THE Northern Territory (NT) parliament grounds was the site of a protest rally to ban all live exports on Saturday, June 30.
The Animal Justice Party organised the rally which was attended by about 50 people who said the whole industry needed to be abolished.
They were surprised however to be faced by a counter rally by a 32-year veteran of the NT cattle industry and live cattle trade into Indonesia and South East Asia.
Cattle production veterinarian Gehan Jayawardhana, Darwin, and his family set up a banner directly opposite the rally and began presenting the facts about the industry to those who would listen.
He was accompanied by Wannamal sheep producer Iain Nicholson, who happened to be there on holiday and took some photos.
Dr Jayawardhana said during the rally he approached the group and “addressed their crowd on why live export is good for animal welfare”.
“It pays for husbandry like mineral supplements and second round weaning musters that reduce breeder death rates here (in the NT),” Dr Jayawardhana said.
“It provides training and stun guns to abattoir workers in our markets who then kill hundreds of thousands of local animals using Australian methods.
“Thus we export animal welfare.”
Dr Jayawardhana said rather than stopping the live animal trade from Australia, it should be promoted, even though in an industry that exports millions of animals, “there will always be a small number of animals affected by tragedies like the current sheep debacle”.
“In this manner we will be a solution to world food security, promote better animal welfare practices worldwide and influence other exporting nations to follow suit,” he said.
“All better outcomes than being insular and stopping live export from the only nation that is actively investing in animal welfare at its destination markets.”
Dr Jayawardhana said after more than 20 years of research he believed the live cattle export trade to Indonesia was humane and vital for cattle welfare in the northern rangelands of Australia.
He said the protestors were polite and were willing to discuss the issues.
“I was amazed when one of the organisers said ‘we are not interested in improving animal welfare as we are abolitionists’, meaning that they do not believe in animals being used for food, sport or pets,” he said.
“After it was over I went back and talked to some of them.”
Dr Jayawardhana said the media had not paid much attention to Australia’s export of animal welfare through the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), which was improving the animal welfare of our trading partners.
Mr Nicholson said as a sheep producer, live exports were a vital part of his business and a phase-out or ban would have drastic consequences to the industry.
He said the WA industry needed market competition and market accessibility in order to stay viable in the long-term.
Mr Nicholson was concerned that a ban on sheep exports would lead to a ban on cattle exports from the north which were vital for the northern cattle trade.
He didn’t put a crop in this year because he was focused on the sheep meat, wool and export markets.
The Animal Justice Party is a one-issue party, which held a national day of action in June with rallies across the country, including Perth.
It experienced its first political success with Mark Pearson elected to the New South Wales legislative council in 2015.
The party has a platform to see Australian agriculture move away from farming animals and become solely plant-based production systems.
In its latest statement the party said it would “not stop until we see a complete ban on all live animal exports”.
“As Australia’s only political party for animals, we will continue to relentlessly put pressure on Labor and Liberal MPs and candidates to acknowledge that changing the law to ban live animal exports is not only the best option for animals, but for everyone involved,” the statement said.
Federal Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon visited the NT last week and told local media his visit was an opportunity to reassure NT cattle producers “that the Labor Party continues to provide strong support for the live cattle industry”.
“It is a much different industry than sheep exports which relies upon a model which I think is fundamentally broken,” Mr Fitzgibbon told the local ABC Country Hour show.
He said “sheep exporters have been able to make more money than they should because they are packing more sheep onto voyages in the hottest of conditions”.
“And (they are) then sending some of that premium profit back to the sheepmeat producers,” he said.
“That can be a good thing, of course, but it is not a good thing in nett terms if it is coming at the expense of our community standards on animal welfare.
“So they are much different propositions.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said “in 2011 we obviously had an incident, that incident wasn’t about the voyage, it was about the conditions in abattoirs in Indonesia”.
“A Labor government fixed that problem and since then the cattle trade has been able to demonstrate it can both continue to trade strongly and meet community expectations on animal welfare,” he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the cattle trade was five times the value of the sheep trade but exported only half the volume.
“The voyages are typically shorter and it is absolutely in the interests of the owners of the cattle to get it to Indonesia in good condition for fattening for later slaughter.
“Our northern producers rely very heavily on the live export trade because they just don’t have the natural resources to grow cattle to full slaughter weight.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said with Livestock Shipping Services withdrawing from the trade for the next few months and Emanuel Exports being temporarily suspended, about 80 per cent of the capacity had been taken out of the trade.
“Now what impact has that had on sheepmeat producers?” he said.
“No one is acknowledging it and the government is not doing anything about it.
“By contrast, we have said look, we think it is fundamentally broken, we are going to phase it out and at the same time we are going to work with sheepmeat producers and other stakeholders along the supply chain to get a transition plan in place so that farmers are not unnecessarily adversely affected.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said cattle producers were nervous, because politicians always like to take them back to 2011 and the cattle trade suspension.
“A suspension for about four weeks, as bad as it was, as a way of making a political point,” he said.
“But when conservative politicians, those from the National Party and Liberals, respond to our sheep phase-out by saying ‘cattle will be next’, what do they do?
“They put fear and uncertainty into the cattle sector and they do it recklessly and they should stop doing it.”
WA sheep meat producers have labelled Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments on the live sheep trade as reckless and irresponsible.
Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association of WA president Tony Seabrook said that Mr Fitzgibbon’s claim that unlike cattle exports, the live sheep trade “relies upon a model which I think is fundamentally broken” shows that Labor have no understanding of the importance of the live export trade to the WA regional economy.
“It is clear that the Labor Party has little, if no understanding of the value of the live export industry to regional Australia, let alone of the ESCAS regime they brought in following their reckless decision to suspend live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011,” Mr Seabrook said.
“Live exports, regardless whether it is sheep, cattle, goats, or camels rely on the same regulatory model and for the shadow minister to imply that sheep exports are ‘broken’ is just plain ridiculous.
“Thousands of animals are exported from Australia each year, legally, without incident and to imply otherwise is a slap in the face to all producers, regardless of what animal they raise.
“It is time for Mr Fitzgibbon and Labor to stop trying to secure inner city votes to the detriment of regional families.”