LABOR backbench MPs Kelvin Thomson, Melissa Parke, Janelle Saffin and Darren Cheeseman’s proposed ban on live exports relies on arguments which perpetuate “economic vandalism” on producers, said Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold, and won’t be tolerated by ALEC.
The Labor MPs are members of an influential animal welfare group within the ALP caucus, and spearheaded the government’s snap ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia last year.
They resurfaced last week criticising the trade, after the ABC’s Four Corners screened more damning animal cruelty vision from the recent Pakistan sheep crisis.
The backbenchers have promised to renew calls for a total ban on live exports through their working group when the Lower House sits again and for the final time this year, in the last week of November.
However, critics say that political push contradicts statements from Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig supporting the trade’s viability and efforts to improve animal welfare outcomes globally.
Minister Ludwig issued a timely statement last week ahead of the Four Corners broadcast, saying the inhumane cull of 21,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan was very distressing – but was also an isolated incident that didn’t reflect the trade as a whole.
He said a new system was now in place to investigate any supply chain breaches and take appropriate action, with the Federal Agriculture Department already examining footage of the cull as part of an ongoing investigation.
“The reforms introduced to the live export trade achieve improved animal welfare and a strong future for the live export trade and the jobs and communities that rely on it,” Minister Ludwig said.
Ms Penfold said while politicians are entitled to their views, she would continue arguing “strenuously” for live export to continue into markets where positive animal welfare outcomes were being achieved, due to Australia’s ongoing involvement over almost four decades.
“I’m not prepared to see economic vandalism perpetrated against producers throughout this country,” she said.
“If you support animal welfare and you support producers who take care of their animals better than anyone else, it doesn’t make sense to just simply ban the trade.”
Last year when the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was in full swing, Western Australian Liberal MP for Durack Barry Haase accused the ALP backbenchers of calling for an end to the trade and aiding the ban, despite being largely disconnected from the human impacts of the decision.
“You could say they care more about animals than they do about human beings, because they are thinking nothing of the destruction of lives amongst my pastoralists in north-western Australia,” Mr Haase said.
“But I’d go further and say that they are not even interested in animal welfare – they are interested in getting political notches on their gun.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said some of the backbench MPs who wanted live exports to end represented suburban electorates, and didn’t understand the economic reality of the issue. He said markets like Indonesia wanted live cattle because they lacked access to fridges and freezers or electricity and processed cattle nightly, which was then sold in wet markets and consumed the next day.
He said if Australia stopped supplying cattle to the Indonesians, they would simply buy their beef and protein supplies from other countries like India, where the attention to animal welfare doesn’t match Australia’s high standards.
“These MPs may not be worried about the impacts of a ban (on live exports) but it certainly worries people in rural communities,” he said.
WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle said he didn’t want to criticise any of his ALP colleagues over their calls to ban live exports, but stressed he’s a staunch supporter of the industry and understood its importance to remote rural communities, particularly WA’s Kimberley and Pilbara regions.
Senator Sterle said the Greens were indulging in “voyeuristic dreaming about abattoirs again” by releasing their position paper this week to promote onshore processing, “but it just won’t happen”.
“We’re all animal lovers - but those people who are anti-live exports just get animal cruelty confused with live exports,” he said.
“But they should roll up their sleeves and get out into rural communities and meet some of the people who are involved in the trade because they’re not monsters.
“And the Greens want to get off their ass and get out into the regions like the Kimberley and the Pilbara and start talking to producers.
“They will have more credibility if they do that and stop playing to the trendies living in Sydney and Melbourne and those in Perth who’ve never been further than Rottnest Island.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister John Cobb said there was no economic or animal welfare reality attached to the argument to close live exports from vocal Labor backbenchers on the animal welfare working group.