ACT News

Political backlash after ban of live export of cattle to Indonesia

After watching a video of heavy Brahman steers being tortured and killed in Indonesian abattoirs, Bidda Jones was grateful her home sits within a quiet forest of enormous ribbon gums and brown barrel eucalyptus.

Most people could not bear to see the harrowing images in 2011 that caused the Australian Government to temporarily ban the live export trade to Indonesia.

After breaking from the viewing for a stroll into a sea of bracken through the forest, Jones regained enough composure to sit down and watch the footage again, well before it was publicly aired.

RSPCA Australia's head of science and strategy, Jones analysed 50 slaughters, watching each one four times, some times in slow motion. Animals Australia's Lyn White took the video, including of one steer clumsily and slowly hacked to death after it stumbled, and had its back tendons cut and then over three minutes succumbed to its injuries.

"The steer is thrashing his head, blood spraying from the gaping wound, as the slaughtermen move away, their job apparently complete," writes Jones in "Backlash", a story of Australia's extraordinary acceptance of animal cruelty abroad.

"The rope is untied from around the steer's neck, and the slaughterman puts his foot on the steer's head and makes more cuts at the steers throat. He vocalises in response, his eyes rolling, mouth moving and tongue hanging out."

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ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson held up her notebook to partly hide her face after five minutes of viewing the footage, then leant back in her chair and said: "We will do whatever it takes to get as much of this on air as we can."

That led to an award-winning Four Corners show that sparked a huge public outcry and temporary ban.

Jones, and her partner and co-author, novelist Julian Davies, the driving force for Backlash, says showing people is the only means left to stop the trade.

Living in the forest on top of the Great Dividing Range near Braidwood the campaigners are awake to the challenges of farming. "While we have the peace of it, and the difficulties of living in the bush, it reminds you of how rural people live. because we have neighbours and friends who are farmers, it keeps us in touch with the producer-side of the issue too," Davies says.

"It is a tenuous living. There are booms and busts with farming. It is a difficult thing to be absolutely punctilious about animal welfare issues when you are worried about going broke," Davies says.

The political reaction to the public outcry drained the momentum from their campaign. Davies says the backlash has been the polarising of Australia on the issue, instead of finding a solution to the unnecessary cruelty.

Sarah Ferguson and independent Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie will launch Backlash, Australia's Conflict of Values over Live Exports, at the National Library on Tuesday, March 1.

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