I would like to start by commending the minister on his first decision in this regard. It was a good decision and it was easy to understand. We have identified 11 abattoirs and processing facilities in Indonesia and the minister was able to dictate that no Australian animals would be allowed to go to those abattoirs. Now, something happened in the interim. Some would say that it might be an email chain. It might have been all sorts of pressures, but it was not seen to be tough enough. So the government just rolls out a highly politicised decision that seems to be good enough: they put a ban on the trade. One needs to understand the impacts on farmers and families; stock contractors; helicopter services—fine pilots and fine services, the Milton Joneses and the John Armstrongs of the world; the feed and pellet producers; and the truck companies.
Can you or any Australian imagine for a minute the impact it would have on you as a grocer, a chemist, a builder or a newsagent if it was suddenly said to you, ‘You cannot trade; you can continue to do whatever you like but you cannot sell your product and, by the way, we’re not actually giving you an answer about when that will start again so you can have some sort of a plan’? The only consistent thing happening in Northern Australia is that bills need to be paid and the banks are going to need their pound of flesh, and rightly so, every month.
To perhaps humanise this, we have been talking a lot about animal welfare and there is none on this side of the house who would accept that an Australian animal should be treated in any way differently overseas from here. Colin Fink runs a family operated feed mill at Tortilla Flats, just south of Darwin. He has grown, harvested and carted 3,000 tonnes of hay this year at a cost of $120 a tonne for which he does not have a market. He has just processed 160,000 tonnes of pellets to supply three live-cattle boats, but the contracts have stopped so there are no payments or prospects for this feed. He laid off four staff last week and, when all the hay is in, he will lay off another three staff, including his own son who works in the business. Colin spent eight years building this business and says that if this lasts a few more weeks he is going to have to shut down. The mill and the hay property will be vastly devalued if this continues. No-one is going to buy the feed mill, certainly with no market. These are the sorts of emails and stories that I am striking and I have dozens and dozens of people who are literally going to the wall.
I touch on the impact of animal welfare by this decision to have a ban. People need to understand that the Bos indica stock across Northern Australia are fundamentally a breeding stock. You have a certain amount of land and on that land once a year you will turn off those animals. That land can only handle the breeding stock. It will handle over and after the wet season an increased number of animals that have been bred and are ready to be turned off. Keeping those animals on this country for a longer time is going to have a devastating effect both on the range lands—the country, the environment—and on the animals. Because there is less feed, the animals generally get weaker and I myself have witnessed so many times that when the animals get weaker there is less water, they get bogged and they generally come to a pretty grisly end courtesy of the wild pig population. It is a pretty grim circumstance.
This could all have been avoided if the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry had stood up here today and said that we need to have a food chain process and it all has to be accredited. At the moment there are at least four processing facilities that have an internal closed system. They know that the animals leave Australia in a perfectly functional vessel that is now set to world standards and they go to a perfectly functional feedlot that meets world standards and to a perfectly functioning slaughterhouse, which was not seen on Four Corners,that meets and exceeds international standards.
So why would you not be more sophisticated in your approach to ensure that the Colins of this world are not getting beaten up over this process and to ensure that we can continue the trade? There is a legitimate trade that is going to legitimate processes. Everyone acknowledges that those processes now need to expand to take up the remainder of the trade. Those abattoirs that are ready to go now need to be accredited. As soon as they are accredited, the minister should simply make the very important announcement that the trade recommence
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