OPPOSITION to live cattle exports to Indonesia starts from one of two perspectives: One is that it will somehow reduce cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs; the other is that it will oblige Indonesia to buy beef slaughtered in Australia, thus supporting local industry and jobs.
Despite our large geographic area and occasional sporting prowess, Australia is a minor country. Yes, we are bigger than New Zealand and Americans like our accent, but that doesn’t count. Indonesia has a population of 250 million people, over ten times that of Australia, with a bigger GDP and faster growing economy. It is a huge, thriving, bustling democracy.
But it is not just the size of its population or economy that makes it different. About 86 per cent of the population is Muslim, the language and cultural diversity are remarkable, and while a growing segment of the population lives a middle-class life comparable to ours, a sizeable proportion lives on the brink of poverty.
Moreover, no matter how well they live, most scarcely know Australia exists and care nothing for the fact that we disapprove of how they treat their animals.
A good illustration of this is seen with cock-fighting, which is hugely popular in many parts of Indonesia. The fact that we view it as a barbaric sport and have banned it in Australia is no more relevant to the Indonesians than their view of topless sunbathing is to us.
The only reason we have any leverage when it comes to cruel slaughtering of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs is that Australian beef accounts for 25pc of the country’s meat, and there are tens of thousands of Indonesians employed in feedlots, abattoirs and downstream processors handling cattle originally from Australia.
The urban middle class sophisticates’ view is that Australia should just wash its hands of the whole situation and keep our cattle in Australia, out of the hands of cruel foreigners. What this ignores is that cattle slaughtering would continue unabated in Indonesia, using locally bred cattle and imports from other countries.
Moreover, we would be in the same position as we are with cock-fighting. We have no leverage because we sell no chickens there.
And the assumption that cattle can be slaughtered in Australia and exported as beef to Indonesia ignores the fact that this would be contrary to the Indonesian government’s repeatedly stated policy of job creation, the main reason it only allows imports of young, live cattle requiring fattening. The idea that this would be abandoned because we think creating foreign jobs is less important than creating jobs in Australia is too silly to contemplate.
Compounding the silliness is the fact that many of the poorer sections of the community lack refrigeration and buy their beef on a daily basis from wet markets.
It is equally silly to assume that, if Indonesia could not import sufficient live cattle and was obliged to import more beef, it would necessarily buy it from Australia. There are plenty of other countries ready to sell beef to Indonesia, with no change in its policy towards Foot and Mouth Disease. With just a slight relaxation of that policy, Australian beef would never get a look in.
The Australian government’s new live export regulations purport to impose conditions on Indonesian abattoirs, despite the fact that Australian law stops at the Australian border. It takes a certain amount of xenophobia, coupled with a healthy dose of arrogance, to contemplate that.
It is only because of the generally obliging nature of the Indonesians and the fact that Australian beef exporters have solid personal relationships with Indonesian importers, feedlots and abattoirs that we haven’t simply been told to quietly back down.
The Indonesian government once thought of Australia as geographically close enough and personally friendly enough to be included in its food security plans. What it hadn’t counted on was that when it comes to foreigners, many Australians fear or dislike them.
David Leyonhjelm is an agribusiness consultant with Baron Strategic Services. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org