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People-power victory on live exports

Michelle Grattan

June 8, 2011

THE government’s suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia is, in substantial part, a rare victory for people power. While not the only factor driving the decision, there’s no doubt that the huge public reaction had a large influence.

It is also a win for the animal welfare movement that obtained the devastating footage aired by the ABC, and for the GetUp! push that maximised the pressure, including with an online petition of more than 230,000 signatures.

The outrage expressed in caucus last week pushed the government into action on the run. Julia Gillard was surprised at the strength of Labor MPs’ feeling – caucus is usually a docile audience for her. Amid the outpouring by Labor MPs, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig announced a partial suspension.

It was soon clear this would be inadequate. Dozens more slaughterhouses were as bad as the dozen that were banned, and it would be impossible to track where cattle went from the feedlots.

If nothing more was to be done, Australia’s reputation abroad would be affected, as would that of the meat industry at home, a point sections of the industry seem to have appreciated. And the PM would have faced another bruising caucus meeting next week, discussing a motion from two backbenchers for a total suspension until Australian standards were met. Cabinet on Monday accepted that it had to act comprehensively.

Neither government nor industry comes out of this affair well. Never mind the government having to revisit its decision in a week; its officials should have been alert to what was going on much earlier. It’s appalling it had to fall to the animal welfare lobby. Certainly the industry did know and its subsequent feigned surprise was not convincing.

Last night Gillard said the suspension would remain ”until we can make sure cattle from Australia are treated properly at every step of the supply chain”. When that point comes, let’s hope there is the closest monitoring. A permanent ban would be preferable.


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