The blanket ban imposed by the Gillard Government on exports of live cattle to Indonesia will do nothing to address the problem of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs, and removes one of the forms of leverage which Australia had to end brutal practices shown on the ABC television’s Four Corners program (May 30, 2011).
The fact that animal cruelty has been shown in a handful of abattoirs is no reason to assume that this applies in all Indonesian abattoirs, or even the 100 abattoirs which receive cattle from Australia, nor to punish those in Indonesia who are doing the right thing, nor the Australian cattle industry, simply to meet the demands of people who are opposed, in principle, to animal exports.
What the Federal Government should have done was to immediately stop exports to the four abattoirs which were shown to have treated animals cruelly, and to give the Indonesian abattoirs a period — say six months — during which inspections would be conducted by Australia of all abattoirs in Indonesia for accreditation purposes.
This would have given Australia an opportunity to improve animal-handling facilities in Indonesia. As things stand, that opportunity has been missed.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), there are around 14 million cattle in Indonesia. Australia’s exports over the past 20 years are said to be six million, so Australian exports play an important part in the provision of protein to Indonesian people, many of whom live near the poverty line.
The absence of refrigeration in many parts of Indonesia (and other countries) makes the export of frozen or chilled beef an impractical alternative to live exports.
Instead, the Federal Government’s knee-jerk reaction to the entirely understandable public revulsion at animal cruelty will ensure that the good are condemned along with the bad, and that the cruel practices revealed in the Four Corners program will continue unabated, only on Indonesian cattle, not Australian.
There are other aspects of this matter which also deserve to be considered. The federal Agriculture Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, said that he had notified the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation last January that animal welfare practices in Indonesia were sub-standard.
If this is true, why didn’t the Government do something about it then? Why did it not initiate inspections of abattoirs in Indonesia? Why did not Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), the statutory body which oversees Australia’s cattle industry, and its associated body LiveCorp, which manages exports, take measures to deal with the problem in Indonesia?
There can be no doubt that they were aware of what should be done. Even before the Four Corners program went to air, MLA, which had clearly seen the footage, moved into action. On May 27, it issued a statement which said, “The Australian livestock export industry has moved to suspend supply of cattle to three Indonesian abattoirs after evidence of animal cruelty was identified.”
LiveCorp CEO Cameron Hall said that footage provided to the industry led to the industry immediately requesting the Indonesian industry to suspend the supply of Australian cattle to these facilities.
“Cruelty to Australian animals is simply unacceptable. We will not tolerate it,” Mr Hall said. “This graphic and distressing footage has upset and frustrated the industry, particularly given our major efforts to improve animal welfare in Indonesia.”
The fact is that Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp are supposed to supervise export abattoirs and they have, either by acts of omission or commission, tolerated animal cruelty in some Indonesian abattoirs, apparently for years. What they have now done is too little, too late.
Given that MLA has responsibility for exports not only to Indonesia, but also to other countries, the public can have no confidence that MLA has acted properly elsewhere. As the Australian Beef Association has suggested, there needs to be a judicial inquiry into the whole issue, including the actions of Meat and Livestock Australia and LiveCorp.
The immediate danger is that Australia will extend its export ban to other countries which receive live cattle, and to countries in the Middle East to which Australia exports sheep.
If such a ban is implemented, as demanded by Animals Australia, it will do nothing to address the issue of animal cruelty, and will deny people living in developing countries access to high-quality protein, which is necessary for their diets.
An associated issue is the damage suffered by Australian beef exporters as a result of the Government’s ban.
In the first instance, the Federal Government should meet the costs incurred by Australian exporters who, through no fault of their own, are being penalised by the export ban. However, to the extent that Meat and Livestock Australia is found to be responsible for the disruption of Australian cattle exports, it should be required to foot the bill.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.