10th March 2016


The Hon. MARK PEARSON [12.48 p.m.]: I move:

(1)      That this House commends the 80 per cent of Australian wool growers who are:

(a)      breeding sheep to be resistant to flystrike by breeding out skin wrinkles; or

(b)      using pain relief when mulesing sheep.

(2)      That this House calls on the remaining 20 per cent of wool growers to begin breeding sheep to be resistant to flystrike, and in the interim, providing pain relief to sheep when mulesing.

(3)      That this House congratulates Dr Meredith Schiel and the Australian Wool Growers Association for developing and promoting Tri-Solfen, an economical local anaesthetic and antiseptic gel spray for use on lambs to provide pain relief following mulesing, which also reduces blood loss and infection to improve wound healing.

(4)      That this House commends Laurence Modiano, a leading European wool-buyer and distributor for facilitating the uptake in the textile industry’s demand for non-mulesed wool and for encouraging the Australian wool industry to move towards pain relief.

(5)      That this House congratulates world renown fashion designer Count Zegna for, in the past two years, awarding his prestigious Wool Trophy for the best superfine Merino fleece to wool growers who have bred out the wrinkles in their sheep and adopted other management practices and therefore ceased mulesing their sheep.

Many years ago the economy of Australia was built on the back of the merino sheep through the development of the wool industry. It grew and became the fundamental platform of the first major economy for Australia. The industry, which has an important and interesting history, is now alive and robust but it also has the attention of the world. This motion calls upon the House to commend various activities conducted by people in the wool industry and various growers. The motion is about a win-win-win situation. The view of the Animal Justice Party is that it is a win for the almost 23 million lambs that are born every year in Australia. Many of the lambs undergo a surgical procedure called mulesing, which is the removal of skin and subcutaneous tissue around the vulva, tail and breech area of the animal.

Twelve years ago I filmed this procedure and I sent the footage to organisations around the world so that the true story behind the production of wool in Australia could be observed. It was not exaggerated or highlighted. The document showed a procedure that is common in Australia. Over the past 25 years the Federal Government has appointed standing committees on animal welfare which have reviewed this procedure. Those reviews have resulted in the industry, through the research of the Australian Wool Innovation, addressing the mutilating procedure that is performed on animals without any analgesia or pain relief. As a result, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in Australia was required to include a provision to exempt sheep and lambs from this particular procedure where a prosecution would otherwise have been brought for unnecessary, unjustifiable and unreasonable cruelty to an animal. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

The second win would come from this House commending the work of proactive and progressive growers, people in the industry and retailers who want to introduce a change in the industry. The world is now looking at what we do in our backyard. Buyers such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Zegna, Armani and Hugo Boss are looking at what we are doing with our animals when producing various products such as wool. There was an international crisis when consumers and retailers of Australian wool became alarmed and concerned about what they saw. I will give an example. I was in London attending a meeting between the Australian Wool Growers Association and a senior executive of Armani. The conversation was critical. The Australian Wool Growers Association representatives were trying to convince a senior executive of Armani—a major importer of Australian wool—that mulesing is necessary for the wellbeing and welfare of the animal. That is the complexity of this issue.

It is not like the argument about battery cages for hens where the cage is an instrument of cruelty. The procedure of mulesing is about preventing flystrike, which results in the lingering and painful death of an animal. However, the procedure is invasive and it is a mutilation. Veterinarians and wool buyers are highly critical of the procedure when it is performed without pain relief. The Australian Wool Growers Association representatives were trying to explain this point to a senior executive of Armani when he said, “Stop. I am a wool buyer. I have customers. Beautiful soft merino wool for my beautiful suits—bleeding horrible wound. Stop it. Fix it or I go to Spain or South America.”

The message was clear. Our problem is flystrike. Armani’s customers do not want blood on the Armani label. The argument has moved to a new chapter. We have to fix the problems associated with the necessity for mulesing. It will continue to occur, but if changes are made by growers to breed out wrinkles so that after 18 months or two years the animals no longer require mulesing to avoid flystrike, then that will be more acceptable to buyers around the world. The motion calls on this House to commend the work that will result in a win-win-win situation: a win for the animals; a win for the wool growers who are progressive and visionary and, therefore, taking the industry forward in the world; and a win for Australia’s economy and world image. We will not be condemned or attract criticism that creates a crisis for the industry because we have not caught up with world’s best practice and acknowledged that animals must be protected.

This motion is not about condemning the industry; it is about moving the industry forward. A recent petition signed by 38 wool buyers from around the world—from China, Europe and America—showed that wool buyers fear that wool from lambs that have been mulesed without pain relief will be mixed with wool from lambs that have been mulesed with pain relief when it is being washed, spun or knitted in China or other countries. This will cause serious blight and risk and liability to the wool industry in Australia if we do not give an absolute guarantee to wool buyers that we will make pain relief mandatory. That guarantee is important to wool buyers, particularly Count Zegna, whose company is at the upper aspect of the wool-buying industry. When Count Zegna was in Australia a couple of years ago he said that a trophy would be given to a wool grower not only on the quality of their wool but also on the basis that the wool grower was using pain relief or had stopped mulesing.

[The Deputy-President (The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones) left the chair at 1.00 p.m. The House resumed at 2.30 p.m.]


Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

The Hon. MARK PEARSON [3.32 p.m.], by leave: I move:

That the motion be amended by omitting paragraph (2) and inserting instead:

(2)      That this House encourages all woolgrowers to breed sheep to be resistant to flystrike and, in the interim, they should provide pain relief to sheep when mulesing.

Research in Australia has put us in a position of world leadership on the use of pain relief and analgesia for farm animals. This has been an issue throughout the world because previously young farm animals have been perceived not to feel pain as much as other animals. This has come about because most farm animals are prey animals and, therefore, they experience pain in very different ways to predatory animals such as dogs, cats or hawks. Some outstanding work has been done in Australia looking at analgesia in relation to mulesing and other mutilations. The studies have been quite visionary and have helped bring the world forward in understanding pain in farm animals.

The studies have examined mulesing procedures on sheep with and without pain management and have looked at nostril flaring, pupil dilation, movement of the eyelids and movement of the abdomen. Sheep do not writhe in pain or cry out, so researchers had to look at other symptomatology which showed whether the animals were in pain and the degree of pain. The study clearly showed that farm animals, lambs and calves, probably experience as much pain as predatory animals, which express pain by screaming, crying or writhing. Prey animals have evolved not to show pain or distress in order to avoid the wolf that may be watching to take out weak, sick or injured animals. They have evolved to cover their pain and distress so that they appear not to be in that state. But that does not mean that they do not suffer as much as other animals.

Another aspect of this study is leading the way in pain management. Young animals—under six months or 12 months—under current legislation across Australia are exempted from being given pain relief. It has now become clear, through veterinary scientific and technical knowledge, that just because an animal is young and is less likely to demonstrate the symptomatology of pain does not mean it is not experiencing pain. Paediatrician Dr Meredith Schiel developed Tri-Solfen, a topical analgesia which contains three different types of analgesia: fast acting, medium acting and slow acting. In her work as a paediatrician she was alarmed to discover that not long ago the view was held that human children, because they were so young, did not feel pain and distress. This has been very clearly proven not to be the case. In fact, this belief is a serious embarrassment to the medical fraternity.

Progress is such that the cattle industry, rather than waiting to be stung or experience an international crisis such as that experienced by the wool industry, is now proactively adopting analgesia and pain relief for surgical procedures, such as castration, tail docking and branding in cattle. It has put proposals before the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority [APVMA] to adopt analgesia for those procedures. As well, the European Union has looked at what is happening in Australia and has sought to adopt the measures in drug regulations so that analgesia is used when piglets are castrated or having their teeth clipped.

Australia has shown world leadership over the past eight years in relation to progress on farm animals’ pain, young farm animals’ pain and the application of analgesia. I commend this motion to the House, which notes the progressive work by the farming community, the researchers who have developed the analgesia and the industry that will take this work forward. I also commend this motion to the House as it encourages all wool growers to adopt humane and progressive ways of treating farm animals.

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR (Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Lands and Water) [3.40 p.m.]: On behalf of the Government I contribute to debate on the motion relating to the wool growing industry which was moved by the Hon. Mark Pearson. This motion has been on the Notice Paper for some time because it contained elements that the Government did not support. The Hon. Mark Pearson has now moved an amendment to his original motion. I doubt the debate will conclude today but will be adjourned to next week. In the intervening period I will look closely at the amended motion but for now will reserve my right as to whether the Government supports it. I do say that the motion appears to be heading in the right direction.

The Government supports much of the motion before the House. Over many years members on both sides of the Chamber have been involved in debate on farm animal treatment. I acknowledge the contribution of the Hon. Mark Pearson and I am sure members from both sides will want to contribute to the debate. The motion recognises the progress of the industry in the treatment of farm animals. That is worth celebrating. However, I indicate that the Government had issues with the underlying intent of the member’s original motion. The prevention of flystrike is a key priority for the Australian sheep industry. Flystrike is a horrific disease, as anyone who has worked with sheep will tell you. The sight of maggots eating away at the flesh of a live animal is not something that can be forgotten. When the Hon. Mick Veitch makes his contribution to this debate, I am sure that he, as a former shearer, will touch on this point.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: We hope in not too graphic detail.

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I acknowledge the interjection of the Government Whip. It is important to talk about the graphic details. It is not just the sight but also the smell that sticks in one’s memory. That is an issue that needs to be raised. As well as the obvious commercial benefits gained from the prevention of flystrike in sheep, the industry has been proactive in working towards the ultimate goal of flock flystrike resistance. The Government supports our sheep and wool industries. The Government does not support the mandating of sheep industry standards in New South Wales because it is not necessary. The industry is already doing a good job in setting sheep standards and wool growers continue to make improvements, particularly in areas such as flystrike.

As the Hon. Mark Pearson’s motion states, 80 per cent of producers already use pain relief or are breeding sheep to be resistant to flystrike. I see that as the glass being 80 per cent full, not 20 per cent empty, and that is due to the work of the industry and those within government who have advocated for this industry. Members will recall the efforts of the Hon. Duncan Gay, as the shadow Minister for Industry, and his support of Australian Wool Innovation [AWI] and the industry in their move towards better methods of flystrike control. One of the many reasons the Hon. Duncan Gay has been a champion in this space is that he saw the advantages for the industry as a whole. As a sheep farmer, he knows firsthand the horrors of flystrike and the need for improvements. I also look forward to the Hon. Bronnie Taylor contributing to this debate as she comes from a renowned sheep-breeding and wool-producing property in the Monaro.

The industry has made and continues to make improvements. Therefore, it is not necessary for the Government to mandate the wool industry in New South Wales. The Australian wool industry is on the front foot in tackling the issues and has made world-leading progress in the management of flystrike. The Hon. Mark Pearson, in his contribution, said that the Government should mandate standards because of the possibility of the mixing of wools in offshore processing. The Government disagrees because it considers that the industry is heading in the right direction.

The industry has made great advances in non-invasive management and improved welfare practices. For example, with regards to pain relief, already 77 per cent of lambs being mulesed each year are treated with pain relief. This massive on-farm change, which has occurred in less than a decade, has been led entirely by industry members. I commend them for this change. It did not occur as a result of the Government taking a big stick approach and mandating; it occurred as a result of leadership within the industry—as has been acknowledged in the amended motion. Further, producers in New South Wales have introduced other husbandry practices to improve flystrike management, such as double crutching, lambing times, pasture management and strategic use of chemicals.

The producer-funded marketing organisation Australian Wool Innovation invests in research and development to increase the profitability and sustainability of all production in Australia. The industry has undertaken genetic research and development to breed sheep with flystrike resistance. There is no doubt that this is the long-term goal that everyone is striving towards. Some of the most recent developments for sheep producers include tools to score sheep breech traits. Sheep most susceptible to flystrike have a higher degree of skin wrinkle and wool coverage in the breech region. Sheep producers can now use a nationally consistent set of breech trait scoring charts to increase the resistance in their flock by selecting sheep with greater natural resistance to flystrike. Breeders can also use a national set of merino sheep breeding values for breech wrinkle traits to identify sires with enhanced natural resistance.

The industry is confident that these breeding tools will accelerate the entire industry’s progress towards a more naturally flystrike-resistant flock. By the use of research and development in genetics, the industry has identified about 50 per cent of the causes of flystrike and has determined the genetic correlations and heritability of them all. Practical tools have been developed to reduce susceptibility to flystrike, such as the development of the Australian Sheep Breeding Values which growers are now using basically to fast-track natural breeding programs. The entire blowfly genome has been mapped and is now being used to develop new target chemicals for treatment and prevention. Commercially the industry has introduced the National Wool Declaration to allow choice in the marketplace for buyers and processors. Latest figures show that 49.5 per cent of the total wool clip is now classified under the declaration, and that is in all categories.

The industry, through AWI, the woolmark company, works the entire supply chain, including the retail sector. In recent years the industry has witnessed a significant upswing in interest in wool, with increased usage and demand for wool in key apparel markets. Wool continues to be on trend and recognised as a fabulous natural fibre. The industry is on the front foot in combating this issue. This is another opportunity to say to the people responsible for animal husbandry practices and the management and welfare of their flocks that we appreciate what they are doing and the money that is being invested by industry and the producers in research in order to achieve better outcomes. The industry is willing to work within the different levels of the supply chain to achieve better outcomes for wool producers in this country.

The Hon. Mark Pearson has another motion on the Notice Paper in relation to mulesing. It goes further and congratulates a wider range of people within the industry. As I have stated, the work of Dr Meredith Sheil and the Australian Wool Growers Association to develop products for pain relief is to be applauded. The work that the industry has done also should be applauded and is worth recognition by the House. In consultation with the Hon. Mark Pearson, I will look at the amendment and when the debate is called on again next week the Government will state whether it will support the motion. I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for bringing this matter before the House and allowing us to note the achievements of this industry.

Although we come to this debate from different sides of the argument as a result of our different experiences, we all want similar outcomes. We are in agreement that we want to make sure that Australia continues to ride on the sheep’s back into the future and is able to service the demand for wool products. Our farmers must be supported and celebrated. They should be at the centre of all conversations around animal husbandry practices and the operation of their businesses. We may differ on how to achieve good animal welfare outcomes but the intent is the same. I applaud elements of this motion. The industry is looking at how to achieve better outcomes while maintaining a viable industry which is a large employer in regional New South Wales. We must hold true to the values of the family farm and our primary industries. I again thank the member for bringing this matter before the House and look forward to listening to the contributions of other members to the debate.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH [3.54 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in debate on this motion moved by the Hon. Mark Pearson. I congratulate the member on bringing this matter before the House. It is a matter that should be debated by the House. I have not had many opportunities to talk in the Chamber about my history in this area. I grew up on a farm and during the school holidays my father would take me to the shearing sheds. It was a great place to spend time and to listen to the yarns of the shearers. Some of them were capable of spinning a good yarn.

The Hon. Lynda Voltz: Unlike yourself.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH: Unlike myself. I learnt a lot about looking after sheep in those shearing sheds and I learnt from the graziers about their practices in looking after the sheep on their properties. Some school holidays I spent on the back of a horse going from paddock to paddock. I grew up on a farm called “Coorumbene”, which was on the Yaven Creek in the beautiful Ellerslie Valley. Dad worked for Michael Roche and John Reynolds. We would regularly muster the sheep into a corner of the paddock and then let them run past one at a time as we looked for indications of flystrike. That was done regularly in order to pick up flystrike in the early stages so that we did not have the ugly scenes of heavily struck sheep.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: You spent your school holidays looking at sheep bums.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH: Interestingly, they strike in more areas than the breech region. Quite often it is around the flank and neck. It is a common mistake for people to focus on the breech region. They will strike in other regions. Flystrike is horrific regardless of where the sheep are struck. As a shearer I had the misfortune of seeing a lot of sheep in agony. We would have to shear the wool away to get to the wound. In some cases we were too late and we would shear the dead sheep. I can think of many bad ways for an animal to die but to see a sheep die from flystrike never, ever leaves you. It is a horrendous way for an animal to die. The Minister spoke about the sights and smells that stay with you. As a former shearer I can remember the smells of the shearing sheds. A lot of things bring back memories of the shearing shed.

The Hon. Niall Blair: Smoko more than anything.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH: I used to love the smoko, the billy tea and the cold dog’s eye. The one thing that I particularly remember about flystruck sheep is the smell. When the shearers, roustabouts or shed hands were shearing a flock of sheep that were heavily flystruck they would be covered in maggots. The maggots would be up your arms and inside your clothes and you would smell. The facilities to clean yourself or to have a smoko or lunch were limited—shearers generally ate in the shed. Those memories do not leave you. It is a very hard way to make a living but that made it even harder. To make a living by picking up the boggi and putting on the dungas is admirable and I acknowledge the hard work of those individuals. It is probably one of the hardest ways to earn a crust in Australia.

The Hon. Niall Blair: Although working for me is pretty hard.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH: What was that, Minister? Did you say working for you is harder? What I will say though is the processes that we have to put in place to stop that are really important. I understand that people have issues around mulesing and it too is quite an aggressive way of preventing flystrike. This resolution is talking about the industry’s progression away from mulesing. If we can move away from mulesing, then that will be a good thing. I know every shearer in this country would relish the day when they do not have to shear flystruck sheep. That would be a good thing. For the producer, the wool of flystruck sheep is lost income and a lost asset.

Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted to permit a motion to adjourn the House if desired.

Item of business set down as an order of the day for a future day.

Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 2.30 p.m. for questions.