Overnight we again saw distressing scenes of animal cruelty on our television. This time it was truly horrific scenes of barbarity towards sheep which ended up in Pakistan after being diverted from Bahrain which There is nothing pleasant about the way the animals were treated. Nobody could in any way excuse or justify the treatment of the Australian livestock by Pakistani officials. Of course the sheep were bound to be killed either way, but the reasons given and methods deployed were at the same time dubious, ugly, abhorrent and disgusting.
Predictably of course, the live export ban lobby have again found fuel for the fire that they want to build in order to see the entire industry destroyed. The extra oxygen is again fanning the flames and the advocacy groups involved will not stop until the industry has been reduced to smouldering ashes.
But is this a reasonable move? Is this something that should logically occur as a response to this incident? To any given incident which makes people question the trade?
The reality is that the reaction, as far as continued calls for a complete and permanent cessation of live exports, is a woeful overreaction with little or no understanding of the real world of policy-making. The repeated calls also lack reason.
Thankfully, this time, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig and the Labor Government actually made a rational and reasonable decision. This time there was not and there will not be a knee-jerk reaction from an out-of-touch government pandering to the chosen few because they feel slightly uncomfortable about the headlines live exports have generated.
That seems to be the new test. The ‘discomfort test’, it would appear, is the new threshold for banning a whole industry in response to what are undoubtedly horrific scenes.
Back in the real world, we realise that isolated incidents do not make a bad industry. We realise that while there have now been a few documented incidents and disturbing ones at that, that those occasions do not represent the industry as a whole.
Let’s think about the proposition for a minute. The proposition that says banning a whole industry is a smart and justified response to limited wrongdoing across a specific industry.
Imagine if we followed this suggestion through to its logical conclusion. Any industry where there is any hint of wrongdoing, no matter how limited, where there are examples of events of an illegal, abhorrent or unpopular nature should be cut down and eliminated.
Not quite so sensible an idea now is it? How many industries would be left if this was the case? Probably none.
We would be stupid, indeed naive to believe that any amount of regulation, any number of checks and balances could eliminate all inappropriate behaviour in any industry. However, banning something in response to reprehensible actions is not the answer.
Some in the ban live exports camp will say we could replace the live expert trade with the slaughter and preparation of livestock in Australian abattoirs and some of course do not want us to be eating meat at all. Those advocating the latter should be ignored. They are well and truly in the minority and should not be trying to push their beliefs on the vast majority of people.
Those protesters pushing for the killing and preparation of livestock in Australia for export in place of sending live animals to overseas nations have a point, at least in theory.
We could create an extensive slaughter industry in the north of Australia. Jobs would be created and more money would be rolling in domestically from the livestock trade. Sounds good right?
The trouble is that in reality, if we were to travel down that avenue, slaughtering and preparing all meat for export onshore, we would almost certainly strike a problem.
If we were pursue a policy like this we would almost undoubtedly experience a drop in demand for our product. Some countries would surely be more cautious about accepting our meat trade if we were responsible for the whole slaughter and preparation process.
Then there is the small matter of local slaughterhouses occasionally slipping up and making mistakes. Yes, there would be better oversight if meat-processing was located here but it would be a mistake to believe we could eradicate all issues.
All this seems like an unnecessary price to pay. Animal rights lobbyists should be advocating punishment for wrongdoing but not calling for a complete ban of the trade.
Another day and another shocking video emerged overnight on Lateline, showing what is believed to be Australian cattle being mistreated in an overseas abattoir. This further shocking footage has led to Animals Australia and others, including some parliamentarians getting louder in their advocacy for the live export trade to cease altogether. This comes not a year after the live export trade was temporarily shut down by the Gillard Government, under Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, until the government saw fit to reinstate it under assurances from the respective parties, a ban that caused the industry some woes, largely in the Northern Territory.
A new package of oversight was worked on over a period of time between the key stakeholders in government and industry with a focus on processes in an attempt to ensure that the horrific images would not be replicated anywhere else in the future.
Of course these dreadfully disturbing images have now been repeated in an Indonesian abattoir, in footage just as sickening, if not more than the previous recording.
Nobody ever said, after the legislation in response to the original video, that the same sorts of images would never ever see the light of day again, would never force us to think had we gone far enough. Indeed it was always that the legislation would have an eye to improving the welfare and livelihood of cattle that Australians send overseas, to a country which slaughters their animals in a particular manner for cultural and religious reasons. To attempt as best as practicable to cut out the practises which have led to such barbaric deaths.
The question is, do we need to get sweaty palms over this and engage in the kind of politics of panic that such an event seems to invoke? Or do we deal with it in a pragmatic fashion, realising that our cattlemen need that market and that the Indonesians would be assisted in having our cattle available to them, being in relative proximity in our region?
There is a cultural and religious freedom element in this argument, as has been said in the past, the methods of slaughter are part of long held ideas about the Islamic culture. Do we seek to deny any nation that right or do we engage with them in much better ways of performing their traditions which have animal welfare firmly in mind?
Yes, we could certainly look at better ways of monitoring the supply chains and the situation in individual slaughter houses and that is probably a fair argument. However, on this count we can also go too far, by having officials in another country too often in an oversight capacity we run the risk as a nation of offending the sensitivities of the Indonesian people and in a way their sovereignty.
What we must do is ensure that there is a stronger level of training provided to and observed by all abattoirs, not just in Indonesia, but in other similar nations. We could perhaps observe more times a year than at present, each abattoir slaughtering Australian cattle and provide the kind of ongoing training and updated equipment, with the help of Indonesia that would allow for the killing of our animals to be done much more humanely on a more regular basis
What we do not need is a sweaty palms, knee-jerk reaction in panic to an horrific, but as far as we know isolated incident which would see all live trade, not just to our Indonesian neighbours, but to other nations which practise Islam cease altogether. Both not acting further and banning the live export trade altogether are harmful in their own ways for both our reputation overseas and our economy. Nobody wants to see the kinds of nauseating images we have been exposed to in recent times, nor do many want to see our live cattle not being exported. Cool heads, not clammy palms must prevail.