Live export: Where do the parties stand?

Australia exports over three million live animals every year.1 Cattle, sheep and goats are shipped long distances in distressing conditions which result in illness2 and death for a significant number.3 They are often slaughtered in countries without adequate protections against cruelty.4

A 2012 survey found that 78 per cent of Australians believed live exports were cruel and 74 per cent were more likely to vote for a political candidate who promised to end live animal export.5

So, where do the major political parties stand on the issue of live exports?

The following provides a summary of the respective policy positions of each of the Australian Labor Party, the Coalition and the Australian Greens on the issue of live export.

Voiceless is not aligned with any one political party and this guide does not intend to influence voting decisions or suggest which way you should vote but rather to provide you with the relevant information on live export so that you can make an informed decision.

Labor

Labor will continue to support the live export trade, and recognises the importance of the trade, particularly for employment in Northern Australia.

Labor also recognises that for the industry to be sustainable in the long term continual improvements need to be made, including:

  • complete supply chain assurance for the trade, through the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme; and
  • encouraging the expansion of stunning of animals prior to slaughter in export markets.

Labor states that it is encouraging the uptake of stunning through:

  • advocating for the inclusion of mandatory stunning in the OIE guidelines;
  • promoting the use of stunning including through work instructions through regional OIE forums;
  • pursuing, where possible, bilateral agreements which include stunning with trading partners; and
  • supporting industry efforts to develop a voluntary code of conduct that raises standards above that of the OIE guidelines to include stunning.

Labor also supports the Australia domestic chilled, frozen and processed meat industry. This includes working with state/territory governments, industry and importing countries to promote the trade in chilled, frozen and processed meat from animals humanely transported and slaughtered in Australia.

On 5 July 2013, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd MP released a statement following his meeting with Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in which he announced the Australian government’s intention to establish an Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Forum to enhance engagement between the beef industries and the governments of both countries and to improve prospects for long-term trade and investment in beef in Indonesia. The Prime Minister also announced a $60 million funding package, to be provided over 10 years, for increasing agricultural cooperation and boosting investment in the red meat agribusiness sector in Indonesia. 

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joel Fitzgibbon MP, has recently announced the establishment of an Inspector General of Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports (the Inspector General), which will focus principally on overseeing and reviewing the live export trade.

Although the Labor party has expressed its support for the live export trade, a number of Labor backbenchers have been reported as supporting an end to the trade, including Kelvin Thomson, Darren Cheeseman and Tony Zappia.

Earlier this year, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Member of Chisholm, Anna Burke MP, said that live export was the most significant issue for her electorate, and stated:

“Whilst I welcome the improvements that have been made to the industry, my personal opinion is that I cannot see any legitimate reason for the export of live animals to continue. The cruelty of the trade and the issue of animal welfare are of great concern to me and many in my electorate.”

For further information, see Labor’s “46th National Conference National Platform” here.

Coalition

The Coalition has indicated that it will continue to support the Australian live export trade.

The Coalition states that it will “unleash the real economic potential in our agriculture industry by removing the shackles and burdens holding the industry back and by making the industry more productive and globally competitive”.

In addition to a number of other initiatives, the Coalition will do this by providing “policy stability and certainty to our live exports trade – avoiding damaging backflips like Labor’s overnight decision to suspend live cattle trade with Indonesia”. 

The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, John Cobb MP, has been the most vocal on the live export issue.

In an opinion piece, Mr Cobb equated the position of those seeking to ban live export with “those that want to shut down animal production altogether and have us living on lentils”.  Cobb also claims:

  • Of the countries exporting live animals, Australia is the only nation in the world actively changing attitudes and practices in the markets we are engaged in.
  • Northern Australia producers are well equipped to provide live exports and are ardent supporters of high welfare standards.
  • While the Coalition naturally prefers value adding industries and jobs in Australia, live exports serve a market need.
  • Improvements in animal welfare in Indonesia are already real and rapid, following a supreme industry effort to lift standards to ensure access to Australian animals.

Mr Cobb also admitted that there would be no Inspector-General for Animal Welfare or Live Animal Exports if the Coalition is elected, stating:

“We are not going to impose unnecessary costs on a system, which in the minister's own words is the best in the world and is a force for good for animal welfare everywhere.”

For further information, see the Coalition’s “Our Plan – Real Solutions for All Australians” here.

Greens

The Australian Greens support a complete ban on live export, mandatory pre-slaughter stunning in Australia, and improved and increased processing in Australia to support local producers and jobs.

The Australian Greens propose that processing animals in Australia offers the best protection from inhumane treatment and ensures our laws and standards regarding animal welfare can be upheld.

The Australian Greens recognise that the continued exposure of animal suffering in the live export trade indicates that current government policy does not go far enough in protecting animals used in the trade. In particular, the recommendations from the 2011 Senate Inquiry into Animal Welfare Standards did not go far enough, and the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme is a failure.

The Australian Greens propose the following 5 key issues that the Government must address to end live exports and build domestic meat processing:

  • encourage and incentivise the development of new meat processing facilities in northern Australia;
  • remove trade distortions that favour live export and more vigorously market Australian meat overseas;
  • provide assistance to help attract and train meat processing workers to serve a new, strong domestic meat processing industry; 
  • work with farmers and investors to ensure a smooth and successful transition away from live exports; and
  • establish new divisions within DAFF and Austrade responsible for growing domestic processing and building meat markets overseas and set up an independent Office of Animal Welfare.

Following the live export debate that was sparked in 2011 when Animals Australia exposed the immense suffering and cruelty the live export industry was inflicting on animals, in shocking footage aired on ABC Four Corners, Senator Rachel Siewert introduced a Greens bill to ban the live export trade. 

In March 2012 Lee Rhiannon re-introduced the bill to ban live exports in her role as the Greens' animal welfare spokesperson.

For further information, see the Greens’ policy on animals here.

 

You can find out more about the welfare concerns associated with the live export trade here.

You can also read Voiceless’s legal, economic and political analysis of the live export trade here