Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (22:24): Through the course of this parliamentary term orthodox views have shaped thinking about the issues that have dominated attention in this chamber. No doubt these views will inform those seeking to record history; however, what has not captured attention to the same extent is an issue that in my opinion has engaged a sizeable number of people within the electorate of Chifley. I dare say that it is probably one of the biggest issues that have attracted responses across my electorate. The issue is animal welfare—specifically the management of the live export trade in this country. Since this issue reached explosive prominence following a Four Corners expose in March 2011, it seems there has hardly been a week in which my office has not received some form of contact from a constituent deeply concerned by the terrible treatment of animals.
In response to public concerns, this government undertook groundbreaking reforms to help ensure exported animals would be treated in line with international welfare standards and to put the welfare of the animals at the heart of the live export system. We introduced strict rules and regulations in Australia's livestock export industry in an attempt to ensure that animals would only be exported if it could be independently shown that they would be treated at or better than international standards.
It is worth noting that before these changes there were not any rules governing the treatment of an animal once it arrived at an export market. The government changed that. It was a good move—one that should be congratulated. We worked with trading partners to help usher in these new regulations and we secured favourable support from these moves. These moves placed us in a special group. We are one of the few countries in the world with some of the strictest standards for the export of live animals. Over 100 countries are involved in live export. We have got some of the toughest export rules, looking after animals from paddock to processing.
I mentioned earlier how constituents would often contact me about this issue. People like Jeannine Barrett, Melinda McCarthy, Robert Zivkovic and Kirsty Matthews could not abide a system that would allow the mistreatment of animals. They were not unreasonable about their viewpoints. They understood that Australia's food exports provide a livelihood for people here and a source of fresh, clean food for our region, but they believed the live export trade was not sustainable and could not guarantee animal welfare.
When they first contacted me, my response was straightforward and direct. I did not want to see the immediate shutdown of a sector that provides jobs and economic security for so many Australians. I believed we needed time to see the impact of the broad range of reforms we had undertaken. But, since that time, something happened—actually, a number of things happened. We saw issues raised about the treatment of animals in Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Mauritius, Kuwait, Israel and more recently Malaysia and Egypt. It was at this point I began to reassess my own position on this matter. After everything we had done, following all the measures we put in place and despite the breadth of the reforms and all the oversight introduced, we simply could not get a guarantee for the welfare of our livestock once they reached the destination market. Seeing those repeated instances of mistreatment led me to the firm view that we now need to prepare for the transition from live animal exports to a domestic chilled, frozen and processed meat industry. This needs to be done right. It needs to recognise the impact on people here and overseas. It needs to be done. It has to be done. There are trading partners that we can work with to make this happen.
In the chamber last week my friend and colleague the member for Throsby outlined how Indonesia, which takes 40 per cent of our live export trade, is actively looking to contract its reliance upon live exports. The member for Throsby urged—and I agree with him on this—that we should and can come up with an approach that reflects the change in approach from Indonesia and that we should actively engage with them to transform the industry, protect jobs and secure vital food exports for our biggest regional neighbour. We should be building upon the success of this industry, promoting it among our export markets and making domestic food processing sustainable for the long term.
It has long been suggested that we need to evolve our practices in order that our farmers can capitalise on new and emerging export markets. We are certainly in the box seat for this to occur. Shifting from live export to domestic meat processing has the potential to grow employment in this industry, while maintaining the highest standard of animal welfare. It is the right thing to do. It is the proper thing to do.