Live Exports Suspension

I spoke in parliament last night on the issue of live animal exports.
Live Animal Exports, 14 June 2011

The image of our stock men and women is deeply etched on the national psyche: the laconic stockmen rocking easily in the saddle, cajoling and guiding the herd; the alert and agile stockman darting through the bush, bringing a bolter back or displaying campdrafting skills at the local rodeo.

The resourcefulness and resilience of Sara Henderson, who successfully ran Bullo River cattle station, inspired us all with her campaign against breast cancer even as she herself was dying from the disease.

The government, those who raise the cattle and those who rely on the cattle care deeply about the welfare of these animals and ensuring they are treated humanely every step of the way.

Following evidence of animal mistreatment, the decision was made to suspend trade to Indonesia. This was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision.

The live export trade will only recommence when we are certain that the industry complies with supply chain assurances. The industry must be based on animal welfare outcomes, transparency and verification. The Australian and Indonesian governments have agreed to work together to establish a transparent, verifiable system that will account for cattle from Australia right through the supply chain.

The humane treatment of animals is a universal value that transcends international boundaries. It is the community standard. It is the government's standard. It must be the industry's standard.

Under World Trade Organisation rules, Australia has the right to take actions to ensure that Australian cattle are treated in accordance with international standards of animal welfare. I was horrified, as all Australians were, by the Four Corners footage.

We cannot turn away from this.

That is not the Labor way.

It is not the way of this government.

That is why the government is working with the industry and with animal welfare organisations to make sure that the cattle those in the industry rely on and care for are part of a supply chain that respects the animals' welfare.

Halal killing should only be done after animals are stunned. This is the best way to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry for those that rely on meat exports for their livelihood and way of life, such as the Indigenous stockmen and their families who work in 82 Indigenous cattle stations across Northern Australia, providing economic and employment opportunities.

We know that in the short term the suspension will have an impact. The government is committed to the long-term future of the industry, an industry that is vital to many Australians and their communities.

We all identify with the spirit of our stock men and women, and the care they have for their cattle. Banjo Paterson wrote of this in his poem With the Cattle:

'The plains are all awave with grass,

The skies are deepest blue;

And leisurely the cattle pass

And feed the day long through;

But when we sight the station gate,

We make the stockwhips crack,

A welcome sound to those who wait

To greet the cattle back:'

If anyone is left in doubt as to the indelible mark left by those who work the land, look down at your feet or the person's next to you. There is a good chance they will be wearing a pair of RM Williams shoes, shoes designed by a stockman for stockmen to enable them to apply their trade in caring for their cattle.

The pundits like to find conflict in every story. In the case of live exports, the debate has been portrayed as city versus country, Bondi versus Barcaldine, naive animal lovers versus heartless farmers.

But the debate is more than that.

We are more than that.

Over the past fortnight, I have received more than 500 emails on the issue of live exports and engaged in numerous conversations with constituents here in the bush capital.

Australia is made up of urbanites proud of their cattle industry and people on the land horrified at what they saw on their TV screens.

Ours is not a country divided. Most want a strong cattle industry, but never again do we want to see cattle mistreated. I am confident that we can achieve both outcomes.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.