Opinion Piece: Time to End Live Animal Export
Paul Williams From:The Courier-Mail December 06, 2011
It was a rare treat last weekend to see the internal workings of Labor's national conference laid bare on television.
Voters could see first-hand the anatomy of Labor's chief decision-making forum, its intestines writhing and stomach churning as it battled with its democratic conscience.
Like most party conferences, much was pedestrian procedure, but at least Prime Minister Julia Gillard got her wish for a "noisy" forum.
It didn't produce the din of long-forgotten Labor battles, but there were certainly more decibels than the contrived 2009 event that appeared so ersatz it made Labor the new rayon of political fabric.
This year's uranium debate was a case in point. It wasn't pretty to see speakers on both sides drowned out, but at least the decision to sell uranium to India was reached transparently and the whole exercise was a useful reminder to cynical voters everywhere that party politics are relevant to everyday lives.
Amazingly, after a particularly bruising year, Gillard could enjoy a few key wins. The forum's endorsement of Treasurer Wayne Swan's Budget surplus at all costs was a significant Gillard victory, as was uranium sales.
And approving gay marriage will stand as a milestone in Labor's record of championing human rights, and is a logical progression for a party committed to social justice.
What a scandalous cop-out, then, for a party of natural justice to squib an opportunity to ban totally and for all time live animal exports - a practice that not only surrenders to foreign powers Australia's sovereign right to monitor how our own animals are slaughtered, but one that causes untold misery to the creatures.
Australia, so geographically distant from many of its export markets, is an unusual case.
Our livestock must endure unconscionable conditions for far greater lengths of confinement than, say, European animals. And that leaves aside the often terrible fate awaiting these feeling creatures that often die slowly in unmonitored slaughterhouses.
Indeed, Europe is an interesting case. From exporting millions of live head a decade ago, the continental trade has slowed to a trickle, and will soon phase out altogether - all on the strength of changing public opinion.
Interestingly, an opinion poll this year found 55 per cent of Australians also want to end live exports.
Given the grief this trade has caused both sides of politics - remember the 2003 debacle under John Howard when 57,000 live sheep were stranded in the Middle East on the Cormo Express? - one would think that, even for base political purposes, the major parties would seize every opportunity to extricate themselves from a practice that causes acute international embarrassment.
Australians are still traumatised by the Four Corners program's exposure this year of cruel treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia. Not only was Sarah Ferguson's report brilliant journalism (it won this year's Gold Walkley), the cultural ripples it produced became a textbook exercise in how the media can set public agendas, and how governments move reactively.
Happily, the Gillard Government suspended Australia's live export trade pending further investigation.
Rather less satisfying was the Government's surrender to noisy cattle producers only a month later when it felt the issue had slipped the public's mind. The trade was shamelessly resumed with some suspiciously flimsy caveats.
Exporters' supply chains are now supposed to be independently monitored via regular audits, but even Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the new regulations were merely "safeguards" and not guarantees of animal protection. Appallingly, animal stunning on foreign shores would not be compulsory but merely "encouraged".
And yet Labor voted down, 215 to 173, a moderate motion to phase out live exports over four years. (I would have liked the 15,000 cattle heading to Indonesia each week to have a vote, too.)
Opponents cited the usual arguments of the loss of a $1 billion industry and local jobs as their defence to keep a cruel status quo.
But neither has to be. First, when Australia exports live animals, we also surrender Australian slaughterhouse jobs (not to mention valuable DNA hard-won after years of controlled breeding).
Animals humanely stunned and slaughtered in Australia can be a jobs boon for the Northern Territory.
And the live export industry wouldn't be the first rural concern to secure generous government assistance to adjust to new economic realities. The dairy and sugar industries, among others, have also been supported as globalisation and free trade forced painful economic restructuring.
Australia is being judged on how we handle this issue. We cannot afford to ignore this pitiless trade.