I remember listening to a Greens politician attempt on some television documentary to excuse the exemption from strict protection laws of the slaying of the endangered dugong in its Queensland habitat by Aborigines of the local tribes. Even as the natives alighted from their four-wheel-drive vehicles to hunt and spear this noble creature—not a difficult task given its slothful and docile disposition (and that was just as well for the hunting party, given that they pursued it in a tinny) this caricature of a leftist ideologue left us in no doubt that for him the pieties of identity politics trumped the preservation of the life of this poor animal or even the continuation of its species; red always beats green in the far-Left worldview, even if you belong to a party whose raison d’être is said to be protecting the “environment”.
Exempting Aborigines from laws that seek to preserve species at risk of extinction—the killing of creatures such as the dugong was authorised by the Native Title Act 1993—is cruel and unnecessary and shameful. Both legislators and “hunters” deserve our contempt and opprobrium.
I consider myself as having the moral locus standi to say that. You see, I am not a member of either the Liberal or National parties. Members of those parties have no such standing because the associations to which they belong permit and support and encourage live export of our animals—creatures over whom we are given stewardship—under a legislative regime the inauthenticity and ineffectiveness of which makes it difficult to credit the idea of Australia once having been a Christian Commonwealth.
Conservatives, or more particularly purported conservatives in Liberal-National ranks, hardly ever speak publicly about the live export business. If they do, it is only in connection with their ritual condemnation of the Labor minister Joe Ludwig’s brief suspension of the trade in 2011 as exemplifying the Gillard–Greens government’s anti-business ethos. It was nothing of that sort at all. It was in my estimate the only righteous thing that appalling government ever did.
If only Australian conservatism was more Burke and less Rand in orientation (or, if it were, in coherence and depth, more Roger Scruton than P.J. O’Rourke), they would understand that. Then they might begin to reclaim the whole question of our humane treatment of animals as a political imperative from the Left (and the Greens in particular) to whom they long ago abandoned it. And that may have potentially profound implications for the perception of them and their parties among younger voters as having some kind of bona fides when they speak of matters pertaining to our “use and preservation of the kindly fruits of the earth” (as the Book of Common Prayer matchlessly describes our stewardship of creation).
It is a short step from having an honest and humane policy about animal cruelty practised on an industrial scale to having a position on the “environment” that is rooted in real respect for the natural world, and that would give the coalition parties a better chance of being taken seriously by the young than the strategy they are presently following which is tethering themselves to the arse-end of the global warming bus (where the really harmful human emissions are) that is being driven by the ethical poseurs of the Left in the media and in the Opposition parties.
Tony Abbott, specifically, disappointed during his years as Opposition leader and Prime Minister on this live export issue, as he did on others where his manifest general moral earnestness was not matched with an ability to resist the temptations of facile politicking (which he often executed clumsily in any event). It sounded as if he regarded the manumission of the live animal trade as ejusdem generis with stopping boats and cutting waste and carbon taxes. The latter were all morally sound policies; it was embarrassingly unreflective of him to link them with support for a trade of whose cruelties he could not have been unaware.
I will return to my own understanding of the responsibilities that we, as the legatees of the Christian inheritance of honour, owe to our animals, and especially our livestock, in a moment. First, I want to say some things about the legislative regime which nourishes the live export trade. It is necessary for me to speak plainly when I do so.
The Commonwealth legislative system which came into effect in 2012 ostensibly to control the live export of our animals operates as a sham, and the Department which has administered and continues to administer the system knows and has long known that it operates as a sham. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my detailed acquaintance with the chronic failures of invigilation and enforcement of the scheme by the Department of Agriculture and the depravities of the trade itself ever since it was permitted.
The system and its centrepiece, ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme), was introduced after Lyn White of Animals Australia provided footage of the fate of our animals in Indonesian abattoirs to the ABC’s Four Corners and they broadcast it. ESCAS was intended to ensure compliance with OIE (the French acronym for the World Organisation for Animal Health) standards for treatment of animals from despatch to slaughter.
The two Acts that are intended to regulate the export of living creatures on their way to be slaughtered overseas in a way that ensures these international standards are met (and in which ESCAS was said to be embedded) are the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997 (AMLI) and the Export Control Act 1982; the one provides the conditions for the grant of a licence to export animals, and the other the terms upon which a licence holder can obtain an export permit. The purported purpose of an ESCAS can be best understood as a kind of precise plotting of the course and conditions of the journey of an animal from disembarkation to the point of slaughter to ensure that OIE standards are complied with. The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), made under both Acts, are intended to prescribe the way in which the animal is handled during the initial conveyance to port, during loading and then during voyage. An ESCAS must be approved to enable an exporter to obtain a permit. As initially designed, the ESCAS system said there needed to be a fresh ESCAS approval for each permit sought; now, the approved ESCAS can authorise multiple permits. The system provides that a breach of the ESCAS during any particular use of a permit constitutes a breach of the AMLI Act and enables the regulator to demand of the exporter that he show cause why the licence should not be revoked.
I used the word ensure in the preceding paragraphs deliberately when describing the proclaimed intention of the scheme; the Secretary of the Department may only approve an ESCAS under wording of the relevant order if he is satisfied that it will “ensure” compliance with those standards. But these Acts of Parliament and the legislative instruments and orders they spawned have utterly failed to do that. Instead they have facilitated repeated barbarity.
In fact, the seven years of operation of the Act can in my opinion be fairly summarised thus: a venal and hypocritical industry, aided by a bureaucracy that is alternately pedantic (when finding an excuse not to enforce the scheme by revoking or meaningfully conditioning the licences of exporters when an ESCAS has been breached) or liberal (when granting permits or approving ESCAS application to licensed exporters who are repeat offenders), allows our animals to be mercilessly subjected to barbaric and unconscionable treatment; these two entities—industry and government—then co-operate in ignoring and suppressing the compelling evidence of such treatment when evidence has been procured—often at great risk—not by the regulator whose job it is but by brave volunteers, whose work and motives they both, in shameful and perfidious chorus, seek to impugn.
If we need have an emblem for this dark reification of an industry and a regulator in symbiosis, then let it be Barnaby Joyce, the minister in charge of this mock-regulatory system from September 2015 to December 2017 (excluding the period when his status as a member of parliament was in the hands of the High Court). What qualities of scepticism or caution do you think he brought to bear upon his consideration of this industry? How might those qualities have impacted upon the willingness of the Department to meaningfully regulate the ESCAS scheme during his tenure? Keep those questions in mind when you consider all I am about to write.
In any event, in my opinion, the system had been revealed to be an imposture well before Barnaby Joyce arrived at the helm of the Department. It remains an imposture to this day. By imposture, I mean a regulatory system that through absence of any kind of proper scheme of invigilation would never fulfil its ostensible purpose.
From the beginning of ESCAS, the breaches of the regulatory “chain” were serial and sickening. Let me instance just a few of the regular depravities that ensued:
1. Cattle declared by the exporter as bound for Israel (whose butchering facilities were of OIE standard) ended up in Gaza where they were brutally stabbed to death by amateur slaughterers.
2. Countless thousands of sheep perished in heat and airlessness in Kuwait (as much an ASEL responsibility as when in transit).
3. Other sheep, according to the ESCAS system headed for authorised slaughter in an approved abattoir, are instead bundled into the boots of thousands of Arabs’ vehicles in the carpark, the tendons of their legs slashed to prevent their escape as they try to run away; most suffocate in the boots, others are tormented to death by children before the lid is closed upon them. The lucky “leakages” from the ESCAS “system” on these occasions are done to death in makeshift carpark abattoirs minutes after disembarkation.
4. The “vet”—note the singular—on board these vessels (this is prescribed by ASEL) during their long, stifling voyages are so few in number and their work is so lightly invigilated by the Department as to render their very presence on almost all voyages redundant .
5. Cattle sent to Vietnam are bludgeoned to death by sledgehammers upon arrival at “authorised” abattoirs.
These atrocities have been captured on video and in photographs and in carefully recorded accounts of the observation of eyewitnesses. We who have seen these films and pictures might describe the images as more haunting and brutal than a Bosch vision of hell were it not disrespectful to the memory of the sentient creatures who endured the actual physical agony of this treatment to speak of such suffering in metaphor.
That Australian farmers and exporters and public servants have facilitated this cruelty on such a scale and with such frequency is a cause of eternal shame. Yet the absence of conscience among those who participate in it, and the absence of any modicum of integrity in the regulatory process that allows it to occur, go even deeper than that. You see, this is how the trade was always going to operate.
When the ESCAS system was structured, no provision at all was made for ascertaining compliance by exporters, except their self-reporting. What does that say about its bona fides from the beginning? No arm’s-length inspectors on the ships during voyage, none at port of arrival, none at the abattoirs. In the absence of provision for the most rudimentary policing, the system was a fraud upon the Australian citizenry from the beginning. What do all the ear-tags and paint marks prescribed by the regulator (said to guarantee identification of origin and confirm the itinerary of the beast) matter if no one is there to monitor their movement and their destiny? The “system” was no system at all; it was—it is—a sham.
I said just now that no one was there to monitor compliance. I meant no one who was part of this mock system was present, no one on the public service payroll. This administrative farce was still monitored, however, in a way that would plague the Department and its Ministers. It was monitored covertly by brave volunteers from Australia and from the countries to whom the animals were sent. These are people who ought to be honoured by Australians when they finally insist on looking at this trade—and their farmers’ and politicians’ responsibility for it—in the eye.
The organisation Animals Australia in particular became the unofficial invigilators of this whole process. The detailed reports they provided to the Department of the egregious breaches of the system were studiously authenticated and corroborated. However, even then, the Department’s consideration of their reports—bear in mind they were doing the job the Department of Agriculture never did and never intended to do—were almost always delayed for months. In that time, of course, the exporters who had been caught in flagrante delicto were able to continue their barbarous voyages, fresh export permits having been approved or, latterly and following changes to the regulations, the original ESCAS approval being allowed to generate fresh permits.
When their reports were finally considered—and given the direct evidence of contravention of the terms of the approved ESCAS and of the permit and the licence to export itself, findings of guilt were inevitable—the sanctions imposed were token and almost always involved merely the imposition of further requirements to ensure adherence to standards, compliance with which—you know the story by now—was never invigilated by the Department. And in turn Animals Australia and its colleagues would take up that job and would furnish proof of wanton non-compliance with those additional measures, and the Department would delay release of their report on those breaches, and … enough. I trust you have the picture by now. It sickens me as a former judge of a federal court to have to continue to catalogue this mockery of a genuine regulatory regime.
And what about Chief Inspector Barnaby? What was his contribution to holding to account his Department for their abandonment of responsibility to enforce the measures announced to ensure the elimination of cruelty in this billion-dollar trade, during his tenure? He refused persistent requests even to meet with Lyn White of Animals Australia to discuss her organisation’s reports, even as Animals Australia, in exercise of a de facto delegation arising from the absence of any kind of meaningful invigilation by the regulators, attempted to carry out the responsibilities of his own Potemkin department.
An expectation that there exist laws about dealing humanely with livestock animals, especially the mode of slaughter, and that such laws will be properly invigilated, was a part of that complex of assumptions and perceptions about my country I received unconsciously as I grew up here. A regular hike in the foothills of Noarlunga with my primary school mates in the 1960s often took us past a long-established slaughterhouse. The trucks would rumble up and down Main South Road with their too-tightly-packed cargo of cattle or pigs during the week. Some of us schoolchildren (usually girls) were more curious about what happened to the animals upon arrival than others; teachers and parents padded away questions the answers to which might distress young minds, though some of them were probably as wilfully ignorant of the details as we were natively unaware. Many in my class were farmers’ children and they knew well, of course, about the bloody fate of those consignees.
But as with most things in the social world I was becoming acquainted with, I apprehended somehow that the ultimate handling of these animals would not simply have been an event in an anomic process; if the ending was ineluctably brutal it would nevertheless have been tempered with the observance of some modicum of restraint and avoidance of unnecessary suffering, because like the behaviour of men and women in other spheres of my culture it would have been mediated by a desire—strong or faint, striving or merely reactive, depending on the individual participant in the process—to behave honourably. I didn’t know what honour meant as a child; I have a better idea now. (I would come to understand it as the provenience of a conservative political philosophy.) I see that it informed every aspect of our mores and our laws and that, however unuttered the word itself may have been, we lived in a social world where it mattered to each of us. It has been emptied out of all parts of our society, of course, by decades of irreligious and totalitarian progressivism, but it animated every personal conscience and conditioned every public observance in the days when I was growing up.
Farmers were expected to deal honourably with their flocks and herds and sounders, for example. It was around the time when they became “producers” instead of farmers that our expectations changed; they were part of an “industry” now and not members of a vocation, one unique in its affiliation with the very soil of the land we inhabit.
Our agricultural practices, as with our laws, are soaked through with the Christian origins of our polity. The idea that we are the stewards of the animals that we rear and use and eat is a Christian teaching, unalloyed with any classical or secular or pagan doctrine, with its roots in Genesis and extending throughout both Testaments (the “shepherd” trope of so many beautiful passages in the gospels instructing us in the same duty as the explicit stewardship teachings of the epistles), then through the early Church Fathers, to the Franciscans and to the Anglican curates and other Revivalists of Regency and early Victorian times who founded the RSPCA. Stewardship means responsibility and entails conscientiousness in our control of animals. The power we have over animals is a zoological phenomenon; our sense of obligation towards them is a psychological one; it is strong in cultures like our own, faint or non-existent in others, and that varied incidence, I suppose, constitutes a third, and historical, phenomenon.
There is a mystery about the assumption of this burden (and blessing) of stewardship, as there is with many other traditions we hold fast and beliefs we will not abandon, but that is no matter. We can say with Job as he answered Jophar:
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee. Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.
With what sadness and with what depths of bitterness and disappointment would those beasts and fishes, our subordinates in creation, possessed of that knowledge of which those verses speak, address us, if they had the capacity, about the wholly unnecessary suffering we are allowing to be inflicted upon our cattle and sheep and other livestock?
I suppose there may have been individual primary producers who have lobbied their federations and their councils to stop the trade in living animals but if they exist they have been very ineffective; the numbers cannot have been high, because they have never made themselves heard. No, when the post-Barnaby Minister, Mr Littleproud, responds to the Sixty Minutes reporter about the latest atrocities aboard an Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd ship (this corporate exporter dominates the livestock trade in Australia) and vows to respond to it because of the damage that is being done to the “reputation” of Australian farmers, he profoundly misapprehends the reality that such a reputation has already suffered a fatal declension. Primary producers who make their money by supplying vital, respirating, apperceptive creatures to exporters for despatch to countries whose standards of treatment of animals, and especially those pertaining to their slaughter, they know to be barbarous already are, in the judgment of the vast majority of their fellow citizens, degenerate. Degenerate is a word that comes from the Latin and means, plainly, someone who is inferior to his ancestors. That is what our livestock farmers are because of their participation in this trade and it is time that we told them so.
Muslim countries, of course, are voracious recipients of our live animals. Their religion insists upon the animal being alive when it has its throat cut. Stunning of an animal before killing, the sine qua non of modern humane slaughter, is considered haram; it is only the subjecting of the animal to a maximised awareness of what is coming to it and of what has already come to its companions in front of its frightened, bewildered eyes, and then the maximising of its experience of the pain involved in bleeding and choking to death, that is, apparently, halal.
In pioneer and early-modern times in Australia we did not have the facilities for stunning or the infrastructure to set the rules for slaughter and enforce them. But today, knowing that we must not be cruel, and having willingly adopted the internationally recognised methods to kill humanely the animals we intend to eat, and set up laws to make sure they are followed in our own nation, we then permit our livestock to be sent to countries where we know they will be savagely and pitilessly slaughtered, not because those countries lack the capacity to conduct themselves humanely but because, in furtherance of the tenets of an early medieval cult, they choose not to do so. And I am referring here only to those animals that remain within the so-called chain; the Animals Australia reports show the even greater suffering experienced by those animals that “leak” from the “chain” and end up in car boots in 110-degree days in Muslim principalities on the other side of the earth.
That is shameful enough, but when we know that the concomitant of this surrender of our obligations of honour to these creatures and of our responsibility to protect them from needless painful death, is the sending of them on a long and hellish journey during which many of them will perish from heat and thirst and disease—when we know that this, too, will be entailed by our farmers’ venality, should we not ask what destination we have reached ourselves? I say that we have arrived at a state of moral disfigurement; farmers are disgraced by their participation in this trade and the rest of us are disgraced by permitting their participation.
My unsolicited advice to Mr Littleproud and his coalition colleagues is this. Ignore the bleatings of an industry and its spruikers within the government, in thrall to the profits to be reaped from a trade with alien peoples whose treatment of animals we rightly regard as debased. Attend instead to the bleatings (and cries, and gurglings and soul-piercing howls) of the creatures they consign to charnel-house voyages and chthonian death. Then, until such time as this trade is abolished, ensure, by fearless and righteous leadership of your Department, that the public servants within it do their duty and monitor and enforce and comply themselves with the laws that were passed by Parliament for the explicit purpose of eliminating barbarity. Most importantly, examine your heritage as an Australian and think upon how it might truly be embodied in your party’s policies in the future.
These would be the acts of a conservative minister. They would assist this government in acquiring the same honourable credential.
Stuart Lindsay is a former Federal Circuit Court Judge. He contributed “The Family Court Has Failed Gender-Dysphoric Children” in the May issue.