INDEPENDENT Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch has used Senate estimates hearings to undertake a fishing expedition on questions about the export of live horses and donkeys from Australia, for slaughter in overseas markets.
Senator Hinch - commonly referred to as the “Human Headline” due to his stellar media career - was elected last year with a core promises being to ignite a renewed push to try and ban Australia’s $1.8 billion live animal exports trade.
Despite his controversial decision to vote against the backpacker tax late last year, in pushing for a different rate to the government’s stance, which sent negotiations into a tail-spin, he’s also promised to avoid horse-trading on legislation with the government.
“I don't like the word horse trading,” he said after last year’s election.
At the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee’s estimates hearing last week in Canberra, the Justice Party Senator probed senior Department of Agriculture and Water resources officials for answers on whether horses and donkeys are being exported for slaughter from Australia, to other countries.
“About 30 years ago I took a petition here to Canberra to try to get a ban on live exports - Peter Nixon, was Minister for Primary Industry at the time,” he said.
“That was aimed at banning live exports of horses to Japan and sheep to the Middle East - the sheep market still goes on.
“Has the Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce asked the department to develop some new regulations to permit the export of horses for slaughter overseas?”
Senator Hinch asked the Department’s Live Animal Exports Assistant Secretary Dr Narelle Clegg if the minister had asked her to prepare any information to make the export of horses easier to which she replied, “No, he certainly has not”.
He also quizzed whether the department was preparing any material at the minister's request to export ponies to be slaughtered overseas to which Dr Clegg also replied “No”.
But Dr Clegg said the department had provided advice to the minister noting an existing policy gap.
She said sheep, cattle, llamas, camels and buffaloes must have an Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) arrangement in place if they are exported overseas for slaughter but not equine animals.
Dr Clegg said the department had however, prepared advice for the minister asking him to consider whether a similar ESCAS arrangement should be put in place for the export of horses from Australia, if intended for slaughter.
“At the moment, if horses were exported for slaughter they could be exported with no controls on what happens to them,” she said.
“We have had a couple of inquiries from potential exporters asking what they need to do to export horses or donkeys overseas in large numbers for slaughter.
“We have discussed things like, 'you would need to have some due diligence in place and some arrangements in place’.
“We have not had persistent inquiries - we have had an occasional inquiry.
“That is what brought to our attention the fact that there is a gap in the current ESCAS arrangements.”
Senator Hinch asked if an application was currently before the department for donkeys to be bred in Australia and then exported and slaughtered in China with their hides used for anti-ageing cosmetic purposes.
Dr Clegg said, “No, there is not - we have not received such an application”.
“We are in the process of discussing what the best way forward is,” she said.
“The department has put to the minister for his consideration that ESCAS be introduced for equine species if they are being exported for slaughter.
“The race horses, the breeding animals, the pet ponies, the zoo animals that are exported would not be affected by this.
“Just as happens with all other species it would only be for equines that are intentionally being exported for slaughter.
“We are having discussions with the minister's office on this proposal.”
The Greens join in Senate estimates live exports action
Green Senator Lee Rhiannon – a long-time critic of the live export trade who also supports a ban - asked whether a draft equine amendment order was being inserted into the current regulations, to which Dr Clegg said “No”.
“The first step for us is to have agreement that this is a policy proposal worth pursuing,” Dr Clegg said.
“Then, if it is agreed, we would put forward draft regulations to the minister.
“We slaughter horses for human consumption in Australia now.
“What we are requiring exporters to do, if the policy is approved, would be to make sure the arrangements in place met international animal welfare standards for the handling, transport and slaughter of any equine species that was exported for slaughter.
“If you are exporting any animal, you want to arrive at its destination alive, and you will handle it accordingly.
“You do not get paid for dead animals.”
Senator Rhiannon said the donkey market had been largely “wiped out” in parts of Africa because of the export trade which was “booming”.
“There is a booming international trade and Australia appears to be targeted,” she said.
Senator Rhiannon said if the secretary was satisfied that an ESCAS for horses, ponies or donkeys would ensure transported animals would be handled and slaughtered in accordance with the OIE standards, would the department then have no legal basis to prevent the export.
Dr Clegg said if export arrangements were in place for an equine species for slaughter then “yes, you would say that the exporter has met that test”.
“There are other tests, of course,” she said.
“You have to meet the importing country requirements - but yes, that part of the export application would have been fulfilled.”
Dr Clegg said before providing the policy proposal requests through to the minister's office, the department had been discussing this issue with animal welfare groups and exporters.
According to a new Australian Farm Institute report on live exports, the trade’s $1.8b value comprises mostly beef cattle $1.35b and sheep $250 million.
On Twitter, the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) said it was aligned with community expectations regarding mandatory welfare standards for the export of any Australian livestock.
ALEC said a live export trade in Australian horses and donkeys does not currently exist, and its members were neither seeking nor supportive of any such trade commencing.
The story Human headline fishing for clues on live horse and donkey exports first appeared on Farm Online.