Should live exports be banned?

4 Corners have now exposed the brutal slaughter of Australian sheep.

And here we are again. Debating at what price do we accept the astonishing cruelty to and the torture of Australian animals.

When the ABC’s 4 Corners exposed the incredibly brutal treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs last year, the footage was incredibly distressing. There was a massive public outcry. How could this be allowed to happen? Following intense pressure from the community, from animal rights industry and from the media, the Government was forced to take action.

A temporary ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was put in place, until the Government could make arrangements for stricter rules and regulation to govern the treatment of our livestock being shipped to Indonesia for slaughter.

Perhaps naively, many of us presumed the issue had been ‘fixed’. We presumed that Australian livestock would now be slaughtered humanely and with dignity in Indonesia and in other countries to where our animals were exported.

We were so wrong.

Animal rights activists are calling for a live exports ban.

A 4 Corners follow up, which aired last night investigated the events surrounding the absolutely horrific culling of 21,000 sheep in Pakistan. Video footage showed hundreds of sheep having their throats sawed crudely and mercilessly and then tossed into deep pits – many of them still alive.

The graphic images leave no doubt that those animals endured a terrifying ordeal and slow and agonising deaths. You can view the 4 Corners program in full here.  Please be warned that the video is extremely distressing and you will never forget the images of those poor animals being tortured.

The story of how thousands of Australian sheep came to be in Pakistan in the first place (a country with whom Australia does not have a pre-existing live export relationship) and how the Government was unable to prevent their slaughter, is a complex one.

The ABC reported:

The shipment of Australian sheep was originally destined for Bahrain. When the country rejected them, claiming they were diseased, the animals were stranded in the Persian Gulf. Eventually, a home for the sheep was found in Pakistan, but that’s where the problems started.

The local government in Karachi wanted to know why it wasn’t told the sheep had been previously rejected in Bahrain. Thousands of the sheep were culled, before a legal challenge temporarily stopped it.

But even after a series of scientific tests showed the sheep were healthy, and after high-level government, industry and diplomatic involvement, the flock remaining was eventually brutally slaughtered.

Government officials and the Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig spoke to 4 Corners last night but were unable to provide the guarantee the Australian public so desperately wants – that something will be done to stop this ever happening again.

Joe Ludwig

JOE LUDWIG: This industry was completely deregulated. We wouldn’t have even understood some of the circumstances that occurred in this particular market.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Yeah but we’re talking about now.

JOE LUDWIG: Absolutely. What we have put in place is a supply chain that ensures animal welfare at the heart.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But it didn’t. It didn’t.

JOE LUDWIG: What I’ve always said, what I’ve always said, what I’ve always said right at the start of this is that there would always be circumstances, there would be mistakes, there would be slips.

A study into the temporary live export ban in June 2011 revealed that it cost ore than 300 Australian jobs and had a ‘negative financial impact on 58 per cent of affected farmers’. Dynamic Export reports:


The report, shown to The Australian, said of 596,000 cows earmarked for export to Indonesia this year, 365,000 animals remained unsold.

Despite the lift of the ban more than three weeks ago, no beef exporter has been issued with a permit to export animals in adherance with strict new standards guaranteeing animal welfare.

The majority of jobs lost were in the Northern Territory. Businesses across the territory, Western Australia and Queensland reported having to reduce their engagement of contractors and musterers.

Despite declining to speak to the ABC’s 4 Corners program, Wellard, the exporters involved in the slaughter of Australian sheep in Pakistan have taken to youtube to defend their position. (NB: This video also contains distressing imagery).

The range of competing interests at play here, all have strong (and understandable) points of view.

We live in the ‘Asian Century’, our politicians tell us and there is a huge demand in our immediate region for Australian meat. And with the most populous Muslim country on the planet – Indonesia – sitting right on our doorstep,  live exports will always be a lucrative business for our farmers.

Muslim nations around the world will only eat Halal meat and that means that animals do have to be killed in a particular way and specific prayers said at the time of death (none of these religious elements involve cruelty or unnecessary pain to the animal). If they can’t get meat in the form they require it from Australia, they will take their business elsewhere.

And of course, animal rights activists, along with huge numbers in the community, are (quite rightly) outraged and horrified at the heartbreaking images 4 Corners revealed to us last night. When Australia lets animals leave the country while still alive, despite Government rules and regulations, we do relinquish a large element of control over how the animals will be treated prior to slaughter.

Australian farmers are fierce advocates for the health and fair treatment of their animals – they don’t want to see them treated cruelly. But at the same time, a ban on live exports would devastate their livelihoods, as evidenced by the experience under the temporary ban last year.

So, what comes next is anyone’s guess.

[poll id=”118″]

Did you watch 4 Corners last night? Do you support a ban on live exports? What’s more important, the humane and ethical treatment of Australian animals or the potential cost to farmers if live exports are banned?