We need to be extremely careful about how we, as a nation, respond to the distressing incident that occurred on the Awassi Express last August.
Any proposal to shut down part or whole of Australia’s live export trade is a totally disproportionate response in the context of an industry that, the majority of the time, operates in an ethical and humane fashion.
I welcome the debate about higher standards of animal welfare – I think the industry accepts that we’ve got to do better and we can’t have these sorts of incidents occurring.
The footage we saw from the Awassi Express is undoubtedly shocking, and it’s the sort of conduct that every Australian would consider unacceptable.
But let’s consider, for a moment, the industry as a whole and the implications of a ban on live exporting.
There are more than a million sheep exported out of Australia every year, and we’re seeing a very miniscule percentage of these sheep caught up in incidents similar to the Awassi Express.
As a lifelong livestock farmer from Katanning, I’m appalled by these images and knowing the care that most farmers put into their animals in preparation for sale, that sentiment would be held almost unanimously throughout the agricultural community.
There are thousands of families in my electorate whose livelihoods, at least in part, depend on the live export trade.
It is a vital part of the regional economy and to effectively punish those families in response to an isolated incident would have profound consequences for regional Western Australia.
This is a terrible incident, but it represents a very small portion of the overall trade.
The general community don’t see that every year, millions of animals are moved around humanely and proper welfare standards are upheld.
There are 106 countries around the world that export live animals.
Of those nations, Australia is the only one that requires World Organisation for Animal Health welfare standards to be met as a minimum for exported livestock.
We are setting a much higher standard in many of our destination countries that is lifting the standard for our competitors across the globe.
Our supply chain systems that are being implemented in our export countries are leading to much better animal outcomes around the world.
The final point I would make is that we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of shutting down the live export trade in recent history.
The Gillard Government’s spontaneous shutdown of live exports to Indonesia in 2011 was a move from which some farmers never recovered.
Those farmers are seeking $600 million in compensation for damages because of the previous Government’s actions – a bid that, if successful, would ultimately be shared by all taxpayers.
Let’s crack down on operators who breach the standards Australians expect of the industry.
I endorse the measures proposed by the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, including an independent observer and reduced stocking density for voyages bound for the Middle East in the Northern Hemisphere summer period.
But to shut down a vital component of the industry would undoubtedly threaten the livelihoods of rural Australians.
It’s a proposal that I’ll be vehemently opposing, and I’ll be making that case if this matter is discussed in party room.