TASMANIAN federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie says his latest move to try to phase-out Australia’s live animal exports trade is aimed at keeping the controversial issue “alive” politically.
Mr Wilkie gave a speech in federal parliament today on a new private member’s bill that aims to wind-up live exports in three years and is based on a legislative blueprint used for his previous but unsuccessful efforts to achieve the same outcome.
That includes when the Indonesian trade was controversially and abruptly suspended by the former Labor government in mid-2011, due to unprecedented animal welfare concerns, which is now subject to a class action claim worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to reclaim damages suffered by cattle producers and industry.
Mr Wilkie says his new bill isn’t the result of any new animal welfare claims - but it does aim to implement temporary animal welfare safeguards.
He said the second reading speech of his private members bill today represented his sixth legislative proposal to do with the live animal export trade in six years and was similar to other bills.
“In essence it would phase out the live animal export trade in three years’ time – in 2020 – and in the interim, put in place very robust animal welfare safeguards,” he told media in Canberra today.
“The reason I have done this is because the issue remains unresolved and in fact not only is it unresolved, but things have got even worse.
“We’ve had the news just recently about the ship-load going to China (and) about the Indonesia government changing its rules to make it easier for Australian exporters.
“So we have a trade which is expanding not contracting, even though, again - the majority of people in the community want the trade wound up.”
Mr Wilkie also told media he would be seconding another bill that will be moved by federal independent MP Bob Katter next week calling for a banking Royal Commission to be held.
But Mr Katter - who has long-championed reforms to the banking sector to support farmers around debt-management - said he was “tenaciously opposed” to Mr Wilkie’s private members bill, to phase-out live exports over three years.
He said while he was against the proposal put forward by Mr Wilkie on live exports, a healthy parliament meant the two independent MPs could disagree on issues.
“We’ll disagree vehemently on a number of issues and this is one of those issues,” he said.
But Mr Wilkie said his live exports bill was another example of where the government was, “totally out of step with the community”.
“I mean surely the role of government is to represent the community?” he said.
“But whether it be on the need for a banking Royal Commission or the need to wind-up the live animal export trade, the government is not representing the community.
“I know it’s a long shot to get the government and the Labor p[arty to back me on this, but I will keep trying; if only to keep the issue alive and if only to give a voice in the parliament to the majority of Australians who want the live animal export trade wound up.
“They deserve a voice and they have precious few voices in (parliament).”
Mr Wilkie has proposed a phase-out of live animal exports in favour of moving to try and increase meat processing in Australia, in believing the trade is “systematically cruel”.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council Chair Simon Crean said Australia was the only country out of 100 exporting live animals which invested in improved animal welfare standards, in export destinations, which was acknowledged by the international animal welfare agency.
“We’re the ones leading the pack globally in live animal exports and animal welfare standards,” he said.
“If you take Australia out of the equation, animal welfare doesn’t improve – that’s why there’s bipartisan support for it
“The question he (Mr Wilkie) has to answer is; how does he think animal welfare standards are going to improve, if you take us out of the game?
“We understand the social license expectations of the Australian community and we’ve been working on that aspect of the industry, tirelessly.”
Mr Katter said the banking inquiry his bill is proposing would have all of the powers of a Royal Commission “and then some”.
“When we put the flame under their backsides I am sure that things will start moving, independently of the government,” he said.
Mr Katter said he was also confident of having the numbers for a majority in the parliament and the Upper House, voting for his bill.
He said the Member for Leichhardt in Queensland (Warren Entsch) had said “we must have a Royal Commission” but had “dogged it” while the Member for Dawson George Christensen – also from the LNP - had not “dogged it” and indicated support for his bill publicly and privately.
“I’m not here to denigrate him (Mr Entsch); he’s no worse or no better than the rest of them,” he said.
Mr Katter said if there was a vote to suspend standing orders to discuss the Royal Commission bill, “we will win that vote”.
Mr Wilkie said he could not “fathom” how the big four banks could record profits of $30,000 million in the last year.
“It’s about time the big four banks got a bit of a conscience about themselves and realised that people in the community are doing it a darn sight tougher – they’re not making $30 billion profit every year,” he said.
“Now if the banks aren’t going to do the right thing, it’s way beyond time for the government to do the right thing.
“Polling shows the community wants a banking Royal Commission.”