Agriculture

Livestock Disease Control Amendment Bill 2016

25 May 2016

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to speak on behalf of the Liberal‑Nationals coalition opposition on the Livestock Disease Control Amendment Bill 2016. This bill and the second‑reading speech may not be very large in number of pages, but they have some very important content that protects an industry, particularly the red meat industry, here in Australia.

The bill will do three things. Firstly, it will make the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 consistent with the Subordinate Legislation Act 1994 in relation to publication orders. Full publication will be required rather than just notice of the making of a declaration. This amendment will apply where there are declarations of unusual circumstances of disease or death in livestock and will relate to declarations of an infected area or vehicle, a control area or an importation order. Full publication is already a prevailing requirement under the Subordinate Legislation Act, but this amendment to the Livestock Disease Control Act will remove any apparent inconsistencies.

Secondly, the bill replaces section 8A of the Livestock Disease Control Act with a new section with common requirements for vendor declarations for the transportation of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. That will now be set out in the act instead of in regulation. The department advised at the briefing that the proposed section 8A substitution will not materially alter current vendor declaration requirements.

Lastly, the bill makes some alterations to section 41 of the Livestock Disease Control Act which relate to the prohibition of swill feeding. As the minister said in her second‑reading speech, the former government agreed to recommendations made by the Animal Health Committee, a national forum for state and territory chief veterinary officers and the Australian government chief veterinary officer, for the national harmonisation of swill feeding legislation. Swill feeding of pigs with material derived from mammals is well recognised as a risk factor for the introduction of several emergency animal diseases, including foot‑and‑mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever, with the potential for devastating impacts on Australia’s livestock and related industries. The bill amends the Livestock Disease Control Act, as I said, in order to align the swill feeding provisions with the recommendations of the Animal Health Committee.

I want to spend some time around the issue of the biosecurity of our industries and, in this case, the red meat industry, with the potential issues around foot‑and‑mouth disease. For the benefit of those members in the house who may not be aware of foot‑and‑mouth disease, foot‑and‑mouth disease, or hoof‑and‑mouth disease, is a fatal viral infection disease that affects cloven‑hoofed animals around the world, including domestic and wild cloven‑hoofed animals. It has an incubation period of between 1 and 12 days and a high fever of probably 2 to 6 days for the animal that is affected, which is then followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness. It is probably the most feared disease in the world when it comes to cloven‑hoofed animals. It can be spread by aerosols — effectively in the air — or by contamination from farm equipment, from clothing, from feed, and obviously by domestic and wild animals and the predators on those animals. Where there have been outbreaks of foot‑and‑mouth in the past it has had major economic and social impacts on the countries where it has occurred.

When we talk about the likes of these diseases from a Victorian point of view we are effectively talking about protecting what is about a $2 billion a year export industry. We export red meat around the world that is worth about $2 billion to our markets here. If we had a foot‑and‑mouth outbreak here, not only would it have a huge cost within Australia but we would actually be excluded from a lot of those export markets that we are currently in, because we do have a market advantage in quite a few countries because we have disease‑free status from diseases like foot‑and‑mouth disease.

To put this into some context, if we go back to 2001 in the United Kingdom there was an outbreak of foot‑and‑mouth disease on 19 February. That outbreak ran until October 2001 before it was controlled. In that particular case it was started by the swill feeding of pigs. The particular gentleman, Bobby Waugh of Pallion, was convicted of failing to inform authorities of a notifiable disease, because he actually had foot‑and‑mouth on his property and was later convicted of feeding pigs with untreated waste.

We wonder about the consequences of what we do in this house sometimes. There have been a number of changes over the years to restrict the swill feeding of pigs, but now with the harmonisation of these rules across the nation there is the opportunity to make sure that we are even more vigilant about stopping these sorts of things from happening in the future. This particular gentleman fed this untreated waste to his pigs and started this disease epidemic, and if you look at the statistics across the UK and in Ireland and particularly in Norway, you can see what devastation was caused to the farming industries there. In the UK there were approximately 2000 outbreaks of foot‑and‑mouth disease on farms, and around 10 million sheep and cattle were killed in the eventually successful attempt to halt this disease. So 10 million sheep and cattle were killed because one person did the wrong thing with swill feeding pigs in 2001.

It is estimated that the crisis actually cost the British economy £8 billion or AU$13 billion in costs to the agriculture and supporting industries, as well as the outdoor industries, over that time. Once this disease outbreak happened, the counties where the disease was present actually went into lockdown. There was no movement of livestock; there was no movement of people through those communities. I think people who have heard the previous member for Benalla, Dr Bill Sykes, who was a consulting vet at the time, speak in this place will know he spent time in the UK actually working on this outbreak. Bill always got emotional when he talked about this issue, because he understood the personal suffering that farmers went through, where you had effectively generations of breeding wiped out in a night when they went in to actually kill the livestock. They had to be there on the property, and the livestock had to be burnt.

The TV footage that came back from the UK at that time was of a pall of smoke across the UK for weeks and weeks on end, while something like 10 million sheep and cattle were destroyed so the disease would not spread any further. There was huge devastation in the farming community, and it was devastating for those families who were affected, for those people who actually had to work with them through that time.

If you look at the wider impacts across that time, you see the St Patrick’s Day festival in Ireland was rescheduled for two months later because of the foot‑and‑mouth outbreak. People were not able to travel away from their homes into their communities to gather together, because that would have been viewed as a way of potentially spreading the disease further. If you think about how precious St Patrick’s Day is to the Irish, it is remarkable that the festival was put back two months because of the foot‑and‑mouth outbreak at that time.

There were also going to be local elections at that time, and in that year there was going to be a general election in the UK. Again, local elections were put back for a period of time because it was deemed inappropriate for rural communities to come together to vote, given the concern that the disease would be spread by people going in to vote tramping through the same hall and taking it back to their farms. For the first time since the Second World War the general election in the UK was held off as well. It was originally intended to be held on 2 April, but it was put back to 7 June, again because it was considered too big a risk to hold a general election and have people traversing the country and coming together to vote and potentially spreading that disease.

All of that started with one person doing the wrong thing — swill feeding some pigs. That is partly what this legislation is for: to reinforce the situation here in Australia so it does not happen in the future. Some of the statistics around that are that in terms of the Scottish economy, it is believed that the tourism industry for that year lost somewhere between $200 million and $250 million worth of gross revenue. People who normally went to Scotland and traversed the Highlands could no longer do that because of this outbreak.

Although this bill is not very voluminous in the number of pages it contains or the number of clauses in it, the impact that it will have in making sure that we keep our biosecurity strong in this nation, particularly here in Victoria, is very, very important. I think the thing to bear in mind is that over time we need to be even more vigilant. Given the number of people who come to Australia now and the number of ways they can travel here, we need to make sure we have good border security from a biosecurity point of view so that people do not bring those sorts of diseases here, let alone then have them in swill feed that goes to pigs.

As part of that particular process there have been a number of studies and a number of exercises done as to what we would do in Australia if we did have a disease outbreak of that kind and how quickly we could control that. I think that is where there has been some concern over time, and the ministerial council actually commissioned Ken Matthews to compile a report, which was called the Matthews report.

For those people who do not know, Ken Matthews was the secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Canberra for a number of years and then moved on to be the Secretary of the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services. Ken did a very detailed study of whether Australia had preparedness for a foot‑and‑mouth outbreak and how we could actually manage such an outbreak into the future.

There are two of the recommendations that I wanted to highlight in my contribution tonight. One of those, number 4, was looking at the effectiveness of swill feeding prohibitions, which we are dealing with in this particular bill. The other issue concerned the traceability arrangements in the sheep industry, and that is where I would also like to spend a bit of time.

We talked about vendor declarations earlier. There are some processes where there is a paper‑based system and a mob‑based system that actually tracks sheep here in Australia, and there is some conjecture as to how effective that mob‑based, paper‑based system is. If you look at the UK experience in 2001, there was the outbreak of foot‑and‑mouth, as I have said, that was started by swill feeding of pigs, but it was actually the movement of sheep across the UK into Ireland and into Norway that actually spread the disease. The incubation period meant that there were sheep that were infected that actually moved before the infection was noticed. That meant that if you actually tracked the movement from the original outbreak, these sheep crisscrossed the UK into Ireland and Norway, and there was not good traceability to actually know where those sheep had gone for a period of time.

As I am told, at that particular time there was a paper‑based system in the UK, which was called a sheep passport. There was an issue at the time that in order for the farmers to receive some of the EU subsidies, they had to prove that they had a certain number of sheep on their properties at a certain time when they were audited. Some farmers were sharing sheep. They would have them on this property for a period of time to get the subsidy, and then under the cover of darkness they might move them to another property to again receive the subsidies there, so sheep were not always tracked well by that particular system in the UK.

Following the foot‑and‑mouth outbreak there was a major overhaul of how sheep were tracked so that if there were another disease outbreak — and there was another foot‑and‑mouth outbreak in the UK in 2007, which was allegedly started by the escape of the disease coming from a research facility — it would becontrolled a lot more quickly because they had better systems in place to do that.

The concern here in Australia is making sure we do actually have a good traceability system, particularly for sheep. We do have a very good traceability system for cattle. Cattle are electronically tagged, and as they are bought and sold through the saleyards and moved from properties, that is tracked. That system was brought in probably 15 years ago and at the time was very much a personal project of a gentleman called John Wild, who was a former Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president and was president of the Cattle Council of Australia at the time. He put a lot of personal effort in, because farmers in general are resistant to change, do not like new ideas and do not necessarily like any additional cost to their business, even if there can be demonstrable benefit at the end of it. So John really drove that electronic identification in cattle and made sure that that happened.

But the same has not happened with sheep, and that is where I come back to the Matthews report. The Matthews report identifies that there are some concerns about the traceability system for sheep here in Australia and the need to have a better system. As I said, we do have this paper‑based and mob‑based system where stock agents are supposed to have the vendor declarations from the farmers and have a mob‑based system that shows where the sheep have gone in the future.

There was an exercise to test the system called sheep catcher that looked at whether the system was actually working. It depends what you look at when you do these sorts of exercises. That exercise identified that the paperwork was actually in the right place. The paperwork was in the right spot, showing where the sheep should be and what should happen. But when you actually went back and did the audit of where the paper said the sheep should be, it proved that the sheep were not always in that particular place.

One of the things that was being discussed at the ministerial council meetings when I was a minister, and I understand it is still being discussed at ministerial council meetings with Minister Pulford in the other place — —

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The time has come for me to interrupt the proceedings of the house. The honourable member will have the call next time this matter is before the Parliament.

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