Animal welfare scrutiny must be equally applied

Animal welfare scrutiny must be equally applied


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WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington.

WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington.

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To reduce this risk, and ensure water availability every single day of the year, stations need to be well-managed with good water points, spare parts and skilled labour to monitor and fix problems when they arise.

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WE all know that running any sort of agricultural business is complex and comes with uncontrollable risk - commodity price fluctuations, unpredictable weather, global economies influencing trade and market access, and government policy easily swayed by political persuasion.

For station country across the hot, dry pastoral regions of the State, there is an additional risk - the need to keep water up to cattle, no water no live cattle.

To reduce this risk, and ensure water availability every single day of the year, stations need to be well-managed with good water points, spare parts and skilled labour to monitor and fix problems when they arise.

The fact is, farmers and pastoralists who have skin in the game put the care of their livestock at the top of their list of priorities - quite simply water availability, is a matter of life or death, and every farmer knows their personal responsibility to their livestock.

Our Australian summers are brutal - dry, long and incredibly hot.

During summer, the average station operator can be found regularly checking water points. Unfortunately, three recent incidents on remote stations has resulted in 1000, 2000, 3000 deaths - they are still counting cattle dying of thirst.

In both cases, Minister Alannah MacTiernan has responded appropriately and sent in the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Livestock Compliance Unit to investigate.

WAFarmers has confidence that they will implement some short-term mitigation measures to ensure the welfare of the remaining stock and if failures in management or process are identified, the appropriate penalties and remedies are delivered to those responsible.

While the mainstream media has reported the problems at Noonkanbah station and Yandeyarra without fear or favour, it is notable that there has been little comment from the extreme animal rights lobby groups who are typically the first to scream bloody murder if they consider an animal’s welfare to be compromised.

These groups have spent more than $4 million, $2.5m by Animals Australia alone, in the past year (more than enough to fix the water problems on these two stations) on their anti-live export campaign, simply to draw attention to what they consider poor animal welfare practises.

To the extent that they have allegedly paid for photos to obtain emotive images of animals on live export ships in the ‘cash for cruelty’ scandal.

Although many of these groups are backed by big international networks, their recent media exploits at Muchea Livestock Centre and the Harvey Beef processing facility, confirm that their silence over the two recent incidents is because these so-called ‘activists; are politically correct.

Dying sheep on a boat in the Gulf is bad but dying cattle on an indigenous-owned station in the north of WA is nothing to see.

Or maybe it would confuse the message to their inner-city donors who also are politically correct?

It might not be politically correct to draw attention to fact, but the elephant-in-the-room, is that the stations currently under investigation for animal neglect are owned by indigenous corporations.

It’s hard to believe that if one of our high-profile cattle barons or a company with Chinese shareholders had let cattle suffer and die of thirst, that Animals Australia wouldn’t be charging in to play judge and jury.

As the chief executive of WAFarmers, I know the vast majority of pastoralists and farmers go to extreme lengths to care for their livestock and share my view that wilful animal neglect is abhorrent.

If Australia’s dozen or so animal activist groups are genuinely concerned about the the Welfare of Australian livestock, they should have no hesitation in calling out obvious cases of neglect, no matter who the proprietors are.

Aboriginal-owned and operated stations should be scrutinised just like those owned by Australia’s most wealthy individuals - even if doing so might upset one of their other campaigns.

In the real world poor operators get exposed, get criticised and improve their systems or get prosecuted and go broke.

But we have created a parallel world where a blind eye is turned to stations owned by Aboriginal corporations and slowly but surely, the lack of continuous improvement means standards on these stations fall to well below community and industry expectations.

And the end result is cattle suffer and die needlessly.

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