Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:41): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. In 2018, Minister Littleproud said he was shocked and gutted by footage of thousands of suffering sheep being cooked alive aboard the live export ship Awassi Express. All of Australia was shocked and appalled by this unspeakable cruelty to animals which has been going on for decades. While the government refuses to shut down live animal exports, it did implement a ban on live sheep exports to the Northern Hemisphere during summer months because of the excruciating suffering that heat stress inflicts. Now that you've made a mockery of your own rules by granting an exemption to the Al Kuwait, a ship scheduled to leave Fremantle today, I ask: why did the government bother instituting new rules for live exports if it had no intention of enforcing them?
Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Minister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:42): Thank you, Senator Faruqi, for your question. Firstly, the Australian government takes its responsibility for animal welfare, particularly in our farming sector, very, very seriously. As you'd be aware, the decision was made by the Federal Court to allow the Al Kuwait to load and sail. I'd also like to point out to you that there is an independent observer aboard that ship who will sail with that voyage all the way to its destination.
The matter you are referring to is one that we take very seriously. There are in place very, very strict rules and guidelines around the export of live animals from this country. You rightly pointed out the footage we saw last year—and I think everyone in Australia was absolutely disgusted at that footage. That's why this government has worked absolutely tirelessly with the industry, with the sector, with people who have an interest in the welfare of animals, to make sure our live export trade is done in a matter that is absolutely world's best practice.
I think I would be correct in saying that Australia's live export trade and the animal welfare conditions that we expect all our farmers to undertake are seen around the world as the best practice. Through our demonstration of best practice, we like to think we are encouraging other countries around the world to undertake best practice as well and, in doing so, increase the level of animal welfare protections that are in place for all animals around the world. But we will not destroy our Australian agriculture sector by an ideological pursuit when we have put in place very, very strict conditions.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:44): Minister, the Department of Agriculture obviously has a glaring conflict of interest as the so-called independent regulator of an industry it actively promotes. The Moss review showed that the Department of Agriculture had failed animals and was incapable of regulating the live export industry. Will the government commit to establishing an independent office of animal welfare at arm's length from the minister and the Department of Agriculture to protect animals from cruelty and exploitation?
Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Minister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:44): I first of all refute that there is a conflict of interest, and I would absolutely endorse the processes that are in place now as a result of many reviews and much change since we saw that horrific footage a couple of years ago. So I think that the Australian government, through the independence of the Department of Agriculture's role in being the inspector, have put in place a set of conditions that ensure that Australia's live exports are governed under the very strictest of conditions. The fact that the Al Kuwait has been able to load today is a reflection that the Federal Court viewed the provisions that have been put in place by the Department of Agriculture as being adequate to protect the welfare of those animals on board that ship.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:45): Minister, I have received thousands of emails in just the last two weeks from people across Australia who are angry at the way this government mistreats animals.
Government senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order! Order on my right! Stop the clock. Order on my right. I need to hear the question. Senator Faruqi, to continue.
Senator FARUQI: They want animal cruelty to end, but of course this government just does not care. Will the minister just be honest and admit once and for all that this government will prioritise profits for big business over animal welfare every single time?
Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Minister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:46): First of all, I would say: absolutely, the Australian government does not do as you have alleged. The Australian government is absolutely committed to upholding the absolutely very high standards of animal welfare while supporting a sustainable live export trade. It is very important that we get the balance right on animal welfare—an absolute priority—and jobs for Australians, particularly rural and regional jobs for rural and regional Australia and the economies and the regional communities that rely upon them.
We saw the absolute disaster that was created when we banned, as a knee-jerk reaction, the live export from northern Australia, and to watch those hundreds of thousands of cattle die of starvation because an industry got stopped in its tracks was probably far crueller than anything that you could ever imagine, Senator Faruqi. So maybe think about what you're saying, because right now we are absolutely committed to the highest level of animal welfare, and we will continue to be so, whilst providing jobs.