I rise to take note of the ministerial statement tabled on behalf of Senator Ludwig relating to live animal exports. The tabling of this particular report leaves me in absolutely no doubt that this a government that has completely lost its way. I read this report with some concern, and I was genuinely looking for some hope that, after the month that has provided pain at every level of every community and to every family and every business in North Australia, something would have changed—that there would be one single thing that would have changed in their lives that they could look back upon and say, ‘Obviously this has changed since the first announcement that we had a month ago.’ Sadly, that is not the case.
I was just having a quick glance at the statement. In it Senator Ludwig says:
… I would not wait a day longer than I had to before lifting the suspension.
He then goes on to say:
We had been able to reach agreement with industry about how international standards would be operationalised.
Operationalising international standards is a job that people do every day. It is a very simple process. You have critical control points, you have a set of standards, and someone identifies critical control points in those standards. This only relates to animal welfare and traceability.
But the critical control points in addition to those already in place—and well known by this government—were at the point at which the feedlot already had the standard. The pretty blonde cow with No. 63 in her ear goes through onto the ship, into the feedlot. She has already been traced there so she then gets onto the truck that goes to processing. There is a panel there that does it and that is a standard, so that is a critical control point that they have to go to. They then go the processing facility, the tag comes off and we know that there has been no loss of that animal in that process. The animal is then processed and at the point of processing the ear tag is then deemed to have closed the system. This is not rocket science; it is something that people do every single day.
Senator Ludwig goes on to say:
… we have put in place strict regulatory controls.
Why, in heaven’s name, would you have an ISO third party audited accreditation system and then somehow put in your own regulatory processes—which we have not seen or heard of—unless the minister is just trying to use two lines to look as if they have had some sort of energy in this process? Why would you put in place strict regulatory controls that add third party auditing when you actually have an international standard being met?
Senator Ludwig goes on to say:
… we had advice that Indonesia was prepared to issue import permits for the importation of live cattle.
This is all a rationalisation about why they opened the trade: we have opened the trade because we have advice from Indonesia that they are prepared to issue import permits for the importation of cattle. I think it would strike almost anybody that one is unlikely to be able to issue an import permit from a country that had a prohibition on export. It would have been a bit difficult for the person who was processing this import. They would be asked, ‘Where are you actually getting the cattle from? Australia? That does seem a bit odd, because they have been telling us that they have an export ban.’ Saying that somehow this information that Indonesia was prepared to issue import permits was a reason or rationale for why the government changed its mind absolutely beggars belief.
This statement is difficult to follow and understand. Frankly, I do not really understand why the minister put out a statement that provides no further information. It further confuses history; perhaps that is its intent. Senator Ludwig goes on to say:
Last Thursday, 30 June, while in Darwin, the Prime Minister addressed industry saying—
and this would have been very useful for industry; they would have been very gratified to hear this—
“the best thing we can do for the sustained strong future of this industry is get the animal welfare issues right”.
That was last Thursday. That would have been big news for industry. Those disconnected families, those people without jobs and those with twice as many cattle as can be taken on the rangelands would have said, ‘Well, now it’s okay. We have had this wonderful piece of information. We all feel a lot better.’
It is an environmental nightmare, a human tragedy across the Top End of proportions we have certainly not seen in my time in this country. It is a complete meltdown, and that is the advice that they gave them. The Prime Minister is talking about animal welfare issues. Perhaps she was not aware that, as a consequence of the ban, having twice as many cows with the same amount of grass would cause an animal welfare issue. And we have actually quoted this complete debacle in the state. It beggars belief why someone would rush and put out this sort of rubbish.
Senator Ludwig’s statement goes on to say:
We have put in place a framework which allows this to occur, and these standards will be public documents.
It was the industry that did the work. I was over in Indonesia last weekend. I was talking to industry; I was looking at how they did it. I did not see any government officials over there doing the work. ‘We put the framework in place’. What Labor has done has created a complete human disaster across the Top End. Now they are saying, ‘Oops, sorry about that,’ and are going to somehow take the credit for fixing it. This is emblematic of this government. The only time they appear to try to tell you they have done something well is to say, ‘Look, we’ve fixed it. Pink batts? Sorry about that; no, we’ve got another program. You’re supposed to clap.’ In respect of the disaster with the school halls debacle, Building the Education Revolution, they say, ‘Oh, by the way, the media says we have invested in all this stuff. We’ll fix it.’ They are absolute rocket scientists at fixing disasters of their own making, and this is another one.
Right from day one, we were pretty pleasant about it; we said, ‘Look, the thing you need to do is to reverse this decision. You made a reasonable decision on day one.’ The decision made on day one was to say, ‘Look, there are obviously places these cattle do not need to go to. You can only send them to places where we are assured that the animals will be treated to a standard.’ Those standards were there then. Those inline processes were there then. All they had to do was lift the ban and that is the only thing they did not do for a full month. Of course, they have waved the magic wand; it is all fine now! There are just a couple of things missing. An important one, of course, is those cattle. Now, where do we put them? They are probably in the back paddock!
I have driven down some of these fencelines and they are 100 kilometres long in one paddock. These are enormous places. This is an extensive enterprise. This is not intensive farming. You do not whistle up the sheepdog and go round the back paddock and squirrel them onto the truck. This is an enormous undertaking, and they are doing it for the second time. They have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in getting these cattle to the point where they are, and suddenly they are told, ‘Sorry about that, guys. Just go back to square one.’ Do they think they are going to keep the cattle in a pen? You cannot do that. There is not any fodder. They have done the right thing in looking after the animals, and they’ve released them back onto the rangeland.
We have to get the cattle back. They have had some numbers of very sad and tragic calls from people trying to find work in pretty tough conditions. The trucks are still sitting there; it is pretty hard to start the truck without the driver, as Mr Sterle will attest. Some of them have gone to the mines. Some of them are looking for other work. I can tell you that, when someone moves from driving a truck with cattle and makes the decision to go to the mines, sometimes it is pretty hard to get them back.
And that is the other thing, of course: we have that bit of water between us. So we are going to need the odd ship. I tell you what: it is going to take more than a sheepdog to find those. They have gone to other parts of the world to ply their trade in different places with different cattle to our market. These ships are not going to arrive like that. So they are on the phone now saying, ‘Sorry about that.’ The Australian government are not making those calls. It is the exporters saying: ‘I wonder where those ships went. If you can possibly come back. I know it’s a bit embarrassing; this government does that a bit.’
The other thing is how the markets are going. Every day last year we exported 15,000 head of cattle. This is a fresh-meat market, and there is a process. What is going to happen now is that every ship that did not sail—every day that went past—was another 15,000 head that will not leave our range lands and will not arrive in the marketplace.
And of course there is the relationship with Indonesia. I am completely embarrassed when a Third World, developing country refers to Australia as a sovereign risk. It is very responsible. That is what they have said. (Time expired)