As Australia weighs up the issues around a complete ban of live export of animals, legal counsel Ruth Hatten looks at the legal angle.
The ABC’s Four Corners exposed the brutality of live export, as it happens in Indonesia. The expose revealed horrific conditions experienced by Australian cattle when they face slaughter overseas.
The overwhelming public response to the expose resulted in a temporary ban on the live export of cattle, calves, sheep, lambs and goats to Indonesia (except for breeding purposes) by virtue of the Export Control (Export of Live-stock to the Republic of Indonesia) Order 2011.
This move by Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig appeased those with concern for animal welfare but disgruntled those concerned with the economic impact of the ban on an industry reported to be worth approximately $300 million.
Australians are pondering the ramifications of the temporary ban.
There are those, like myself, who want a complete ban. There are others who want the trade resumed. Moral issues abound, especially in respect of the blatant cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle and the effects of a ban on producers’ livelihoods. There are also vast and complicated legal issues which warrant consideration.
Primarily, the longstanding classification in law of animals as property plays a big role in the level of control that Australia has over animals it exports overseas. Once our animals have been sold and delivered to an importing country, they are subject to the customs and practices of that country.
Herein lies a big part of the problem - none of the countries that Australia exports animals to have adequate animal protection laws. Take Indonesia for example. Indonesia passed a Farm and Animal Welfare law at least 18 months ago but without regulations providing sanctions, there are no penalties if the law is breached.
The Australian Government is considering resuming live export to accredited abattoirs in Indonesia that comply with OIE standards. The OIE standards are contained in the World Organisation for Animal Health’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code, Chapter 7.5 Slaughter of Animals. The OIE is a 178-member organisation, members of which include Australia, Indonesia and all other countries that Australia exports livestock to.
These (unenforceable) standards do not provide the same level of protection as the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock and, most importantly, do not require pre-stunning, an inherent problem with the inhumane practices seen on Four Corners.
Indonesia is considering whether the ban breaches World Trade Organisation rules on discriminatory grounds. The Australian Government says it doesn’t, but the full ramifications of Indonesia’s claim are yet to be seen.
Where to from here?
Bill Farmer, ex Australian ambassador to Indonesia, has been appointed to conduct an independent (but financed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) review of Australia’s live export trade. An interim report is due by 29 July and a final report by 31 August.
Following a motion by Greens senator, Rachel Siewert, a senate inquiry is being conducted into the role and effectiveness of Government and relevant industry bodies (including MLA and Livecorp) in improving animal welfare standards in Australia’s live export markets and the domestic economic impact of the live export trade. Submissions have been called for by 15 July and a report is scheduled for 25 August.
The Independents and Greens have introduced bills to Parliament seeking to ban all live export from Australia. The Independents want a complete phase out of live export by 1 July 2014. The Greens want an immediate ban. It is hoped that the bills will be considered when the Winter session of Parliament resumes on 4 July.
In light of the indication by the Government and Opposition that they support the resumption of live export, passing of the bills is uncertain. Live export could be banned but continued public support is needed to ensure we no longer expose our animals to barbaric conditions that we cannot realistically control.
Ruth Hatten is legal counsel at Voiceless, the animal protection institute.