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All News Updates & Public Comment => Live Export News Updates => : Export News Tasmania June 12, 2012, 05:51:46 PM

: An interview with Lyn White
: Export News Tasmania June 12, 2012, 05:51:46 PM
Animals Australia investigator Lyn White speaks to Fairfax Agricultural Media exclusively about the biggest controversy to hit the Australian cattle industry. This article is part of a series looking back at the live export ban in June 2011.

Approaching 12 months on from the federal government’s snap suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia, what do you think has been achieved in terms of animal welfare improvements?

To the Gillard government’s credit they have been the first federal government to try to protect the welfare of exported animals in importing countries through the implementation of assured supply chains.

But as our investigations have already shown, a regulatory system that relies on the independence of in-country auditors paid by exporters, and on an animal welfare charity to be a government watchdog, is fraught and provides little confidence. We still, in effect, have a system where the live export trade is self-regulating - which is what created the Indonesian crisis in the first place.
What is pleasing is reports that as a result of the suspension, the uptake of stunning has been rapid in Indonesia, when only 18 months earlier Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) said stunning was an “aspirational goal”. However, for stunning to be effective and humane it requires adequate training, oversight and maintenance of equipment. I would hope that MLA and the exporters were ensuring this was occurring.
 
Wild and extravagant claims have been made from all quarters in regards to this complex and emotive issue and not the least against Animals Australia for its role in gathering the key evidence which sparked the trade closure. How have you handled this pressure and what’s been your motivation and focus?
The many hours of evidence that we gathered in Indonesia in different slaughterhouses showed so clearly the cruel practices documented were routine and considered acceptable by workers. Had any of the accusers who embraced the task of undermining the evidence asked to see it, they would have immediately known how outlandish - and in some cases defamatory - their claims were. The fact that they didn’t ask revealed that establishing the truth wasn’t their motivation.

It was disappointing that in some quarters they achieved their goal of making some producers believe this appalling treatment wasn’t widespread in Indonesia. For this they should hang their heads in shame, as not acknowledging and addressing the problem is not in the interests of producers or their animals.
 
The Senate inquiry into the live export industry that followed the suspension said the industry was ambushed by animal rights groups and the ABC amid allegations of trial by media, which caused the government to make a hasty decision. What do you say in response to that, considering serious claims for financial compensation are being made to recover damages?
The process we witnessed in the Senate inquiry was profoundly disappointing - and therefore their conclusions were equally so. One Coalition Senator had not even watched the Four Corners program, nor the footage. MLA’s own reports revealed full knowledge of the situation in Indonesia over the period of a decade, which makes any claim of an “ambush” ludicrous.
Any claims for compensation should be directed towards MLA, not the government. MLA were aware of the situation and failed to advise producers of the risks that their animals would face and what were routine slaughter methods there. It was MLA that installed the 102 Mark I restraint boxes which facilitated much of the cruelty in Indonesia and which have now been banned. They were the organisation which betrayed the trust of the producers and at whose door responsibility firmly lies.
 
Do you think it’s fair compensation be paid to people severely impacted by the trade suspension?
RSPCA Australia and Animals Australia were the first to suggest to the federal government that a compensation scheme be set up for any parties affected by the trade suspension. Any further compensation claims should be directed towards MLA.
Whilst the government clearly didn’t have the oversight of the activities of the live trade that was necessary, only one party had actual knowledge of the dire situation at the point of slaughter in Indonesia, and failed to advise producers of it - that is MLA.

Do you think Four Corners deserved to win the Gold Walkley award for its reporting on this issue?

Sarah Ferguson is widely recognised as Australia’s finest journalist and it is not surprising that she is a dual recipient of the Gold Walkley. Four Corners independently scrutinised every piece of information and every second of the hours of footage provided by Animals Australia before then conducting their own investigation in Indonesia to confirm the situation. It is Four Corners’ attention to detail and commitment to revealing the facts that have made them Australia’s most trusted current affairs program.
The public response to ‘A Bloody Business’ was unprecedented in Australia, leading to a further 60,000 media articles in following months. Without this program, we would not be seeing the welfare advancements currently underway in Indonesia, nor a new government regulatory system in place to attempt greater government oversight of the live trade. With such significant outcomes there is no doubt the report was worthy of the Gold Walkley.

What’s been the biggest challenge during this episode for Animals Australia and the biggest disappointment?

The biggest challenge has also been the biggest disappointment – in having to address a strategic misinformation campaign designed to make producers question the veracity of the evidence and how widespread the cruelty in Indonesia was. The fact that MLA had installed 102 Mark I boxes in facilities in Java and Sumatra - which in themselves were responsible for horrendous handling and slaughter practices – spoke for itself.
If ever there should have been a time when producers and animal welfare groups stood as one, united that no further animals should be sent to this treatment, it was on this occasion. And I believe that this would have occurred had certain individuals not made it their goal to mislead producers so that they wouldn’t reconsider their support of the trade.

What’s been the toughest personal moment during the past 12 months and why?

Undoubtedly, having parliamentary privilege used to air false and highly offensive allegations that my co-investigator and I paid Indonesian workers to brutalise Australian cattle. My faith had been rocked before, but to see our political system so abused to protect the live trade was shattering. Had these allegations been made in a public forum legal action would have been taken for defamation – but of course they weren’t, and the dirty work had been done.

Will you keep going into abattoirs and investigating until the trade is closed?

Having witnessed animals treated cruelly in the Middle East and Indonesia I am passionate about improving the welfare of all animals in these countries, not just Australian animals. Significant outcomes have been achieved through our investigations since 2003 in a number of market places, including in Jordan where I work with the Princess Alia Foundation. It is the role of animal protection organisations to highlight animal welfare issues and lobby for necessary change – and we will continue to do so.
 
There were reports you received 200,000 nominations for Australian of the Year last year; were you disappointed you didn’t win?
I am unaware of the number of nominations I received, but I was informed it was the greatest number in the award’s history. I didn’t see this as a personal endorsement, rather as proof of how deeply Australians care about animal welfare and how great their concern is for animals exported from this country.


COLIN BETTLES 06 Jun, 2012

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