Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [11.57 a.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(a) the urgent need for the Government to enact legislation for the use of traceable radio frequency tags for cattle;
(b) the European Union's December deadline for the overhaul of the Australia's cattle identification system;
(c) the enormous impact to regional New South Wales and the Australian economy should the European Union restrict the importation of beef into member countries.
(2) calls on the Minister for Agriculture to explain the delay in introducing and enacting the appropriate legislation.
Livestock identification is long overdue for Australia generally and for New South Wales specifically. The Minister for Agriculture continues to try to blame the Federal Government for not taking the lead in this regard. I contend, however, that New South Wales is the leading State in Australia and, therefore, the Minister for Agriculture should take positive action and allow cattle producers in New South Wales to implement a virtually foolproof system of livestock identification. At present New South Wales does not have legislation that requires farmers to tag, earmark, fire brand, freeze brand or identify their livestock in any way.
Stock theft in New South Wales is a multimillion-dollar industry and for that reason we need a livestock identification system. In Queensland and Victoria, where compulsory identification is required, we are a laughing stock because of the level of stock theft in this State. New South Wales can claim only two convictions this year, whereas last year Queensland's clean-up rate resulted in successful convictions in more than 40 per cent of cases there. In 1998 New South Wales had 766 stock theft cases compared with 234 in Queensland. I believe that in 1998 $1.5 million worth of livestock went missing in New South Wales. In the past 12 months cattle and sheep prices have almost doubled. The livestock theft industry in New South Wales is worth millions of dollars.
Another reason for establishing an identification system in New South Wales is that Australia is the largest beef exporting country in the world. Australia is not the world's biggest producer of beef—many countries have far more livestock than we have—but it is one of the largest meat exporting countries. Australia is the world's largest exporter of camels, particularly of racing camels to the Arab states. Apparently camels bred in Australia have a speedy gait and are in top demand in Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Before long our competitors, particularly Asia and the United States of America, who are targeting our markets, will insist that Australia uses an identification system to enable our produce to be traced. Identification is required from the time an animal is born to the time it is placed on a plate in Tokyo or Korea. Establishment of an identification system is the first step to enable us to meet that requirement, and for that purpose we must have a tamper proof radiofrequency or microchip system. The chip implanted in the animal can be scanned and the complete breeding record and details of its sale and purchase history can appear on a screen. Next year that will be the only way we will be able to export beef with confidence. Another advantage of an identification system is that it will enable diseases to be traced. Recently I had the good fortune to re-enter Australia through the quarantine barriers at Sydney airport.
Mr Amery: They let you through?
Mr SLACK-SMITH: Yes, they let me through. I declared on my entry document that I had visited a farm overseas in the past 30 days, and I congratulate the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service [AQIS] on its excellent job at points of entry in our country. Today foot and mouth disease is common in England and Europe. Everyone who comes to this country from overseas is told unequivocally that if they do not admit that they have been on a farm or in contact with animals or if they have items of foodstuff on their person they can be imprisoned or a significant fine can be imposed. I congratulate AQIS is on its work in that respect. If there is an outbreak of an exotic disease in this country Australia must be able to trace the history of an animal as fast as possible and that is another reason why livestock identification must occur as a matter of urgency. Foot and mouth disease is not abating in the United Kingdom. It is only a matter of time before Australia has to act very quickly to eradicate an exotic disease. Australia is an exporting country. If foot and mouth disease came to Australia that would bust our economy because we are so dependent on overseas trade for the export of our produce.
I urge the Minister for Agriculture to support the motion because it is vitally important for this State and the whole of Australia. New South Wales will take a leading role in encouraging livestock producers to adopt an identification system that will not only assist stock management, reduce stock theft and obtain more convictions, but will also help our exports. Our consumers overseas will have the advantage of knowing full well that the history of our animals can be traced back from the plate to the gate. Our clients overseas must have confidence in our industry so that they continue to use our markets and so that our markets are not poached by other countries and competitors.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt—Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [12.07 p.m.]: I acknowledge that the notice of the motion moved by the shadow Minister for Agriculture, the honourable member for Barwon, was given on 20 October 1999 and that some events occurred before this debate was brought on. It is not my intention to oppose or seek a division on this motion because I think I should be able to explain certain aspects of the legislation and the process to establish a national livestock identification system. Hopefully my contribution will give an explanation from the Government's point of view and therefore I do not see a need to divide the House or oppose the motion.
I am pleased to advise that an effective, national lifetime identification scheme [NLIS] for cattle has been developed by the industry in consultation with the State and Commonwealth governments. The scheme is a multimillion-dollar investment by the cattle industry aimed at improving product integrity and market access. Involvement in the scheme is voluntary. The scheme provides individual identification of cattle with radiofrequency devices. It enhances the current transaction tagging system for the monitoring and trace-back of both stock diseases and chemical residues. It also provides an opportunity to give feedback to producers about carcase quality in order to facilitate genetic improvements in herds and assist in the transfer of other commercial information between industry members. The scheme is widely accepted and radiofrequency device readers have been installed in most saleyards and abattoirs. So events have progressed since the honourable member for Barwon gave notice of his intention to move this motion.
The scheme will also give cattle producers improved stock security by providing a means of tracing stolen cattle and a deterrent to stock theft. I refer honourable members to comments by the Minister for Police about working to improve stock security nationally. Another aspect of stock identification and theft is law enforcement—an issue that the honourable member for Barwon has raised several times in this place. The Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand [ARMCANZ]—which is basically a ministerial council comprising agriculture Ministers, including Federal Ministers—has strongly supported the introduction of the National Livestock Identification Scheme and has implemented a national system of property identification codes as the basis for the scheme. In 1999 the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service determined that cattle producers who wish to sell cattle to the European Union [EU] market must adopt the scheme and identify all their cattle with the radiofrequency devices.
At its meeting on 9 May 2001—the matter has been progressing—ARMCANZ discussed measures designed to maximise Australia's defence against bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE] and foot and mouth disease. Honourable members may recall my answer earlier this week to a question on that subject. The shadow Minister for Agriculture, the honourable member for Barwon, has been invited to forum to be held in the Parliament building tomorrow to discuss the action that we are taking as a State to complement the Federal Government's quarantine work that is designed to enhance our defences against diseases such as BSE and foot and mouth and other exotic diseases. At the ARMCANZ meeting it was agreed to refer the issue to the Council of Australian Governments [COAG] on 8 June and to seek approval for a national strategy to respond to any foot and mouth disease outbreak. The strategy recognises that the identification scheme is a valuable mechanism for improving the traceability of Australian livestock and recommends the development of a mandatory livestock identification scheme for foot and mouth disease-susceptible animals to enable easier tracking. The strategy recognises that the cattle industry's scheme is likely to be a good model for other livestock industries and recognises that the cost of implementing mandatory identification will be a problem. At the Standing Committee on Resource Management meeting in August, State and Territory agriculture chief executive officers agreed to progress a series of actions designed to advance the compulsory use of stock identification—an issue that has been mentioned already.
As a result, Safemeat will work with industry to develop an implementation plan for the general introduction of a National Livestock Identification Scheme for cattle. Safemeat will also work with the sheep industry and other foot and mouth disease-susceptible species to develop a timetable for introducing identification and transaction recording. Safemeat is due to report progress to COAG by 31 December 2001. The issue of introducing mandatory livestock identification at a national level will be considered at the whole-of-government level by COAG in mid-September 2001. The Stock Diseases Act 1923 was amended in November 1999 to conform to the National Livestock Identification Scheme requirements.
The honourable member for Barwon refers in his motion to "the urgent need for Government to enact legislation for the use of traceable radiofrequency tags for cattle". If we are working at cross-purposes with these legislative changes, I would like to hear from the honourable member for Barwon either in this place later today or privately after the debate. The legislation was amended in late November 1999 to facilitate some aspects of the NLIS requirements, and I acknowledge that the honourable member gave notice of his intention to move this motion in October 1999. The supporting regulation was gazetted on 2 August 2000. I hope that satisfies the first part of the honourable member's motion.
Under the new legislation all transaction tags and National Livestock Identification Scheme permanent identifiers will carry particulars of the property on which the cattle were grazing when the identification was attached. The honourable member and I debated that point when we considered the legislation. Rural lands protection boards are responsible for allocating the property identification codes in New South Wales. As at 10 August 2001 more than 1,481 New South Wales beef cattle producers had joined the National Livestock Identification Scheme. This represented 23 per cent of all Australian participants in the scheme. Use of the NLIS identification devices is mandatory for access to the EU hormonal growth promotants-free market—as I know the honourable member for Barwon is aware. As a result, 972, or 66 per cent, of New South Wales producers participating in the National Livestock Identification Scheme joined so that they could supply cattle to the EU. New South Wales has by far the largest number of EU-accredited producers of any State and about 40 per cent of all Australia's accredited suppliers.
I encourage—as I am sure do all honourable members—more New South Wales cattle producers to use National Livestock Identification Scheme devices to identify their cattle. In addition to the benefits that I have described, the scheme has the potential to help counter the increasing levels of stock theft. I know that the Police Service has been working conscientiously to that end, and the Minister for Police has answered several questions in Parliament about this issue. Meat and Livestock Australia's NLIS business plan includes a strategy to subsidise installation of NLIS readers in key saleyards and processing works, and I have asked to be kept informed of developments in this regard.
The honourable member for Barwon also mentioned the importance of disease surveillance and traceability. International trade is making the world much smaller and the need to trace animals for disease management purposes is only too obvious. I agree with the honourable member who stressed that Australian agencies and authorities must be able to manage diseases—we have good experience of this already—such as foot and mouth, BSE or some other horrible disease that has afflicted countries overseas. I think the Government has responded to most of the points raised by the honourable member for Barwon. Several things have happened since the honourable member gave notice of his motion, and I hope that my response today has satisfied the Opposition's concerns in this area. The Government will not oppose the motion.
Mr WEBB (Monaro) [12.17 p.m.]: I thank the Minister for the explanation he gave the House this morning. Though the honourable member for Barwon gave notice of this motion in October 1999, the comments made by the Minister prove the effectiveness of giving notices of motions in this House. Even though the House has some 480 notices of motions on its books, it is still an effective way of prompting action. The Minister said also that the Government supports the motion and referred to actions being taken to bring about a national livestock identification scheme, which has been promoted by the cattle industry and has the support of State and Federal governments. Despite high cattle prices at the moment, I raise the question of subsidies similar to those granted in Victoria to assist farmers with the implementation of traceable radio frequency tags to enable proper stock identification.
I have been involved with the stock industry for more than 30 years. My memory goes back to the tuberculosis and brucellosis testing program of the early 1970s, when metal tags were placed in the ears of cattle when blood samples were taken, so that individual animals could be identified as positive or negative to those diseases. That assisted the industry and Australia in their efforts to eradicate those diseases. It is amazing that today there is no formal requirement for stock identification, whether that be by branding, ear or tail tags, or earmarking. As a stock manager and breeder, I believe it is basically impossible, without proper identification, to be an efficient producer of animal products. The importance of disease control, especially for animal product exported to European markets in particular but also to Asia, Japan and the United States of America, dictates that quality assurance programs be in place.
The expanding organically produced meat industry will require formal identification of stock. The traceable radio frequency tag system seems to be the only way to input formal information about treatment of an animal, so that that information will be available throughout the animal's life and at its slaughter. Chemical residue tracing is another issue requiring a proper identification system. The honourable member for Barwon, the mover of this motion, spoke about the great threat of the introduction to Australia of stock diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalitis, foot and mouth disease, bovine and ovine Johne's disease, and even foot rot, and the fact that an effective trace-back system is probably one of the most effective control and treatment measures, apart from quarantine, that we could put in place to address those diseases.
The increased value of livestock has led to stock theft becoming a major issue. The New South Wales Police Service needs to employ more people with skills and knowledge relative to identification and tracing of stock, including a knowledge of saleyard procedures. Almost daily we hear of large numbers of animals being stolen. For those who do not understand the value of livestock, could I give the example of a farmer who was selling his six and seven-year-old ewes. He noticed that one of them was a bit "fat" and was struggling to go up the ramp on its way to the abattoir. He thought, "I can't send that one, she will go down in the truck, so I will keep her." I do not know what that old ewe would have brought at the abattoir, maybe not much, but it had triplets shortly after that. Only recently, the farmer sold the last of those triplets for $100; they averaged $100 each. So that old ewe returned $300 to the farmer. The ability of people to steal stock quickly is very real. There are many instances of farmers going around their paddocks of a morning, finding a cut fence and 100 sheep and cattle missing. I support this important motion. We must come up with systems that complement those in other States to help stock managers carry on their businesses, safeguard this country from stock diseases and promote the export industry.
Mr GEORGE (Lismore) [12.22 p.m.]: I strongly support the motion. Whilst I realise that debate on it is long overdue, I appreciate the comments made by the Minister for Agriculture regarding what has happened since October 1999. This industry needs a system of stock identification not only to prevent stock theft but to give feedback to producers and to provide an unquestionable traceback system that will enhance our export markets. The whole industry must adopt the system. I, for one, remember the anxiety caused to the industry by the use of hormone growth promotants and organochlorines. That led to the introduction of the vendor declaration form, a mechanism that made producers more responsible and accountable. I confirm my strong support for measures to prevent stock theft, which is a major problem to the industry throughout Australia but especially in New South Wales. Rural crime and stock theft need to be addressed. Most important is stock identification that is indisputable, making it is easier for police to catch criminals. My belief is that the only effective and universal system of stock identification is the Rumen Bolus. Ear tags or other identification on the outside of the animal can be easily tampered with.
I had the pleasure of being an observer at a recent meeting in Brisbane of Queensland meat industry operators. I would like to make the Minister aware of a concern raised at that meeting. Though I have been involved in the meat industry for a considerable time, I had not heard this comment prior to the meeting. The meat industry operators expressed grave concern that the use of the Rumen Bolus created problems at abattoirs. As an industry, we need to work with those in the meat industry to establish any problems that the use of the Rumen Bolus poses for them. I believe it is the best means of identification, but we must have the whole of the industry on side to make the system work. I raise that concern with the Minister so that he might inquire at the next Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand [ARMCANZ] meeting what needs to be done to get the meat industry on side. I ask the Minister to urge ARMCANZ to adopt a uniform identification scheme throughout Australia, so that New South Wales will not have a system that is different from that in Victoria, or Queensland will not have a system that is different from the New South Wales system.
I strongly recommend a phase-in period of three to five years. Yes, there will be objections from producers relating to the cost of implementing such a system, but for the future of the industry we must all work together—from the producer level through to the end of the chain at the meat works—to devise a national scheme that cannot be tampered with. I have been told by the Federal Minister for Agriculture that it is the responsibility of each State to introduce the system. I encourage the New South Wales Minister to work towards finalising the national system to enable the introduction of a proper mechanism in New South Wales to control theft of livestock and to properly identify an effective trace back system.
Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [12.27 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Minister for his contribution and for acknowledging that I gave notice of this motion in October 1999. Even now I am frustrated that the progress of this issue has been too slow. Though I agree with the Minister that everyone has been talking about a proper identification system and seems to agree on the need for it, they appear to be going around in circles. As I said in October 1999, I believe the Minister should have taken the lead. If he had, he would have had the total support of the Coalition and the entire livestock industry in New South Wales. The Minister said that some organisations that had been discussing the system are worried about the cost of implementing it. For my part $3 for the Rumen Bolus, which is probably the most expensive one, is a pretty good investment for $1,000 worth of beast, especially knowing that the beast could be sold with confidence at a premium price because it is listed on a national identification scheme. Quite a few meat works now are paying more money for stock on the national identification scheme than they did previously.
We must bear in mind also that at the moment although our prices are not great, they are more realistic. With prices being realistic, now is the time to take the initiative and introduce a national identification system. The proposal has progressed well since October 1999, but is still moving slowly. I thank the honourable member for Monaro, who mentioned the brucellosis and tuberculosis [TB] eradication schemes, and of course the Helix problem, which was a typical case of world market competitors benefiting from our misfortune of having traces of chlorfluazuron in beef cattle that had been fed cotton trash. I thank also the honourable member for Lismore. He undertook a tour of New South Wales for the National Party, which was virtually a stock theft tour, and met with stock agents and police.
Mr Amery: So long as he didn't take stock!
Mr SLACK-SMITH: He only took a car; he did not take a truck! I checked his boot, and it was empty. Our record in New South Wales speaks for itself; we need the reintroduction of the stock squad, but not the one that the Minister for Police has spoken about. The honourable member for Lismore told me that wherever he went on the tour—I accompanied him when he visited my electorate—there were cries for an identification system. He mentioned also that some processors had voiced concerns. Even when the brucellosis and TB eradication campaigns were instigated some sectors of the community opposed the idea. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built there were people who opposed it. In our society there is no such thing as complete agreement. People will object to an identification scheme, and most of those people will probably not have thought it through. The honourable member for Bega mentioned that the cattle rustlers would not like it! The industry wants the scheme, and I believe that support for it will be unanimous. I thank the Minister for supporting the motion. I believe he has been too slow in taking the lead, but he will have our total support.
Motion agreed to.