I actually concur with some of the contribution of Senator Brown. I do concur with the comments about ensuring that there is sound consultation in the process as we develop these changes around live exports. Mind you, I had anticipated having to defend this Export Control Bill 2017, but I’m very pleased it would appear that the Labor Party are supporting it. I was interested to see what contribution the Greens might make to this legislation but, as at this moment, it looks like they don’t intend to participate in the debate, which I take as a positive sign that they find that the amalgamation of the features of legislation brought under one roof here to control and to manage exports is something that attracts their attention.
A part of my contribution will concentrate on live exports, and particularly live exports of beef because we have a history in this space that would guide us in what it is we need to do to produce an environment where our reputation as being one of the most prudent exporters of livestock in the world is maintained. There are about 100 countries exporting live product in varying degrees of volume across borders in the world, and we in Australia are proudly at the forefront of best practice when it comes to managing the movement of livestock with our TRACE program, where we follow the livestock all the way to processing to see that world’s best practices are maintained. In fact, we committed a long time ago to putting in place world’s best practices and we now comply with world standards, one of the few countries that can make that declaration.
Let’s just go back on a little journey in relation to the live export of cattle. I was very pleased to hear my colleague from the Labor Party saying that we need to go very carefully in terms of measures that we put in place around this particular trade so as it doesn’t impact on the industry and the tens of thousands of stakeholders in this country who are engaged in this industry. As we know full well, that sort of care and attention was absent in 2011 when we suspended the live cattle trade into Indonesia, bringing a billion-dollar industry to its knees overnight with no warning and no assistance to the producers who were impacted. Hundreds of thousands of head of cattle stood in the paddock with nowhere to go, nothing to eat and, of course, we all know what happened next—those cattle, for some years, were flooded onto the domestic market in Australia, suppressing prices to unprecedented low levels.
I will tell the story of being at a sale soon after this where I had a neighbour who had a pen of Ford heifers and he got 58 cents per kilogram for that stock. Today, the same heifers would bring late 200 cents, perhaps 300 cents on a day when there was good wind in their sails. The price that my neighbour received for that pen of heifers just marginally covered the cost of production, transport and commission on the sale. In effect, his entire property had operated for whatever his economic period was—probably 13 or 14 months, as it is when you turn off cattle—and he and his family could declare that they made absolutely nothing as the result of an atrociously poor decision by the government of the day. That’s where I share the view of the former speaker. I’m pleased to see that since 2011 the Labor Party too has come to understand the impacts that bad planning, bad legislation and bad regulation can have on an industry and the impact it can have on the families, producers and broader regional economies that rely upon this.
This legislation is driven by a need. There are sunset clauses around any number of pieces of legislation that control exports. They have sunset clauses coming, I think, around 2020. In anticipation of this, a review was undertaken in 2015—a very careful review over a long period of time. It is, in part, the fruit of that review that is driving government to consider the amalgamation of various pieces of legislation so that we have, in effect, a one-stop-shop piece of legislation that governs exports, including live exports. The intent of the review was to scope for improvements in the legislation by amalgamating it, bringing it under one roof. The review sought to verify whether farmers and exporters have been supported by a piece of legislation that might be regarded as contemporary, flexible and efficient. It’s my view that this piece of legislation meets that trifecta of objectives. It’s significantly important. For example, the cost burden on exporters of live cattle was, as an element of cost in the production and sale of cattle, the biggest single ticket expenditure item related to costs associated with the export of the animal.
One of the things that is often lost in speeches in this place is some belief that these industries themselves, almost to a man and a woman in the industry, do not strive to meet absolute world best practice with respect to the production and export of these commodities. We’re not a producer on volume on almost all the commodities that we compete with in the world, and therefore we have to take an edge. Our edge is the clean, green, well-produced product and commodity that we sell to the rest of the world. We get paid a premium for that. Our farmers are amongst the best in the world. Our producers are amongst the best in the world. They compete with other countries where there are massive subsidies to farm production, to the extent that some farmers—particularly in the United States—might never plant a crop for two or three years, but make as much and sometimes more with their subsidies than had they planted in the rotational arrangement.
I understand that there has been a significant process of consultation to date to develop this legislation in the form that it is, but remember that our producers and our farmers can only do so much. They can do what’s within their control and they look to their governments of the day to provide them with an environment that will support them in trying to get an edge on the export of their commodities.
We talk about non-tariff barriers. We can impose non-tariff barriers. We ourselves can do that here in this country. We can create an environment that impedes the good and profitable production of goods, if we’re not careful. Typically, we do that with decisions of government, not just by the Commonwealth government but at the state level and, indeed, the local government level on occasions. There can be in place restrictions that are industry related. So it’s significantly important that we get out of the way of our producers to allow them to do what they do best in a very challenging environment, which is to produce these high-quality products and produce—in this case, the focus of my attention, live animal exports. We need to take a feather touch; we need to stay out of their way. We need to assist them, and I think our export controls play a significant part in that. In this chamber, I think a year ago—the minister, Senator Ruston, might be able to refresh my memory with the exact date—we reformed a lot of the issues around biosecurity to enhance our reputation around the world. They’re the sorts of measures that we ought to be focused on.
There are those who don’t ever want to see any live exports, for example, leave these shores. They don’t understand the industry. They don’t understand the impacts this could have on domestic production. These people don’t want us to grow wheat or cotton, yet they refuse to stand naked in this place or anywhere else in their cotton clothes. They don’t want to move around bare foot. They’ve got leather shoes on. They remind me of the story of the little red hen. There are only a few of us here—sadly, Senator Molan, you may be one of those who are old enough to remember the story of the little red hen. Do you remember the little red hen? ‘Will you help me clear the scrub so I can till the land and plant some wheat?’ ‘No, I won’t.’ ‘Will you help me tend the crop?’ ‘No, I won’t.’ ‘Will you help me harvest the crop?’ ‘No, I won’t,’ her companion said. ‘Will you help me grind the grain to turn it into flour?’ ‘No I won’t.’ ‘Will you help me knead the product and turn it into a loaf of bread?’ ‘No, I won’t.’ ‘Will you help me bake the bread?’ ‘No, I won’t.’ For those of you old enough to remember the tale, of course, when the bread was set on the window ledge to cool down ready for consumption, all of the people who didn’t want this to happen lined up one after the other for a slice of this beautiful bread that the little red hen had produced.
We have to be very careful, as we bring about legislation, that we avoid everyone but the little red hen. These people would have us not grow cotton. They would have us not export livestock. They would have us not export any commodities, because at some stage we had to disturb the land and plant the seeds and harvest, and we had a puff of smoke coming out of that dirty, filthy harvester as it took the grain off our crops ready for export to another nation. They have nothing to contribute to this debate. They have nothing to contribute to this debate and I’m pleased to see that any number of them haven’t made their way onto the speakers list to make a contribution.
It’s significantly important that we do our job. If I can use the term ‘centralising’, the guidelines, the support, the measures—each of them giving equal weight to our reputation of being one of the finest producers of agricultural product in the world—can only help our exporters. The fact that we follow livestock, for example, to the point of slaughter to see that this $1.8 billion industry is done in a humane and healthy manner will eventually be one of the sharpest edges some of our exporters have, because it’s a world now where those whose purchasing is transitioning from price sensitivity on consumption. My daughter-in-law had my four grandchildren convinced that apricots cut into little pieces were lollies. Thank God grandad came along and set them straight—the apricots weren’t lollies—but here was a fine mother looking after the interests of her children. She wanted first of all to know about the product. She wanted to see that it didn’t have hormones and didn’t have traces of herbicides and pesticides. But, more recently, they’re looking for the providence of the product. They’re starting to look now at where it was produced and what impact it had on the environment—important questions. What were the labour arrangements around the production of this commodity, this food that I’m going to buy and reward some corporation for the production of? With things like this Export Control Bill, we will reinforce an environment where we see that these animals are kept in a very healthy state and managed in a very humane condition. It’s not only about how they’re produced but how they’re transported, how they’re moved to port, how they’re loaded, how they fare on the ships, how they’re received and how they’re cared for at the other end, all the way to a point of humane slaughter. I’ve seen some of the resisters of this process, in their leather shoes and cotton trousers with their woollen coats, sitting down, hoeing into a big steak. And only the day before, of course, they were somewhere under a placard saying: ‘Let’s not kill animals. We shouldn’t keep cattle in a yard. We shouldn’t do this; we shouldn’t do that.’
It is significantly important that a government of the day, a government like ours, a coalition—and I will again commend the fact that Labor is joining us with respect to the passage of this bill—pays clear attention to the environment in which our goods are processed and the way in which our animals are treated, taking it all the way to the point of sale. People question live exports, for example: why don’t we chill the beef? Well, there’s a novel idea. Let’s chill the beef and send it to Indonesia, one of our biggest trading partners where beef’s concerned, a country with 250 million people where virtually nobody owns a fridge. We don’t know what they’re going to do with the chilled beef. Those of you who’ve been through Indonesia, the Philippines and many of these developing Asian neighbours we rely upon for trade relations, will know that you’ll see cattle and chickens tied up under coconut trees and banana trees, and that’s where they’ll remain.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Senator O’SULLIVAN: That’s right—that’s their fridge. That’s where they’ll remain until such time as they are processed for personal consumption by the people in the village or a community.
No longer can we say to people, ‘We have a commodity,’ and jam it into their marketplace on our terms. Those days have been gone for decades. Now they’re looking for the providence of the product. They’re looking for these issues—for the ticks around animal health care, transportation, impacts on the environment and labour arrangements for people who are working to produce these articles. They are setting very high standards to be met in the market sphere that we are in. We’re not in a volume market. We are producing the best we possibly can, comparable to other points in the world, who are our competitors. We have to produce it at a competitive price because in most agricultural industries we are price takers, not price makers, particularly around beef. If you’re starting to sell beef at a premium, above what commodity beef is processed as, then you need to meet all of these very high standards.
Through this Export Control Bill, the government is demonstrating that it will create the environment so the producers of these articles—products, commodities, livestock—can get on with the very, very important job of competing in tough international marketplaces, producing that article for which we are so well known, that high-quality, pristine piece. I think the fact that this bill is not receiving resistance in this chamber is evidence that the people who drafted the bill and the people who conducted the review and pulled this together into one piece of legislation need to be congratulated—clearly, given we haven’t got a resistance movement on the floor of this Senate. There are those who might wish it to be something else. They might wish it to be, ‘We’ll stop all of this sort of trade.’ But the fact is they know that these measures provide a significant improvement to an already high-quality environment for the production of commodities and the export of livestock.
It’s a great pleasure for me to first of all thank the drafters and those staff in the minister’s office, in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and in other departments who’ve been involved in the production of this. They’ve done a terrific job. In closing, I commend the adoption of this bill to the Senate.