Live Export Shame

All News Updates & Public Comment => Live Export News Updates => : Export News Tasmania June 04, 2012, 06:07:26 PM

: Live exports: A city-country divide like no other
: Export News Tasmania June 04, 2012, 06:07:26 PM
The Federal Government's decision to suspend Australia's live cattle trade with Indonesia split Australians.

The Government has tried to move on since reopening the trade, with tough talk about accountability and a new supply chain system.

The northern cattlemen who depend on the trade are still wondering about their industry's long term future, meanwhile the animal welfare lobbyists say they'll continue to fight until the trade is banned for good.

This is a transcript of the extended interview between ABC Rural's National Reporter Will Ockenden and Lyn White from Animals Australia.

You can also listen to Federal Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig and the Cattle Council's Greg Brown as they respond to the anniversary of the suspension of the live trade.


LYN WHITE: This really is the first government that has attempted to take any measures to protect the welfare of animals in importing countries. For that the Gillard Government should be acknowledged. We still have severe concerns that the new regulatory framework in place wonít protect animals on a nightly basis. But it has been a turning point for the industry, thereís no doubt about that.

WILL OCKENDEN: Even with the government banning it and then a month later, unbanning it?

LYN WHITE: I think the ban has forced the urgent action to be taken. We donít believe that stunning would have been introduced to the extent that it has in Indonesia, had that ban not been in place. Weíve always said that the leverage for change came with the supply of animals, and if you basically said youíre not going to have animals unless you meet certain standards, they were enormous leverage. It was always going to come with that. Itís really that suspension I think set in train the progress thatís been achieved in Indonesia.

WILL OCKENDEN: What about the threatened lawsuits, there are at least a couple that the department knows of that came out in the Federal Budget. This could run, if you listen to the lawyers, into the hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. Was it a prudent financial decision by the Government of Australia to make?

LYN WHITE: I think it was the only ethical decision they could make. Once they were aware of the treatment that animals were receiving in Indonesia, there was no way they could - in all good conscience - being called upon by the vast majority of Australians to actually ban this trade and not suspend it, to take any decision other than to stop that supply until measures were put in place, to ensure animals only went to abattoirs that at least were going to make basic standards.

Itís been profoundly disappointing to hear that producers, now in full knowledge of what animals were going to be facing in Indonesia, still wanted supply during that month.

It was simply a month that the government took to put in place measures - at least some measures - that were going to protect the welfare of animals.

They really had no other choices. It was the right choice to make.

WILL OCKENDEN: How do you weigh up the political, the economic and the moral issues when it comes to such an important topic like live animal exports?

LYN WHITE: From an animal welfare perspective, we are always going to take the ethical position: that supplying animals to countries where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty, where you know they're going to be brutally treated, how can you not put ethics in front of profits. If we consider ourselves an ethical nation, and clearly from the public response last year, the voters of Australia, the people that have put the Gillard Government in place, this was what they wanted them to do.

Itís been very short sighted of the industry not to acknowledge that this government actually has had their interest in heart, by insuring that animals were going to be protected - at least at some level in the future - knowing they wouldn't survive another expose like this.

WILL OCKENDEN: When you talked about ethics, you mentioned animal welfare ethics. Thereís also another element of ethics that come into this issue and thatís the individual producer in the north. This is often a family farm and itís a large business run as a business for profit, but how do you weigh up the ethics and morality of animal welfare versus human welfare?

LYN WHITE: Certainly from the first meeting we had with government, we stated - both the RSPCA and Animals Australia - they [the government] needed to put a system of compensation in place while the suspension was in place.

We were looking straight away at the interest of producers, knowing that this was going to shock them.

Really it had been their representative body that had let them down dreadfully and with no other really ethical choice but to stop the trade at that stage, which they weren't prepared for, it was the right decision for the government to put compensation in place, which is why we called upon them to do so.

WILL OCKENDEN: But that was only a couple of tens of millions of dollars. It was hardly enough to maintain the viability or the long-term future and sustainability of these families. If you remove live exports, do you concede that perhaps northern production wouldn't happen anymore?

LYN WHITE: Well the legislation that we supported last year that was introduced was the bill put in by Andrew Wilkie. That was a bill that phased out live export over three years, and that was the bill supported by the animal welfare groups.

That was eminently reasonable. It allowed for the re-opening of processing facilities, and the readjustment of enterprises. And itís really the producers in the north that do have that issue around having one basic market to supply to.

But that is a bad business market anyway.

The Indonesians year after year are reducing the amount of animals they want which shows this is not a sustainable trade.

The Wilkie bill, three years phased out [live exports], allowing for changes of enterprises really would've looked after producers, as well as animals.

WILL OCKENDEN: What would northern producers do in your eyes if it weren't for the live export trade?

LYN WHITE: We were suggesting, and weíre still suggesting, that they need the re-opening of abattoirs in the Top End.

Thatís what weíre supporting and hoping the government will support that as well, to provide that other option for them to send their animals to.

WILL OCKENDEN: But youíre still talking thousands of kilometres, are you happy for them to be on trucks?

How do you run a viable business model in the north, given weíre seeing companies like AAco try to open one at least but seeing ultimately to be dragging their heels for whatever commercial reasons.

LYN WHITE: From an animal welfare perspective, weíre always going to suggest that distances should be minimized between farm and slaughter. Thatís a scientific principle and itís known for meat quality issues as well as animal welfare issues.

When talking about north at the moment, weíre dealing about reducing suffering in regard to options.

The first reduction option would be to have animals processed in Australia under Australian conditions and regulations. That has to be a better option than sending them offshore where there are no laws to protect them.

WILL OCKENDEN: Letís go back to when the ban was announced by the Federal Government last year. What was your immediate reaction? Can you remember?

LYN WHITE: I can, it was relief.

It was the first time I really allowed myself to feel any emotion around this, knowing that a measure was being taken that would actually prevent further animals being subjected to what I had witnessed in Indonesia.

I think it was highly appropriate because it was what the Australian public were wanting.

It wasnít a ban, it was a suspension. The government was always saying they would re-open the trade once they put measures in place to protect the welfare of animals.

So that was a reasonable course of action, even as welfare groups we were always going to call for the end to the trade, but that was the appropriate government measure to be taken at that time.

WILL OCKENDEN: And the feeling when the trade was opened again one month later?

LYN WHITE: To a certain extent we felt it was inevitable. The government never indicated anything else.

Our focus at that time was to ensure the government was fully aware of the situation, and the challenge of even trying to protect animals in Indonesia.

Anyone that has been on the ground there, seeing the scale of the situation there regarding the distribution of animals, knew that was going to be an enormous challenge.

At least we had a government finally that was going to try to address the challenge.

The producers should be looking at the Howard Government in 2007. Had they used the Egypt situation to investigate every other importing market and the situation the trade was supplying animals to, Indonesia would even ever happened because measures wouldíve been taken there.

WILL OCKENDEN: Did the reality hit home that the industry is bigger than anything else given that, what the horrific vision we saw on the television, the horrific vision you saw in person, wasnít enough to get the trade banned permanently?

LYN WHITE: From my perspective having been in Egypt and seeing the situation there that producers had sent their animals to, and unknowingly sent their animals to, that was standard to slash and stab tendons in Egypt as part of their slaughter process.

I thought then and there that no industry shouldíve survived their willingness to send animals to such treatment, I still believe thatís the case in regard to Egypt; let alone what weíve seen in Indonesia.

Obviously this is an industry that has mammoth political pull for whatever reason, more pull than seemingly the majority of Australian voters that want this trade to end, but they know they're on their last chance, that they wonít survive being found culpable or turning a blind eye ever again to such terrible treatment of animals.

Thereís no way that theyíre going to be able to reassure the public that similar treatment of animals is not going to happen in the future.

WILL OCKENDEN: But the public forget ultimately. It was only two months down the track, the ban came in, we started hearing stories from producers that said they were going to be shooting animals because they couldnít sell them and that emotional connection with humans began, and it seemed the vision and what weíre seen on television was almost forgotten. Can you really rely on the public to maintain the rage, so to speak?

LYN WHITE: I believe so. Talking to MPs in Canberra they were getting more correspondence on this issue than any other.

We certainly know from our supporter base, and just the feeling that is coming in through feedback on a daily basis, that this is an industry that wonít be forgotten.

It seems because this is an industry that is flawed in so many ways, I mean only in the last fortnight weíve seen the outcomes of the government investigation into the first breaches in Indonesia.

Itís going to stay in the media. Thereís no doubt about that.

The industry is going to have to take extraordinary measures and it will be long term to show itís worthy for the Australian peoplesí trust.

I'm not sure how they can do that, when theyíre still willing to supply animals, especially to slaughter without stunning, which is opposed by nearly everyone in Australia.

WILL OCKENDEN: What do you make of the new system?

LYN WHITE: I think itís well intentioned. I think trying to regulate measures that relate to the treatment of animals in importing countries where there are actually no local laws to support them, is fraught, and itís doomed to failure.

We have seen just in the last twelve months in Australia, two abattoirs that have been exposed for terrible treatment of animals and that is where there is some sort of auditing involved. The Governments here have seen the need for greater auditing.

It seems unfortunately where mass animals are being slaughtered, you are going to get cruelty for other reasons. The only other abattoirs here in Australia that are effectively monitored are the ones who have an Australian government veterinarian full time.

This is not going to occur in any importing country and so, as I say, we have no confidence whatsoever that the measures that the Gillard Government have taken are going to protect animals on a daily or nightly basis.

WILL OCKENDEN: Is it better than the previous system?

LYN WHITE: It has to be. One of my great issues with this trade was we were supplying animals without any requirements whatsoever as to their treatment, which was basically just reinforcing local beliefs in many of the countries I had visited, that their current treatment of animals was acceptable.

That was for me one of the greatest issues. At least the government is supporting the OIE, saying you should be meeting these very basic and we are talking very basic standards, like not throwing animals, not dragging them, weíre not talking about Australian standards that they have to meet, but at least the government is now saying these countries have to meet these standards.

Which really is their international obligation. So that is a step forward in regard to what the government has been prepared to do.

WILL OCKENDEN: We could be seeing the final days of the government any time, itís so closely held in Canberra and the opposition under Tony Abbotís leadership has opposed most, if not all, of what the government has said on the issue of live exports. Where will you be when or if the government switches to a liberal or coalition government?

LYN WHITE: I would be very surprised if the Coalition Government backtracked on these measures. They would face an outraged Australia because it is the only re-assurance of any sort that Australian animals may be appropriately treated.

I would be very surprised if that was the case. And thereís no need to. What the Gillard Government has done, or attempted to do, is actually sure-up the future of the trade because they know that animal welfare issues are the greatest threat to the longevity of this trade. So by trying to address them, theyíre actually acting in the interest of the trade and thatís as I've said, been so surprising and actually applauded them for it.

I would be very surprised if the opposition, if it gains power, backtracks on those measures.

WILL OCKENDEN: And the minority part of the government with Wilkie you mentioned and Xenophon both outspoken opponents of the issue, if we had seen a stronger Labor government that was not in minority, would we have come across better outcomes, or worst outcomes?

LYN WHITE: Thatís really hard to say. I think the government found itself in new territory, what happened as a result of the four corners vision from Indonesia was absolutely unprecedented in terms of public response.

I do think it is very difficult for governments where they are reliant on the industry itself to make the best possible decisions and always been a situation that everything we hear about the government supporting the live trader is based on what theyíve told them.

That is not a situation we give any credibility to. Unfortunately, we have time and time again put facts before and vision before government that has shown exactly what has gone on.

All that really we can say at this stage is that this government should be acknowledged for the steps they have taken.

Having said that, from an animal welfare perspective, having been in Egypt, having been in the Middle East and Indonesia, this is not a trade that can be ever defended on an ethical basis, therefore it will end, itís just a matter of time and there will be another disaster whether itís ship board or an importing country. Itís just unfortunate the further animals that will suffer.

WILL OCKENDEN: What does Animals Australia, or yourself, have planned regarding the further scrutiny of the live export trade?

LYN WHITE: Itís not just Animals Australia, we have advocates in a variety of counties, local people not happy about this trade continuing. They provide information to us.

I don't think Animals Australia will be alone by any means in scrutinizing his trade. Itís unfortunate, even with the first breaches in Indonesia, that it took Animals Australia to actually report them which again shows the flaws in the system.

One of the things that has disappointed me most about this trade is that they could have just focused on certain nations where they could get the best possible standards in place. But they continue to expand.

We have animals going to Mauritius, small amounts of animals going to the Philippines and Malaysia. Why not focus on at least certain destinations and work their butts off to get standards up there?

Iran, for example, weíre trying to re-open trade there. Why on earth would we do that when weíre still dealing with animal welfare problems in other countries? All the industry opens itself up for, is for further investigation, showing further cruelty and thatís just not going to be accepted by the Australian public.

WILL OCKENDEN: If we talk about the producers for a second, several of them have criticized you personally and also the organization which you work for. Do you understand their criticism when it comes to the way that you expose and the way you scrutinize their industry?

LYN WHITE: When we first started conducting investigations - Egypt is the classic example - we went to government for twelve months and asked them to independently investigate what was going on in Basatine abattoir, and we were told straight out that our industry had improved that facility, not only for Australian animals but for all animals.

We tried the government method. We tried taking issues to industry. We were the ones who suggested to the live export trade three years ago that they implement assured supply chains and were told it was too hard, now the government has forcing it on them.

Weíve gone down that road. The only road which has resulted on change because itís been forced on industry has been through taking it to the Australian public and letting them have their say and therefore the industry and government has been forced to act in some way to allow the trade to continue.

It would not have happened in any other way.

WILL OCKENDEN: What role will you be playing in future investigations?

LYN WHITE: I would personally choose never to go into another abattoir and to spend my time in countries I actually want to go to rather than ones I have to go to investigate animal cruelty.

I think my time as an investigator is very limited. Obviously my face has become known. I wouldnít be surprised if my face was on a dart board in a few places.

There are other investigators from other countries, international agencies that will be scrutinizing the operations of this trade.

If there was full compliance of the new system, then obviously it will retain government support. We are concerned that wonít be the case, and we are concerned that without our government actually inspecting and investigating in these countries, that we are the only ones who will be doing it, and therefore we have an obligation to do it.

WILL OCKENDEN: Are you finding that companies are knocking back visas for you personally when you apply to go?

LYN WHITE: That hasnít occurred as yet. Unfortunately at times I think the issue of animal welfare is so low on their radar that regardless of what investigators have exposed it really hasnít hit home. Whether that is going to change now, I donít know.

WILL OCKENDEN: Have you tried to go back to Indonesia?

LYN WHITE: No, I havenít tried to go back to Indonesia.

There are many local people now that have a great interest in the operation of our live trade there, so thereís been no need.


LYN WHITE: I think itís really good if local animal welfare groups are actually taking ownership in their country.

I donít think for a moment Iíd be able to gain access to an Indonesian slaughter house these days.

Itís good that local people are actually caring.

The outcomes from last year: the increase in stunning; that fact there has had to be a wakeup call in regard to these assured supply chains so that workers are hearing the words animal welfare, I think is really important.

The local groups are welcoming, the advancements that have been made as well.

WILL OCKENDEN: Arenít you really just trading abattoirs to be scared or to be wary of video cameras?

LYN WHITE: If being scared of video cameras is going to ensure that animals are treated better then I think there is no issue with that whatsoever.

That is why CCTV is being put in slaughterhouses in the UK.

Monitoring is going to ensure compliance. Itís just a shame that it has to be animal welfare groups that take on that role rather than the industry or local government.

WILL OCKENDEN: The notion of celebrity might interest you. You would be Australiaís celebrity animal rights activist. Would you agree with that term?

LYN WHITE: It hasnít been by my choosing.

Obviously my face has become known as a result of having to represent animals, especially on this issue.

I would never have been where I would have chosen to be.

Itís obviously important that animals are represented in an extremely credible way. As a former police officer, the evidence I collate is no different if I was preparing a file for court, and I think perhaps thatís why industries have had such an issue with me, because I canít be undermined in the same way they might be able to undermine someone that has tattoos and a nose ring.

I've probably been their worst nightmare. Having said that, I would most happily retire into the countryside and never be seen again if this industry was brought to an end.

I have become extremely passionate about improving animal welfare in importing countries.

I'm still working with the Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan where we have 80 per cent stunning of animals there.

Unfortunately, retirement seems a long way away, but I'm pleased at least our efforts have not only shaken this industry up, but have resulted in improved treatment in importing countries that simply wouldnít have happened if we hadnít exposed what was going on.

WILL OCKENDEN: That fastidious way of investing your former history as a police officer, what do you make when you see other welfare groups make claims or come out in protest of certain issues? Because, you do see that stereotypical view of an animal activist, with dreadlocks, with nose rings as you mentioned. What does that do to the cause?

LYN WHITE: I think itís incredibly important that animals have the most credible representation as possible, which is why Animals Australia is pedantic about presenting the facts.

One of the most difficult days last year was when we were accused of paying workers in abattoirs to treat animals cruelly. This was coming from people that hadnít even asked to view the footage.

One of the Senators who was actually at that Senate inquiry hasnít even viewed Four Corners, let alone the other footage.

You had these people making claims that were clearly part of a strategy to undermine the evidence and that so disturbs me because any of the investigations weíve conducted, if anyone had sat down at a table with us, they would see the facts presented.

What we were seeing was not only routine but widespread, and it had to end. I think one of the roles I've played and wanted to play, was bring producers back into the field of knowledge so that they could make an informed choice as to whether they wanted to export their animals to this treatment.

Had it not been for the work of Animals Australia, they would not know the risks. Itís very important that they weigh up the risks and make an informed decision if they care about the animals.

WILL OCKENDEN: Did money change hands?

LYN WHITE: No, money didnít change hands. That was absolutely a left field allegation by, unfortunately, Senator Chris Back.

Certainly, in a letter from his lawyers since he apologized for any distress caused. It was just outrageous, the suggestion, and one of the most distressing moments that I've had as an animal advocate.

WILL OCKENDEN: You must have anticipated such rumours flying around. I heard many rumours, that was one. Did you anticipate such statements being made when you come back the night after Four Corners, or the weeks after the initial broadcast?

LYN WHITE: I must have been naÔve because no, I didnít.

Also, for anyone that got on a plane and went to Indonesia and had a look in the slaughterhouses, they would see exactly what we documented on six consecutive nights.

Anyone that had any knowledge, or was prepared to gain knowledge, would see that the last thing that was needed was any sort of exchange of money.

This was what was happening routinely. It had been happening routinely for as long as we had been exporting animals up there, which was why it was such a huge animal welfare tragedy.

A lot of the cruelty that was shown on Four Corners, and a lot of the cruelty involved in the hours of evidence, was facilitated by Mark One boxes which have now been banned.

That was standard practice in these abattoirs, and standard practice as a result of LiveCorp and MLA putting those boxes in.

That anyone was trying to suggest that this cruelty wasnít widespread, was doing the industry its greatest disservice and the producers as well, for not having to face and address the situation which existed.

WILL OCKENDEN: How do you know that the groups you work with from the countries theyíre investigating in are going to be as forensic as Animals Australia, and we wonít see instances of payments being made and other doctoring of situations to get the vision you require?

LYN WHITE: Certainly the scrutiny I would put anything through would be no less than if I was preparing a case for court as a detective. Nothing is going to get through me, for a start.

The only way change can be created is by presenting the facts and the truth. That is why we are pedantic about doing that. Any evidence that comes to hand with Animals Australia on any issue is first and foremost scrutinized by us before we would take it to government and before we would remotely take it anywhere near media.

WILL OCKENDEN: So weíve seen an investigation come out since the Four Corners broadcast. What do you make of what the report concluded the one that was done by the Department of Agriculture?

LYN WHITE: I think the main outcome of that report is to say that this system is unworkable.

For a start, it took an animal welfare charity to actually report breaches of a new system.

It showed clear failures of auditing, that they havenít even insured there were standing operating procedures in place in that facility, that they hadnít been there even whilst Australian animals had been killed in that facility.

It showed flaws in a system, 37 breaches that were serious animal welfare breaches, not checking animals were dead before being cut up.

That for us just reiterated our concerns. That was the first investigation conducted since before Four Corners. So the first investigation conducted revealed breaches of the system, again providing us with no confidence as to what is going on in a nightly basis there.

WILL OCKENDEN: Two of the abattoirs out of the four weren't even part of the system. Were you worried that vision was not as reliable as you hoped given there were animals killed the industry can say, Ďnot even part of the system.í?

LYN WHITE: When we took the footage to government that is what we were actually saying.

We actually said, Ďwe cannot confirm that this is a facility that is approved or are Australian animalsí.

It was still important we provided all of the footage to the government, so they could investigate because we were not in a position to assess whether or not Australian animals were going through those facilities.

There was never a suggestion that they were. It was always provided on the basis of here is the full vision for you to investigate.

WILL OCKENDEN: What if it had come back that there were no Australian animals and no approved facilities?

LYN WHITE: The thing is we had footage of ear tags. We were certainly confident.

We were also seeing animals going through Mark Four restraint boxes. Itís very unlikely that any animal, bar Australian, are going to go through mark four because of the additional trouble and expense.

We were very confident that the videos were featuring Australian animals, both by ear tags and because of the processing.

WILL OCKENDEN: Animals Australia is a vegetarian or a vegan organization in the idea that all suffering in animals should be reduced. One of the main criticisms from producers is once we give this, once we give up live exports and move to something else, theyíll just come after us for the meat component. Then it will be the dairy. Then down to honey, if you really want to take strict vegan principles. Isnít that ultimately correct? Wonít Animals Australia keep pushing for more and more farmers to give up more and more of their livelihood using animals for production?

LYN WHITE: I donít believe Animals in Australia is a vegetarian or vegan organization.

We exist to represent the interests of animals and therefore we will always advocate for choices that reduce the impact that people make on animals.

Obviously people reconsidering their diet is part of that; thatís the ultimate choice you can make on behalf of animals.

But if you look at our campaigns and our major focuses which are: the live export trade, and factory farming.

You will see that we are advocating, certainly with the live trade, for animals to be killed here in Australia before theyíre being sent overseas; and with factory farming, for animals to be given quality of life as a bare minimum.

We believe our role as advocacy is about certainly allowing people to make informed choices, whether that be producers as to if they can send animals overseas in good conscience.

Similarly here in Australia, for people to at least become informed, as to what happens in the operations of major industries so that they can make an informed choice.

Our position will always be to encourage people, whether it be someone eating factory farmed pork, to give it up and eat free range instead, if it reduces harm.

Thatís always going to be our position.

Will Ockenden
Monday, 4 June  2012 (