Northern cattle producers have welcomed a public commitment of support for Australia’s live export trade to Indonesia from Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The trade has come under fresh criticism from animal rights groups and Labor backbenchers in the past week after a Federal Government investigation into footage supplied by Animals Australia found that two exporters had breached their animal welfare responsibilities under the new Export Supply Chain Assurance System.
However the Prime Minister stood firmly by the trade when she spoke to media in Darwin last Friday, stating that the industry “overwhelmingly” did the right thing.
Ms Gillard rejected suggestions from journalists that the system had failed because the alleged breaches were identified by an animal rights group, and had not been picked up by the system itself.
She said there were several ways that abuses could be brought to light under the ESCAS system, because of the level of monitoring and auditing attached to it.
“When abuses are identified, then people pay the price for those abuses, because we now know, because of the tracking system, where animals come from, who has been responsible for exporting them, where they are being slaughtered and we are able to see the conditions under which they are being slaughtered,” Ms Gillard said.
She said that northern cattle industry was focused on delivering good animal welfare outcomes.
“Overwhelmingly, this is an industry that does the right thing,” she said.
“I've met with the cattle industry here before.
“I will meet with them during the course of today again, and whenever I meet with them, they make the point to me very, very passionately that people in the industry do not want to see their animals abused and that there is no-one more heartbroken when there is evidence of animal cruelty than the people who work in this industry.
“But like all areas of life, common sense tells you overwhelmingly people do the right thing, but there is occasionally the odd person who does the wrong thing and so the system is there to catch and identify those few people who do the wrong thing.”
Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association chief executive officer Luke Bowen met one-on-one with the Prime Minister while she was in Darwin.
“I could only put my meeting with her in a positive light,” Mr Bowen said.
“I took it as I saw it which was a genuine intention to engage and find out how things are going.
“She seems committed to making sure industry survives, and she was genuinely concerned about how people are travelling in the NT.”
Mr Bowen said he gave the Prime Minister a “very frank” picture of the position producers were in financially.
“Their land values have dropped, in some cases they don’t know what their land is worth, their cash flow last year hit a wall, and potentially they are going to head into further cash flow issues with these quotas (Indonesia has halved import quotas for 2012).
“So it is a real combination of things. The banks have been patient, but their patience can only last so long.”
Mr Bowen said the ESCAS system had provided the industry with a solid foundation to root out the potential for mistreatment to occur.
It was a world-first system and was never likely to be perfect from day one, he said, but had done what it was supposed to do by enabling the problems identified in the footage to be tracked down and fixed.