The Australian government has halted all exports
of live animals to Indonesia. This means that Indonesian abattoirs will have to
find other sources of beef and Australian Aborigines will have to find other jobs.
The ban was a hasty response to images of appalling
brutality in a few Indonesian abattoirs. Animal welfare activists and television
journalists produced stomach-churning evidence.
The cattle struggle against ropes as they are
forced onto the concrete floor and die bellowing after clumsy attempts to cut their throats. Ideally, the cattle should be stunned
first, then slaughtered. But in some of the Indonesian abattoirs there are no stun
guns. The May
30 broadcast on the investigative program Four Corners sparked instant outrage.
This week, with the phones running hot on talkback radio, Agriculture Minister Joe
Ludwig slapped a six-month ban on exports.
The Australian live cattle trade with its closest
neighbour is worth A$368 million a year. According to the producers, the industry
employs 13,000 people across rural and regional Australia and is worth $1.8 billion
to the Australian economy.
An estimated 700 of the workers are Aborigines
in the dusty, sparsely populated, jobless outback of northern Australia. These
people indirectly support a further 17,000 in station communities. In short,
says journalist Chris Uhlmann,
“risks a catastrophic
destruction of jobs and fragile regional economies. Contractors – road train drivers,
helicopter pilots – were having their work terminated within hours of the suspension
of the trade. Indigenous jobs – any jobs – in regional and remote communities are
hard to come by. Their loss would also be a tragedy.”
Health, education and welfare in isolated Aboriginal
settlements across the north of the country are not just bad, but catastrophic,
with mind-boggling rates of domestic violence, drunkenness, petrol-sniffing, pornography,
illiteracy and poverty. Conditions are best described not as Third World but Fourth World. It is a world of wretchedness and despair.
After decades of failed government programs,
there is nigh-universal agreement that hand-outs have made Aboriginal society in
the outback dysfunctional. What residents of these communities badly need is to
recover their ability to work and hold down jobs. And now a significant number of
those jobs have vanished. The welfare of cattle and the votes of the Greens, it turns out, are far more important
to the Australian government than the welfare of its most disadvantaged citizens.
Animal protection is important. Animals should
not be treated with deliberate cruelty, as if they were insensible objects. Our
attitude toward them is a window on our attitude to our fellow human beings.
Decent treatment of animals is a hallmark of a civilised society.
But the treatment of Australian cattle has to
be weighed against the impact of a ban on the men and women, especially in Aboriginal
communities, who are supported by the industry. A total ban was completely
unnecessary. Most cattle are processed in abattoirs which meet Australian standards.
Only a handful of rogue facilities have been identified. It would have been possible
to blacklist them alone, saving hundreds of Aboriginal jobs.
To some extent, the public outcry is understandable.
Animals are innocent and it’s easy to feel sentimental about their pain because
they remind us of children. Typically, Lyn White, an Animals Australia investigator who filmed
cattle being slaughtered in substandard Indonesian abattoirs, is teary about a steer
whom she describes as a small child:
“It was hard not
to fall in love with Brian. He was a big affable steer who was trying his
best to keep out of trouble… Brian did nothing to deserve being kicked in the face,
whipped or kicked. Each time this occurred he called out in a way that was heart-wrenching.
I swear I could hear him call out ‘Why?’”
What about reporting abuse of human beings?
It took decades before the shameful conditions in Aboriginal settlements became
widely known. Where were the investigative journalists then?
Too little publicity is being given to an
epidemic of abuse of the elderly and mentally ill who live in unseen nooks and crannies
of Australia and other developed countries. It exists, you can be absolutely
sure of that.
Britons, for example, must be wondering whether
their country is really prepared to care for its growing elderly population. Two
scandals have horrified the public in the past few weeks.
In the first, a survey of public
hospitals found that elderly patients were sometimes so badly neglected
that doctors had to prescribe drinking water. Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission
(CQC), the National Health Services watchdog, reported that in some cases patients
were so dehydrated that they could not even call for help. Of the first 12 of 100
hospitals investigated, three did not meet minimum standards of care.
But that was just an appetizer for revelations
from a BBC undercover program about
life in Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning disabilities
and autism. Four carers were arrested and later released on bail. The film crew
captured scenes in which patients were kicked, pinned down, slapped, dragged into
showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased. Some observers called it “torture”.
And while viewers in the United States can watch
animal welfare officers rescuing dogs, cats and snakes on the popular show Animal
Cops, where is the reality TV show dedicated to uncovering elder abuse? June 15
is World Elder Abuse
Awareness Day, but it is unlikely to surface in the media.
But when it does, as it did recently in California,
it is far more horrifying than animal abuse. According to a recent report in the
Los Angeles Times,
ambulance officers were called to help a demented woman living in faeces and urine,
who “weighed just over 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores, some so deep they
bared bone. A metal rod from hip surgery was visible.”
“I would say that first responders and
medical examiners haven’t seen a lot of cases like this — yet,” said a researcher
in the management of advanced illness. “But this is not going to be an unusual
case in a few years.”
Australia, the United States and the UK are
all going to face a crisis of abuse of human beings over the next 20 years. There
will more elderly, less money to care for them, and fewer carers. Real journalists
and truly compassionate governments would spend their resources responding to this
awful crisis, not in sentimental over-reaction to the deaths of animals in a distant
Cook is editor of MercatorNet.