CCTV in abbattoirs

10 April, 2013

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:57): I move:

That this council—

1. Condemns the cruel and sadistic behaviour of turkey abattoir workers at a Sydney abattoir a s broadcast on ABC's Lateline program on 20 March 2013;

2. Urges the Weatherill government to take action to stamp out animal cruelty through the introduction of mandatory CCTV cameras at all abattoirs, slaughterhouses, poultry and game meat establishments in South Australia;

3. Calls on the Weatherill government to create a minister for animal welfare to address ongoing animal welfare concerns; and

4. Supports calls for an independent federal office of animal welfare.

I move this motion today that this council condemns the cruel and sadistic behaviour of the turkey abattoir workers at a Sydney abattoir as broadcast on the ABC's Lateline program last month and I urge, today, the Weatherill government to take action to stamp out animal cruelty through the introduction of mandatory CCTV cameras at all abattoirs, slaughterhouses, poultry and game meat establishments in our state. I also urge this government to consider the creation of a minister for animal welfare and a specific animal welfare portfolio within its department structure and also urge and support the speedy creation of an independent federal office of animal welfare.

Members would be aware that there have been numerous scandals over many years involving abattoirs and slaughterhouses across Australia and, of course, overseas in some of the markets where Australian animals are and have been sold. Examples of callous brutality and wanton cruelty meted out to Australian animals in Indonesia, Kuwait and the Middle Eastern destinations exposed on the Four Corners program A Bloody Business in 2011 quite rightly caused an outrage across Australia.

That exposé was, of course, due to an NGO—Animals Australia. It was not due to government processes identifying and uncovering that cruelty: it was work undertaken by a non-government organisation funded by its donors, who are basically individual Australians. Certainly, no government arm exposed that cruelty.

The latest examples of sadistic and brutal treatment here in our own country, as revealed on the ABC's Lateline program on 20 March—similarly exposed by, in this case, Animal Liberation—are just as sickening, if not worse, than what we saw on the Four Corners in Indonesia program. We do not have the excuse here of lacking access to appropriate facilities or appropriate training or, indeed, a lack of animal welfare standards in this nation, or, in fact, the lack of an ability to enforce such standards or regulations. That is why, overseas, CCTV is now mandated in the EU by some supermarket chains in the abattoirs of their suppliers as a result of consumer pressures to ensure high animal welfare standards. Here in Australia I think we will see that same consumer backlash unless something is done.

Here in Australia, in fact, CCTV has been introduced voluntarily by some operators, including international company Teys Australia at its abattoirs and facilities in Naracoorte and, indeed, in two other Australian states. It is a proactive move that I believe will ensure its animal welfare standards can withstand public scrutiny. CCTV in abattoirs ensures that the supply chain can be guaranteed and that consumers can have confidence in the products they are buying, not just overseas but also here in Australia. It will be a move that will support the higher levels of animal welfare standards being upheld.

Disturbingly, the instance we saw revealed in the most recent footage that was obtained from the Inghams plant in New South Wales was that of an undercover investigation, as I say, undertaken by Animal Liberation in conjunction with the Four Corners program, and it revealed the horrendous cruelty that, in fact, was commonplace and typical. It was done over a number of weeks, and those who saw the footage or read the transcripts know it was not a single isolated incident. It was ongoing and chronic and widespread.

It is good news that Inghams, the company at the centre of that abuse scandal, has announced that those five employees have now been sacked and, indeed, that the incidents that were recorded have been referred to the police. Furthermore, they have also announced that they will be installing CCTV in that establishment. That voluntary action is quite welcome, and it is clear that if we are serious about improving animal welfare we must not be hypocritical here in Australia. If it is sufficient to call for CCTV in facilities overseas because of documented evidence of cruelty and mistreatment of animals, then, of course, it is sufficient to have it here in our own country.

CCTV is the equivalent of having an inspector on duty 24/7. While it is not perfect, it is a hell of a lot better than what we have now. While the RSPCA or PIRSA inspectors do a good job, they simply cannot be everywhere all the time. CCTV, in fact, can. It will both ensure better outcomes for animals and ensure consumer confidence in the South Australian meat industry and meat processing industry. Mandatory CCTV in abattoirs is, of course, supported by Animals Australia, the peak animal welfare lobby group in Australia and, indeed, the Greens.

Similarly, we are strong in our support for a powerful and fearless advocate for animal welfare, and we believe that the federal agriculture minister (Joe Ludwig) has dragged the chain on establishing an independent office of animal welfare, despite animal welfare groups and, indeed, several Labor MPs having advocated this for many years. At a federal level, it is clear that, as long as animal welfare remains the responsibility of the minister for primary industries, the interests of animals will play second fiddle to the interests of agribusiness, which focus, of course, on maximising profits.

The culture of factory farming can lead to abuses occurring, and they seem to be occurring with unfortunate regularity. This can and must change, and that change can begin with ensuring we establish the long overdue federal office of animal welfare. At a state level, we need similar impetus to ensure that there are dedicated advocates within government and supports for not only the non-government sector but also for those within government to ensure animal welfare, and a dedicated minister for animal welfare is an essential for any government that is serious about ensuring those standards.

At the moment, the responsibility for animal welfare lies with the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation. There has already been potential for conflicts of interest to emerge in recent times, and this was, indeed, the case with the live export trade in livestock and, certainly, I believe it has been the case in regard to practices in terms of ritual slaughter of livestock in this state, where commercial considerations are seen as more important than animal welfare issues. Perhaps that is understandable but, where there is no-one being the champion of animal welfare, of course we know that each time animal welfare will miss out.

An animal welfare minister would ensure that not only the issues around livestock would be given attention but also that other issues such as puppy factories and companion animals like cats and dogs would be given the rightful attention they deserve. These are complicated cross-government issues. They cross areas of consumer affairs, local and state government regulations, and other areas of law. Having an animal welfare minister would ensure that we would see much better laws and much better practices than we currently do where these issues are often seen to fall through the cracks and be put in the too-hard basket. Certainly, the buck does not seem to stop with any particular department or minister.

So many animals are suffering unnecessarily because of lax laws or codes of practice that authorise what would otherwise be illegal acts. Members who were around for the debate on jumps racing and my bill to ban jumps racing would be keenly aware that the Law Society said that my bill was not necessary to ban jumps racing because they believe it already contravenes the Animal Welfare Act of this state. However, jumps racing continues and we will never see that tested in the near future unless there is strong support for animal welfare and the Animal Welfare Act from the highest levels.

While I applaud those NGOs and members of the legal fraternity who are looking to challenge the legality of jumps racing, I have to acknowledge that it is going to be a long time in coming to truly challenge that and take something through a courts process where we should just have a ruling in this place that, yes, it contravenes the Animal Welfare Act. The minister for animal welfare would be able to champion that debate and that would be the end of the story. Certainly, it would be a very different approach from this government's and it would be applauded by the Greens.

The attention and focus of a dedicated animal welfare minister would ensure that the codes of practice that we have are better enforced, up to date and relevant. At the moment, that is sadly lacking. It is often quoted that Paul McCartney infamously (or famously) said that CCTV in abattoirs would be like having glass abattoirs. If the world could see what you were doing, you would ensure that you acted as if the world could see what you were doing. We cannot be hypocrites in this place. If we call for the highest standards across the world in terms of the treatment of our livestock and animals, surely we must be able to do that here in South Australia. With that, I commend the motion to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. K.J. Maher.


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