Federal MP Rick Wilson on live exports

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. 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, 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. 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 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. Our supply chain systems that are being implemented in our export countries are leading to much better animal outcomes around the world. My final point is that we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of shutting down the live export trade. The Gillard Government’s spontaneous shutdown of live exports in 2011 was a move from which some farmers never recovered. Let’s crack down on operators who breach the standards we 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 to the Middle East in the summer period.