FEDERAL independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie has compared the Coalition government to “a pack of sadists” when it comes to the live animal export trade.
Speaking on ABC radio in response to the release of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures that show record movements for live cattle exports in this year’s June quarter, Mr Wilkie delivered a scathing attack on live exports.
“The Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce seems to rub his hands with glee at the prospect of more and more exports, even though many of those animals will be subject to cruelty or at least sent to places where there are no safeguards in place to ensure they’re not treated in a cruel way,” he said.
“An objective observer could well say that this government is a pack of sadists when it comes to animal cruelty and the need to treat our animals better in overseas markets.”
Live cattle ex up 58pc
The ABS data showed that Australian live cattle exports rose by 58 per cent to 351,000 head for the June quarter, with 60pc going to Indonesia, 10pc to Vietnam and 9pc to the Russian Federation.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) also released figures this week showing Australian live cattle exports in the 2013-14 fiscal year totalled 1.13 million head – up 79pc on the previous twelve months and the highest fiscal year volume on record.
“Underpinned by most major markets demanding greater numbers, total live cattle exports were valued at $1.05 billion, up 78pc on the previous fiscal year, MLA said, quoting ABS stats.
Live sheep exports also increased by 24pc to 610,000 head with 29pc going to Qatar, 24pc to Jordan and 16pc to Bahrain. Last financial year Australian live sheep totalled 2.02 million head, valued at $185 million.
Wilkie 'horrified' at increase
But Mr Wilkie - a long-running critic of the live export trade - said it was “a horrifying thought” that record cattle numbers have been shipped overseas in the past financial year.
“Many of those beasts are going to places where they’ll be subject to cruelty; there are certainly no safeguards in place to ensure they’re not treated in a cruel way,” he said.
“Every single one of those beasts which will be slaughtered overseas is a best that could have been slaughtered in Australia employing Australian workers.”
Mr Wilkie has supported Animals Australia in campaigning against live exports over animal welfare concerns, while pushing for increased onshore meat processing. He said the industry had steadily recovered following the former Labor government’s-long ban on cattle exports to Indonesia in June 2011.
But live exports are now being “turbo-charged” by an Agriculture Minister with “absolutely no regard for animal welfare nor for Australia’s economic self-interest and the fact that those beasts should be processed in Australia”.
He said numerous animal cruelty issues had been exposed in overseas livestock markets over time.
“The record is there for all to see that we are exporting to countries where Australian animals are treated badly,” he said.
“And the only way in fact to ensure that these animals are not treated badly in future is to wind up the trade and frankly winding up the trade would be in Australia’s economic self-interest.”
Mr Wilkie said he would keep “chipping away” in the federal parliament, to make both the government and opposition understand Australia’s live animal export trade “is systemically cruel”.
He said Western Australia alone had enough spare abattoir capacity to slaughter all live sheep exported to the Middle East - and 1000 jobs could be generated in the Top End if cattle were processed there, instead of going into live export markets.
While he credited the previous Labor government with implementing the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), he said ESCAS animal welfare safeguards are not being met.
Industry set for long-term success: Matz
However, Cattle Council of Australia chief executive Jed Matz said there was “a really good regulatory system in place to protect the industry, in terms of making sure we have good animal welfare outcomes”.
"People, I think, can look forward to the long-term success of the industry."
Mr Matz said he hoped the new figures represented a long-term reversal of fortunes for cattle producers and industry, “because we're seeing unprecedented demand internationally”.
"Certainly after the difficult period we went to with the Indonesian ban to see the trade get up to its pre-ban numbers is fantastic news,” he said.
"We always knew there'd be growth in live exports and boxed beef in North Asia and it's that demand from South-East and North Asia that's really doing it."
Markets look for live, not boxed trade
The absence of Australian livestock in overseas markets does not necessarily translate into increased meat imports from Australia, a landmark new report into the livestock export trade revealed in July.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) report Live Export Trade Assessment provided the first full analysis of Australia’s livestock export trade.
It found that in 2013, the combined value of cattle (excluding breeder and dairy cattle), sheep and goat exports was $685.5 million, and the latest ABARES forecast is for cattle and sheep exports to rise significantly in 2014–15 to $1 billion.
The report also found that a number of factors determine an importing country’s demand for live animals over meat, with those factors also influencing the likelihood of a country substituting Australian live animals with meat imports.
ABARES executive director Karen Schneider said ABARES found overseas markets didn’t necessarily replace live Australian animals with imported meat from Australia where Australian livestock was absent.
“Many other countries supply meat less expensively, and, in livestock Australia has many strong competitors in Africa and Europe,” Ms Schneider said.
- with FarmOnline