The following is a speech delivered by Labor MP Melissa Parke to Parliament:
[Mr Speaker], If the true moral test of a nation is our treatment of those who are most vulnerable and dependent on our care, including our animals, then we are failing.
The Australian live export industry involves cruelty to animals — especially to the extent that once those animals leave our shores, their treatment is uncertain, poorly monitored, and as a result, often appallingly violent, painful, and even torturous.
This evening, one of Australia’s most respected current affairs programs Four Corners, has aired further evidence of Australian cattle being the subject of brutal and savage treatment — this time in Indonesia.
What makes the footage in this case particularly distressing, and also particularly compelling as part of the argument against the live export trade, is the casual and clearly unexceptional nature of the cruelty meted out to Australian cattle; and the fact that it is occurring through the use of slaughtering infrastructure and methods that have been provided to these Indonesian abattoirs by Livecorp and Meat & Livestock Australia.
[Mr Speaker], as the Member for Fremantle I am constantly reminded of the live export trade by virtue of the fact that some 80% of Australia’s live sheep exports and 25% of live cattle exports pass through the port of Fremantle. I am further reminded by the more than a thousand emails and letters I have received from my constituents, and from the many other concerned Australians, from city and country alike, who want to see this trade end. For too long we have allowed live animal export, with all its inherent and potential cruelties, to drift along unchecked, and unreformed. During that time some 150 million animals have been exported to countries where there are no laws to protect them from treatment that is unnecessary and unacceptable.
[Mr Speaker], it took one of our peak animal welfare bodies, Animals Australia to send investigators to the Middle East for the first time in 2003. From that moment onwards, when the first evidence of sheep being brutalised in Kuwait aired on 60 Minutes outraging Australians, the live export industry discovered a sudden interest in the welfare of animals in importing countries despite having exported millions of animals there for decades.
Their response was a four day animal handling workshop in Kuwait. No one asked the obvious question of industry as to why this had not occurred before. No one questioned how effective a four day workshop would be in a country where there were no laws to prevent ill treatment.
Since that time Animals Australia investigators have consistently provided evidence of abhorrent treatment of Australian animals in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and UAE — and further evidence from Kuwait — but on each occasion that the chronic mistreatment has been exposed, the industry and regulatory response has been to defend or make excuses for practices that are indefensible and inexcusable; the response has been to maintain the industry virtually unchanged, and to argue that engagement with the importing countries would bring about change that was better for Australian animals, and better for their own domestic livestock. Unfortunately, three decades on, there has been little progress of this kind.
[Mr Speaker], in 2005 Animals Australia produced evidence of practices at the Bassateen abattoir in Egypt where cattle were having their leg tendons slashed and eyes stabbed to disable them prior to slaughter. The industry and regulatory response was to claim that improvements at the Bassateen abattoir had been implemented, not just for Australian cattle, but for all animals, and that the reported practices no longer occurred.
So Animals Australia sent investigators to Egypt and returned with irrefutable evidence that leg tendon slashing and eye stabbing continued as a common practice. As a result, the Australian cattle trade to Egypt was halted for three years and now only continues at one internationally-controlled abattoir.
[Mr Speaker], we’re now in a position of having to reflect on the possibility that if appropriate action had been taken across the industry in response to the revelations from Egypt, Australians would not tonight have watched our cattle being terrified, tortured and brutalised in Indonesia. Unfortunately we have consigned over 6.4 million cattle to unregulated and cruel treatment over the past decade.
Two of Australia’s peak animal welfare bodies, Animals Australia and RSPCA Australia, took the evidence from Indonesia directly to Four Corners rather than to the industry or the regulators because they feared that no action would be taken if the treatment of animals was not fully and publicly exposed. Based on their previous experience it was an understandable decision.
It was not only the treatment of the cattle that shocked and horrified me when I viewed this footage, it was that Australian installed restraint devices, partly funded by industry support from government, is in effect contributing to and facilitating the brutal treatment of cattle.
If the level of cruelty without the Australian restraint boxes on a scale of 1-100 is 100, then the level of cruelty with our Australian restraint boxes is 99 out of 100. Rather than protect the welfare of Australian cattle, the installation and use of Australian restraint boxes has entrenched a system that causes significant suffering.
Footage of these industry devices has now been viewed by the world’s leading slaughter expert, Professor Temple Grandin, who has condemned their use, stating that “these devices contravene every humane principle around the world” and that they are “absolutely atrocious and unacceptable”. The question must therefore be asked: do we need to receive any further wake-up calls before realising that we have supported an industry that operates on a foundation of endemic and unchecked animal welfare failures?
I do not believe the extreme cruelty Australians are witnessing on Four Corners tonight would be condoned by our producers and farmers, who care about their animals’ welfare. It has been the industry and regulatory support of the trade to date that has kept producer confidence in it.
[Mr Speaker], in the knowledge that Four Corners was about to air the most damning evidence yet of institutional cruelty, we have again seen the live export PR machine swing into action with the customary blend of excuses, pleas of ignorance, and promises of change. I understand this includes suspending the supply of Australian cattle to three facilities out of more than 100 in Indonesia that receive our live cattle exports.
But let us remember that these three abattoirs are not facilities operating on some kind of rogue basis; they are not abattoirs that have somehow been missed in the industry’s effort to educate and monitor; no, on the contrary, these are facilities into which the Australian industry installed their own restraint boxes so that Australian animals could be slaughtered humanely according to what the Australian live export industry apparently regards as best-practice for Indonesia.
And yet the animals were tortured, one after another. And yet the practices shown in the footage as routine went unchecked. And yet the Indonesian abattoir workers were so comfortable with the acts of gouging eyes, breaking tails, slashing leg tendons, and administering an average of 11 cuts to an animal’s neck while it thrashes around blood spraying everywhere, that they let Animals Australia film this conduct without a second thought.
[Mr Speaker], in anticipation of the broadcast of this footage, an Indonesian Action Plan has predictably been released by the live export industry. The content of that plan is in my view only a further indictment of the industry. One of the plan’s “desired outcomes” — with all of the predictable wiggle-room that the word “desired” carries with it — is that from 2015, that is, in four years, Australian cattle only be supplied to facilities where the full supply chain meets OIE standards.
These baseline international standards don’t even require pre-slaughter stunning — the only way that cattle can reliably be slaughtered in a humane fashion. This has obviously never been a priority for the industry, as the more than 100 brutal restraint boxes they installed in Indonesia cannot actually incorporate the practice of stunning.
[Mr Speaker] It is unacceptable for Australian animals to be savaged and tortured for another four years while this doomed industry pretends to try and fix things that they have done almost nothing about for two decades.
Tomorrow morning every MP and Senator will be hand-delivered the evidence Animals Australia gathered in Indonesia and a scientific assessment of that evidence by RSPCA Australia. The information will contain a critique of the live export industry action plan, and I encourage all members to view and assess the material, and to consider seriously whether we can in good conscience allow this kind of conduct to go on year after year, ship after ship, terrified animal after terrified animal.
Let’s remember that this evidence from Indonesia comes barely six months after Animals Australia filmed further evidence of Australian sheep being horrendously treated in the Middle East.
And let’s remember that if those responsible for this treatment were made accountable to Australian animal protection laws, they would undoubtedly be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
There must be immediate and substantial changes to the live export industry — including an immediate cessation of all cattle exports to Indonesia — imposed by a regulatory framework that is fully independent of the industry itself. It is time for Australia to plan for and implement the phase-out of the live export trade in favour of an expanded chilled meat industry that will provide a better economic and jobs outcome, and the humane treatment of animals.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to Lyn White and the other brave souls at Animals Australia — as well as the Four Corners team — who went into the Indonesian abattoirs and filmed these horrendous cruelties at what was likely a huge cost to their mental well-being and to thank other Australian animal welfare groups who also tirelessly work to bring the indignities suffered by live export animals to public attention, including RSPCA Australia, WSPA, Stopliveexports, and Animals Angels. On behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, we thank you.