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Speech: Introduction of Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2019

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 4 Jul 2019

I am honoured to introduce the Greens' Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill 2019, because we know that the live export trade is inevitably cruel and causes untold animal suffering.

Animals are not mere cargo. They are living, breathing, sentient beings. The reality is that live export cannot be made safe for sheep, cattle or any animal. It is a business model that is simply incompatible with animal welfare.

The Greens have long argued that we should be banning all live export for slaughter, and this Bill is part of the campaign to make that a reality. We make no apologies for standing up for the welfare of animals. We need a phased ban with a structural adjustment assistance fund which can transition the industry to the chilled meat trade.

Most Australians were awakened to the horror of live exports in April of 2018, when Animals Australia and 60 Minutes unveiled the truth of what happens on live export ships. The images from aboard the Awassi Express were sickening and heart-wrenching; images of thousands of sheep dying from heat stress and overcrowding. In one day alone, more than 800 sheep died in excruciating conditions. These images are burnt indelibly into my mind: scared, confused and terrified animals knee-deep in excrement; a newborn lamb lying abandoned and alone on a metal floor; sheep desperately trying to escape pens as they are literally cooked alive from the inside out; and carcasses piled up as they decay in the oppressive heat.

The only reason we know about this cruelty is because of a young Pakistani trainee navigation officer on the vessel, 25-year-old Faisal Ullah, a graduate of Pakistan Marine Academy. He described the conditions on board the vessel as being the same as putting live animals into the oven.

Mr Faisal Ullah said he felt a personal obligation to expose the cruelty because of the severity of the suffering that he witnessed, including lambs born on the ship being crushed to death and the cruel slitting of the throats of sheep to throw them overboard. Over the years, many others, like live export vet Lynn Simpson, have risked their jobs and their safety to expose the truth of animal abuse. We can't see this cruelty again and again and think it should continue. This Bill honours their bravery in ending this trade in misery.

I wish that the Awassi Express was a one-off. I wish that we had caught the bad guys and punished them and life could go on. But this fantasy world that the Government lives in doesn't exist. Cancelling one licence doesn't change the fact that this is a trade built inherently on cruelty; on standards that guarantee the horrific and cruel deaths of thousands of sheep each year. This has been going on for decades, yet every time it happens it is written off as the actions of another bad apple. I am here to tell you today that the live export trade is simply and totally incompatible with animal welfare.

This mistreatment of animals has been going on for years and will continue until we shut it down. Thirty-three years ago, the Senate Committee into Animal Welfare investigated the live export trade and concluded that "if a decision were to be made on the future of the trade purely on animal welfare grounds, there is enough evidence to stop the trade".

The list of deaths and cruelty in the live export industry is extremely long. What happened aboard the Awassi Express wasn't an accident. It wasn't an exception. This is how the business model operates:

In 1980, 40,000 sheep and a crew member died aboard the Farid Fares

In 1966, 67,000 sheep died aboard the Uniceb

In 1999, 800 cattle died on the Temburong

In 2003, 5,500 sheep died on the MV Cormo Express

In 2013, we learned about brutal sledgehammering of Australian cattle in Vietnam (and again in 2015 and 2016)

In 2014, 4,000 sheep dead aboard the Bader III

In 2017, 3,000 dead aboard the Al Messilah

And these are just the ones we know about.

And it isn't just the death of animals that is the problem. It is how they die and how they live on these ships of misery. It is the torture and suffering, including the extreme heat, the significant distress and trauma, and the lack of hygiene of those who survive the trip.

In 2018, we found out that 9,227 sheep and 3,695 cattle on the MV Bahijah were subject to torturous heat stress for eight days straight. And just this year we have heard about the deaths and mistreatment of cattle on board, and as they were unloaded, from the Maysora in Israel. We have also heard that more than 1,500 head of cattle and 99 buffalo from Australia have disappeared from approved feedlots or abattoirs in Vietnam over the past 13 months, showing that that the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, known as ESCAS, isn't working.

There have been more than a dozen reforms, reviews or inquiries since this industry started, and still the cruelty continues. This is an industry that cannot be sustained because its fundamentals are built on cruelty.

Live export isn't just bad for animals. It is bad for workers and the economy. A plethora of economic reports have confirmed that the live export trade has competed with, and caused the closure of, meat-processing plants and abattoirs in regional Australia, with the loss of local jobs and community incomes.

Australia's chilled meat industry is worth seven times more to Australia than live exports and is rapidly growing. It makes no economic sense to keep the cruelty on these ships going. The live sheep export trade in particular is a dying industry. Every importing country already buys chilled and boxed meat products from Australia. Just six per cent—a mere six per cent—of Australian sheep enter the live export chain, and they can easily be accommodated in the chilled meat industry. With support, we can actually help farmers and workers transition out of this trade and into long-term security and sustainability.

Australians are asking us to end the brutality of live export but the Liberal and National Government is ignoring them. In response to the Awassi scandal, they cried crocodile tears but refused to make any meaningful change.

Even the half-hearted attempts by the Government to distract us have been plagued with scandal.

We know that the Department attempted to influence the Independent Review of the Regulatory Capability and Culture of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in the Regulation of Live Animal Exports, known as the Moss review, which was set up in response to the horrific abuse we saw on five separate voyages of the Awassi Express.

'The Department has failed as a regulator.' This was the beginning of the draft report provided to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources on 17 December 2018. Ten days later, when the final version was released by the then Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud MP, that sentence had been removed. We now know, thanks to the papers that my motion passed by the Senate caused to be released, that the Department of Agriculture's fingerprints are all over draft versions of the so-called independent report. The Department were shown at least four draft versions of the report, they provided extensive editing, and were allowed to influence and even propose deletion of whole sections of the report. We see the Department suggesting that wide-ranging criticisms of the Government and its contribution to animal cruelty be removed, and these criticisms never made it into the final report. We saw that the Department of Agriculture wanted to remove statements about any involvement or praise of animal welfare groups—the very groups that expose the animal cruelty in the first place – and they appeared to succeed in removing most of them.

That review also identified allegations made against seven individuals relating to the deliberate suppression by departmental staff of claims of poor animal welfare. A subsequent review into these claims, the Lawler Review, was unable to investigate these claims because doing so would potentially expose a whistle-blower. As such, the claims remain uninvestigated. It is beyond belief that very serious allegations from whistle blowers about the doctoring of mortality reports and a culture of secrecy and fear within the live exports regulator still haven't been adequately addressed. Potentially, you have senior staff in the Department with very serious allegations against them getting off scot-free, and the Government simply doesn't care.

The Government and the industry think our outrage will die down and we will become silent.

Well, I have news for you. We are not looking away and we are not going away. We have been fighting to stop live exports for 30 years, and we will keep fighting because the live export industry is inherently cruel. The reality is that it cannot be regulated to meet community expectations or animal welfare. We have passed the tipping point, with the majority of Australians thoroughly rejecting the cruelty of live export. I had the privilege of lodging a petition with 238,000 signatures against live export last year in the Senate, one of the largest petitions this Parliament has seen.

Before I conclude, I want to pay tribute to some trailblazers that have helped get us here: former Senators Lee Rhiannon and Derryn Hinch, both of whom worked hard over many years to expose this industry. I also note the incredible work of the many organisations like Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia that have pushed for this change. Most of all I thank the community, the people of Australia, who have been steadfast in their compassion for animals and their welfare.

We won't stop until the cruel live export industry is consigned to the dustbin of history.

The only solution is to shut it down. Not just sheep but all animals, including cattle, should be spared the hell of live export.

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