LABOR’S animal welfare election policy proposal has been rejected by farming groups as lumping red tape on livestock producers without any practical benefit, but applauded by animal rights groups.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon released his party’s six point policy on the eve of the regional leaders’ debate in Goulburn last night against Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale.
During the forum, Mr Fitzgibbon gave an assurance the ALP would not implement another ban on live animal exports like what occurred with the sudden closure of trade to the Indonesian cattle market in June 2011.
But he said Labor’s six-point policy proposal would ensure protecting animals was “a top priority for every industry that works with them”.
“Protecting animal welfare and boosting agricultural profitability aren’t competing aims – they support one another,” he said.
“The growing demand for high quality food produced in an ethical way means Australia’s agricultural producers must embrace the highest animal welfare standards to stay internationally competitive.
“Labor has a six-point plan to re-establish national leadership on animal welfare filling the void left by the Abbott-Turnbull Government over its time in office.”
The policy said a Shorten Labor government would establish an independent Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) to “ultimately have responsibility for providing advice and oversight on the full spectrum of animal welfare issues”.
The OAW would manage issues like kangaroo culling, puppy farms and commercial animal husbandry and have “equal buy-in from the Commonwealth, States and Territories”.
The plan also calls for the establishment of an independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare at a cost of $1million per year which would operate within the Department of Agriculture working to establish the OAW.
Labor also committed to renew the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAAWS) and review the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) to ensure the live exports welfare system is working as effectively and efficiently as possible.
If elected, the Opposition said it would also increase transparency and accountability through quarterly reports to parliament on live exports standards and investigations of any ESCAS breaches and ban animal testing for cosmetics within Australia and the importation or sale of new products tested on animals, overseas.
“In delivering our plan to better protect animal welfare, Labor will consult with the States and Territories and stakeholders across primary industry to ensure these policies promote international competitiveness for producers and do not undercut it,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Raising the bar on animal welfare will ensure our agricultural producers can continue to expand into the growing consumer markets in Asia and beyond, building on Australia’s reputation as a provider of clean, green and safe products.”
The policy document said the AAWS and ESCAS review would be funded from within the Department of Agriculture’s existing resources, while the ban on cosmetic testing on animals had no fiscal impact.
“Labor will step up where Barnaby Joyce has neglectfully refused to do so,” the policy document said.
But the National Farmers Federation’s Animal Welfare Taskforce Chair Chris Groves said the Opposition’s six point plan would yield no improvement in animal welfare standards but would burden the livestock supply chain, including consumers, with ineffective and highly costly red tape.
Mr Groves said the policy plan was built on the fallacy government was best placed to lead improvements in animal welfare.
“If improving animal welfare is at the heart of Labor’s policy, this will not be achieved by employing more bureaucrats but will come from investing in those at the coalface of caring for livestock for a living,” he said.
“All political parties should be recognising the fundamental change in industry approaches to improving animal welfare and there are clear industry actions that demonstrate accountability to the Australian public.
“Rather than go down the traditional path of bureaucracy, why not invest in innovative ways to engage with industry on how the supply chain can even better demonstrate the good animal welfare work that is being undertaken?”
NFF said the industry had acted to voluntarily phase out sow stalls, was investing heavily in pain relief solutions for certain husbandry practices and worked cooperatively with the CSIRO to look at new ways to implement best practice and to strive towards continual improvement.
Mr Groves said the ESCAS review would be an extremely costly and repetitive exercise given it was reviewed in 2015 and the Productivity Commission’s current enquiry into regulation of agriculture also focused on the system.
“The NFF, and Australian agriculture, is committed to leading the world in animal welfare but we reject the notion this is best achieved through increased regulation,” he said.
“We know that everyday Australians care about animal welfare and, make no mistake, farmers take the responsibility to look after their animals extremely seriously.
“Happy animals are productive animals and caring for livestock is an everyday and extremely important part of life in agriculture.”
WoolProducers Australia expressed concern and disappointment that Mr Fitzgibbon’s announcement neglected to acknowledge a high level of investment by livestock industries, in health and welfare, by proposing extra levels of red-tape.
Wool Producers said the minimal detail six point plan - the only agriculture-related Labor policy to be released prior to the election - had no assurances the OAW and Inspector General of Animal Welfare would not be political or ideological appointments.
WoolProducers CEO Jo Hall said the so-named “Independent Office” was based on a flawed premise which suggested a conflict of interest existed, in that the Agriculture Minister and the Department don’t understand the industry they regulate.
But she said her group agreed with the Shadow Minister that profitability and welfare can all successfully co-exist as, “Australian wool growers are proving that every day”.
“In fact, for livestock to be productive their health and welfare must be managed well - there is no alternative,” she said.
“We’re disappointed Labor seems to have listened to a squeaky minority that refuse to believe livestock industries are invested in their animals in every way.”
World Animal Protection welcomed the policy proposal saying the ALP was “committing to restore much-needed federal leadership and national frameworks for animal welfare”.
The group said reviewing ESCAS was a step in the right direction but they remained “firmly opposed to the cruel trade”.
World Animal Protection welcomed the Green’s continued commitment to also establish an Independent OAW.