Speech on Ending Live Sheep Exports Bill


I'm so honoured to have the opportunity to speak in support of this bill to end long-haul live sheep exports. Australians are asking us to end the brutality of live exports, and I am hopeful that today the Senate will answer that call. Just in the last few weeks we have all received thousands of emails from everyday Australians, from all walks of life and from all over the country, asking us to end this trade in misery. This cannot be ignored. We must answer their call.

Animals are not mere cargo. They are living, breathing things with sentience. The images, exposed by Animals Australia and 60 Minutes, aboard the Awassi Express were indeed sickening and heart-wrenching—images of thousands of sheep dying from heat stress and overcrowding. In one day alone, more than 800 sheep died in excruciating conditions. These images are burnt indelibly into my mind: scared, confused and terrified animals knee-deep in excrement; a newborn lamb lying abandoned and alone on a metal floor; sheep desperately trying to escape pens as they are literally cooked alive from the inside out; and carcasses piled up as they decay in the oppressive heat.

I wish that this was a one-off. I wish that we had caught the bad guys and punished them and life could go on. But this fantasy world that the government lives in doesn't exist. It simply doesn't exist. Cancelling one licence doesn't change the fact that this is a trade built inherently on cruelty, on standards that guarantee the horrific and cruel deaths of thousands of sheep each year. This has been going on for decades, yet every time it happens it is written off as another bad apple. I am here to tell you today that the live export trade is simply and totally incompatible with animal welfare.

The bill we are debating today represents a historical political compromise to wipe out the very worst of live exports, to end immediately long-haul sheep and lamb export voyages to the Persian Gulf or through the Red Sea during the Northern Hemisphere summer and then, through a transitional five-year period, on all those trips. The Greens, however, maintain that all live exports of all livestock for slaughter overseas should be banned. Let's not forget that over 30 years ago a 1985 Senate report stated that on animal welfare reasons alone the live export trade should stop with the transition to chilled meat exports. A plethora of economic reports since have confirmed that the live export trade has competed with and caused the closure of meat-processing plants and abattoirs in regional Australia, with the loss of local jobs and community incomes. Australia's chilled meat industry is worth seven times more to Australia than live exports and is rapidly growing. It makes no economic sense to keep the cruelty on these ships going. The live sheep export trade in particular is a dying industry. Every importing country already buys chilled and boxed meat products from Australia. Just six per cent—a mere six per cent—of Australian sheep enter the live export chain, and they can easily be accommodated in the chilled meat industry. With support, we can actually help farmers transition out of this trade and into long-term security and sustainability.

I remind senators that the only reason we know about what happens on live export ships is because of the bravery of whistleblowers. In the case of Emanuel Exports' Awassi Express, it was a young Pakistani trainee navigation officer on the vessel, 25-year-old Faisal Ullah, a graduate of Pakistan Marine Academy. He described the conditions on board the vessel to be the same as putting live animals into the oven. Mr Faisal Ullah said he felt a personal obligation to expose the cruelty because of the severity of the suffering that he witnessed, including lambs born on the ship being crushed to death and the cruel slitting of the throats of sheep to throw them overboard. We can't see this again and again and think it should continue. Over the years, many others have risked their jobs and their safety to expose the truth of animal abuse. This bill honours their bravery in ending this trade in misery.

I thank Senator Hinch and Senator Storer for co-sponsoring the bill with the Greens and all senators who have spoken in support of it. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, Lee Rhiannon, without whom we would not be here today. Her passion for animals and her determined work to end suffering is indeed legendary. I also note the incredible work of the many organisations like Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia that have pushed for this change. Most of all I thank the community. This is truly a historic day, when issues of animal welfare have made it to the floor of the Senate. Today we say no to second chances. Today it is our obligation to end this cruelty. Today it is time to ban live exports. I commend the bill to the Senate.