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Failure to provide animal welfare documents

Mehreen Faruqi 29 Mar 2022

I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister's failure to provide an answer or an explanation.

Earlier this year, I moved an order for the production of documents regarding animal welfare incident reports held by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. That motion was agreed to unanimously by this chamber on 9 February. The agreed motion allowed more than one week for the collection of the relevant documents, setting a deadline of 17 February. On that date, 17 February, Minister McKenzie wrote to the President stating that the agriculture minister had advised that, due to the large number of documents being sought, he was unable to comply with the time frame. Critically—

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I beg your pardon. Sorry, Senator McKenzie. A point of order?

Senator McKenzie: My apologies to the Senate and to Senator Faruqi. Consistent—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie—

Senator McKenzie: I would seek leave to respond to Senator Faruqi's request earlier.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Is leave granted?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I don't think leave has been granted. Senator Faruqi, continue your point, and, Senator McKenzie, obviously you can respond then.

Senator FARUQI: As I was saying: on that date, 17 February, Minister McKenzie wrote to the President stating that the agriculture minister had advised that, due to the large number of documents being sought, he was unable to comply with the time frame. Critically, the letter also says that the minister intends to respond to the order at the earliest possible opportunity. It's now 29 March and almost six weeks have passed since this letter was provided, so where on earth are these documents? This is a really frustrating situation. The government has promised the chamber certain materials and promised to provide them at the earliest possible opportunity, and we are left hanging until this very last sitting week to try and get even an explanation for why they have not been tabled.

We know that this government will avoid transparency and accountability at every turn. It is absolutely critical that these documents are tabled and that this vital information about animal welfare is presented to the chamber. My motion in February followed an investigation, published in the Age newspaper, into horrific animal cruelty in export abattoirs. Documents obtained by Richard Baker of the Age related to incident reports covering just two months in 2019. The Age reported that, according to these reports, some cattle and sheep arriving at Victorian export abattoirs were unable to bear their own weight and a small number were so debilitated that they died during transportation or had to be put down on arrival. This is simply disgusting, cruel stuff, and there must be a light shone on the extent to which these sorts of incidents are taking place in Australian abattoirs. That's why I moved the motion for this order, and I was very pleased to have it receive the unanimous support of the Senate.

When I asked about welfare in our export abattoirs during Senate estimates on 15 February, following this order having been made the week before, the First Assistant Secretary of the Exports and Veterinary Services Division, Ms Nicola Hinder, stated:

I'm happy to be able to provide you with details for the number of animal welfare incident reports that were lodged in 2020 and 2021 and talk about those in the construct of what they are on a proportionate basis.

Those details came through just a few days ago. The department reports that, across export establishments with an on-plant vet, there was an average of 316 incident reports raised annually across 2020 and 2021—presumably, over 600 reports. So where are these reports? The government clearly has them to hand. The department has reviewed them. Either the government wants to release the details of these reports and wants to show its commitment to transparency and accountability or it doesn't. What is it about these documents that you're trying to hide? Could it be that there are incidents detailed in these documents that reveal more horrifying incidents of animal cruelty in our abattoirs? It seems likely, but we won't actually know until they are tabled.

Sadly, this is part and parcel of this government's hostility to any form of transparency in animal welfare, no matter what animal or industry is involved. We know what's happening in live export ships. We know that, in 2019, this parliament passed draconian ag-gag, antiprotest laws that targeted activists who have bravely sought to uncover evidence of vicious animal cruelty at agriculture facilities and on farms. Those laws were designed to protect big agribusinesses from scrutiny and transparency. They were an absolute shame. More recently, we have seen the removal of independent observers from the live export ships. There hasn't been an observer on a ship since June 2020. The government blames COVID, but we know that animal welfare is never a priority for them. In fact, their mates in the live export industry have been pushing for the program to be rolled back.

We know, Minister, that you lot really don't care about animals. You don't see them as sentient beings; you see them just as commodities from which to make a profit. That's why the Greens have been pushing for some time now for an independent office of animal welfare to take it out of agriculture, where there is a massive conflict of interest in that that department supposedly have a remit to protect animals and look after their welfare but then are also making megabucks off them. We know what wins out every time: making profit at the expense of animals wins out every single time.

Now we have this big, inexplicable, shameful delay in the tabling of these critical documents relating to animal welfare in abattoirs, so I do call on the government to urgently provide the documents for the sake of transparency, for the sake of respecting the order of the Senate and, above all, for the sake of the poor animals who have suffered and whose suffering must not be kept a secret.


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