Back's bill to the House.

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