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.
One time Defence Minister and now Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon today uttered the awkward but necessary reality that some Australian troops, probably special forces, may and should remain in Afghanistan well after the already stated withdrawl date of 2014. These comments come less than a day after Taliban militants struck urban areas across Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, attacking government buildings and diplomatic missions as well as a NATO facility.
The government have already stated that the majority of Australian troops will be coming home within the next two years, but that there is a real possibility that elite soldiers may remain well after the planned withdrawal date.
Mr Fitzgibbon, on his return from visiting the NATO headquarters in Brussels, stated that the attacks which were quelled today after more than half a day of fighting proved that “the peace in Afghanistan is at best a fragile one”. This is very true, whilst the attacks in the major urban cities of Afghanistan have been rare in recent years, aside from a similar one last year, the fact that they are still occurring and not being smothered, or even discovered beforehand is a cause for major concern regarding the real level of readiness of Afghan security services post combat troop withdrawal.
At the outset it is important to note that the ongoing effort in Afghanistan will be one more of harm minimisation as opposed to the ideal outcome of crushing Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The events over the last 24 hours or so provide some evidence that a greater level return of troops to the major cities is a necessity both to train and supplement Afghan police and army stationed in these cities.
The attacks also point to the need for greater border security, particularly around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas where, in the worst kept secret of the conflict, many Taliban fighters are known to have fled and to have even been welcomed by elements of the military and intelligence community in the neighbouring country.
Greater intelligence efforts of both the Afghan and international community need to be deployed into these border regions to help identify, prosecute or eliminate border crossings by known Taliban fighters and this kind of intelligence building and effort cannot occur overnight as many members of the Taliban may just wait out international forces before returning to the country when it is safer for them to do so. In the case of intelligence cooperation, an ongoing cooperation between Afghanistan and particularly US intelligence services is a necessity.
Where Fitzgibbon starts going wrong is suggesting that, in his view the mentoring task force would have returned home by the end of 2014, like the artificial timetable created suggests. If any part of the Australian commitment had to remain in Afghanistan post 2014, it predominantly should be those tasked with mentoring the Afghan National Army and police. It is the security forces that we as a nation have been partially responsible for mentoring that weren’t ready yesterday wasn’t it?
It is certain that the security situation in Afghanistan is tense and that the threat of combatants returning from Pakistan through the porous borders is a certainty, regardless of the timing of an exit and needs to be responded to with continued security and intelligence cooperation between nations. The question is, will a war weary and debt-ridden international community be able to stomach continued commitment to peace and security in Afghanistan? Equally so, will the Afghan Government, increasingly weary of the international presence and occasional misadventure be happy for this to continue to occur? That is far from definite.