A WAR of words has ignited over a new book that interrogates the Gillard government’s controversial snap ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia.
The book titled, “Backlash – Australia’s conflict of values over live export” was co-written by RSPCA Australia Chief Science and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones who was one of the key critics demanding the trade be banned in mid-2011.
It will be launched at the National Library of Australia in Canberra today by ABC Four Corners host Sarah Ferguson and Tasmanian independent MP, Andrew Wilkie who’s is also a vocal critic of the trade.
Ms Ferguson won a Gold Walkley award for the provocative Four Corners television account that sparked the political and public reaction which saw the trade suspended for up to six months in reaction to poor animal welfare standards in Indonesian abattoirs.
However, the rapid implementation of the Livestock Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System between government and industry saw cattle exports to Indonesia re-started within five weeks.
The book’s other author is Julian Davies – understood to be the partner of Dr Jones – and is published by their company Finlay Lloyd.
In promoting the new book the RSPCA said the ABC’s investigation of the trade at the time, “provoked the greatest outpouring of public protest on an animal welfare issue in over thirty years”.
“The book is a vital investigation of the live export trade that documents its hidden backstory, and reveals the failure of government and industry to build ethical evaluation into their decision-making processes,” it said.
But Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council said informed discussion about the industry was needed to accompany the book’s launch.
ALEC CEO Alison Penfold said the “rear view mirror” focus on the trade in referring to the events of 2011 was a “comfort spot” for those opposed to the live export industry.
Ms Penfold said the industry’s performance at the time was “not our finest” and despite in-market efforts to improve welfare and regulatory settings in place in 2011, “we should have done more to ensure better treatment of livestock”.
But she said recognition of the improvements made since 2011 was difficult for trade’s opponents to accept, “especially when those improvements confound entrenched beliefs and defy claims that the industry is incapable of listening, responding and changing”.
“As an industry, we are focused on the future and embedding better practices along the supply chain,” she said.
“This is no easy feat and Australia stands alone out of the 100-plus livestock exporting nations in taking responsibility for animal welfare through to the point of slaughter.
“Our efforts have lifted the standard of animal welfare practices in over 1000 overseas abattoirs and feedlots so that the facilities now meet or exceed international animal welfare standards.”
Ms Penfold said another 8000-plus people practice better handling, treatment and slaughter techniques because “we have worked with them, invested in them, and trained them to handle Australian livestock with respect”.
She said there was also better equipment in facilities and almost 90 per cent of abattoirs in Indonesia now use stunning which was closer to 15pc in 2011.
“An open and informed public debate is healthy, and any truly comprehensive investigation on the livestock export industry would include insights from those families, small businesses and livestock professionals whose livelihoods depend on the viability of the trade and have worked hard to make the significant improvements in animal welfare, both here and overseas,” she said.
“Any real in-depth investigation would include insights from our trading partners in Indonesia and across South East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Russia, the local villagers whose livelihoods depend greatly on live cattle, sheep and goats from Australia not only as a source of protein, but as a source of income through breeding programs or employment at local feedlots and abattoirs.”
Ms Penfold said ALEC was not invited to contribute to the book.
The Indonesian trade ban has resulted in a class action claim in the Federal Court against the commonwealth government to recover losses of up to $1 billion for producers, exporters and other industry participants impacted by the loss of trade.
The book claims to examine the ethical, economic and social factors surrounding the issue while Mr Wilkie has described it as “A compelling, insightful analysis of an issue that is a litmus test for who we are as a people”.
Animals Australia investigator Lyn White who gathered the video footage used extensively in the Four Corners report said “This important book vividly brings to life the events of 2011 and in the process reminds us all of the vital role of people power in forcing government to act to protect animals”.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the Indonesian ban as the worst policy decision made by the former Labor government.
"We know that on the basis of a television program, a panicked Labor government closed down the live cattle export trade,” he said last year.
Labor Leader Bill shorten told the National Farmers' Federation Congress in 2014 his party head learnt lessons from the “pause in live exports” that was followed by drought which was “the cause of real hardship in the North”.
“Perhaps we should have done things differently then,” he said.