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JBS attempted takeover in Tasmania

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tags: Fish Farms, Environment

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, Tasmania is teetering on the edge of a massive takeover bid by an international corporate juggernaut with one of the worst global reputations, and that is saying something.

JBS is in the middle of taking over Australia's biggest pork producer, Riverlea, and in the past fortnight has become embroiled with mining billionaire Andrew Forrest over the control of Tasmania's salmon farm, Huon Aquaculture.

The Batista brothers who own JBS, Wesley and Joesley, already own Australia's biggest meat processor and they have an entirely chequered history. They spent several months in jail in 2018 while they were awaiting trial over allegations of insider trading using privileged information from that very plea for their own financial benefits. The plea bargain that they made was to keep them out of jail for their engagement in large-scale corruption with Brazil's politicians.

JBS has been facing growing pressure from Brazilian politicians and environmentalists to address its information gaps and transparency failings across its business chain. JBS has been unable to ensure the market that it does not buy cattle from farms that are involved in illegal deforestation of the Amazon for over a decade despite promising that it would do so. The head of the environment commission that is looking into the company, Senator Fabiano Contarato, called it 'a form of cattle laundering'. There is mounting outrage, not just in Brazil but globally as well, over the damage to the Amazon forest and the fires that are linked there to cattle farming.

We all know that now more than ever we have to do everything possible to keep the carbon stores of the glorious organ of the earth, the Amazon. So, the role of JBS is critical and there must be global pressure on the butchers of Brazil to stop their illegal deforestation activities. They operate deep in the Amazon. After a devasting report by Greenpeace they signed a landmark cattle agreement in 2009 and they promised not to buy from any direct suppliers involved in deforestation. They also included indirect suppliers but despite that nine years later in 2017 they were fined $24.7 million by Brazil's Government Environment Agency for buying 49 000 cattle in the Amazon state of Pará from illegally deforested areas. This company does not give a toss for the paper it signs. It does not give one ounce of concern for the deforestation of the Amazon. We know from the record in Tasmania that it has no concern for the workers it employs.

So, here we are and many Tasmanians are very concerned. We have been surprised at the really strong level of concern we have had from people contacting us spontaneously because of the experience of JBS in Quoiba in King Island, their total disregard for the workers and because they received Tasmanian government subsidies moments before they turned around and sacked workers and closed abattoirs.

We also know that the Australian Tax Office is embroiled in litigation proceedings right now with JBS over the use of legal privilege to avoid disclosing essential documents to the markets. The Greens' Senator Peter Whish-Wilson has called on the Treasury's Foreign Investment Review Board to block the company's takeover bid for Riverlea and also importantly, for Huon Aquaculture. There is no doubt that JBS's network of subsidiaries have been linked to high level corruption in many countries, including the US, where they got an enormous $3.2 billion fine, the largest in history, after bribing hundreds of politicians. They have also been strongly linked to modern day slave labour practices.

You almost cannot believe the staggering scale of disregard this company has for the rules of law, the welfare of the animals in their slaughter houses, the welfare of the staff who are employed by them. People in Tasmania are also deeply concerned at the environmental impacts that would occur from a company that has no regard for the law.

Why has the Premier doubled down and become a cheer squad for JBS? Despite what they have done and the record in Tasmania, the Premier is not raising the flag of concern; he is offering the doormat of welcome. It is disgraceful. It is another reason why we have to have a properly independent EPA because, were JBS to operate in our precious marine environment, we are incredibly concerned at the potential scale of pollution that could be caused by their cut and run activities.