MP backlash puts live cattle trade in doubt

Backlash ... the government faces an internal push to ban all live exports to Indonesia.
Backlash ... the government faces an internal push to ban all live exports to Indonesia.

THE Gillard government has slapped bans on live cattle exports to almost a dozen Indonesian abattoirs - and is not ruling out ending the trade altogether - after a furious Labor backbench demanded stronger action than an inquiry.

While the government plans to resume exports when or if the offending abattoirs clean up their act, it faces an internal push to ban all live exports to Indonesia.

This has the backing of the independents Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie and the Greens and yesterday the Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, was not ruling it out. ''If we want to go that far, it's certainly on the table,'' he said.

Politicians from all sides said their offices had been inundated by angry calls from the public after the screening on Monday night of footage showing the abuse, mistreatment and needlessly brutal slaughter of cattle from the Northern Territory.

The footage was shot during an investigation by the RSPCA and Animals Australia and was supplied to the Herald and the ABC.

Senator Ludwig ordered an investigation and imposed a moratorium on Australian-supplied boxes designed to restrain the cattle while they are slaughtered but which have exacerbated the ill treatment.

During an emotional Labor caucus meeting yesterday, about 20 MPs rose up and demanded more. ''We told him an inquiry was bullshit,'' said one MP. ''We have had enough inquiries.''

Two MPs, Janelle Saffin and Kelvin Thomson, presented a notice of motion to be debated by the caucus in a fortnight which calls for a ban on live exports to Indonesia.

The Northern Territory MP Warren Snowdon supported the measures announced by Senator Ludwig but said the live export trade to Indonesia was vital to the NT cattle industry.

There was also anger vented at the Australian Meat and Livestock Corp, which supplies the restraint boxes, forcing Senator Ludwig to commission a fully independent review on top of a departmental inquiry.

The independent review will investigate the supply chain for live exports up to and including the point of slaughter.

Senator Xenophon and Mr Wilkie said if abattoir workers in Australia treated beasts in such a fashion, they would be in jail. They called for an immediate moratorium on live exports to Indonesia and for the trade to be phased out within three years.

Mr Wilkie said money should be invested in building abattoirs in northern Australia to do the slaughtering and create local jobs.

The Coalition swiftly backed Senator Ludwig's action after its MPs were also bombarded with angry emails and phone calls.

The Nationals leader, Warren Truss, said cattle growers were just as horrified as the general public. ''Every cattleman would have had tears in their eyes.'' He said the live trade needed to be restored and advocated redirecting foreign aid to Indonesia to clean up the slaughterhouses.

There were no export abattoirs in northern Australia and even if they were built, finding labour would be difficult. Wages would be on par with those paid by the mining sector, making them uneconomical.

The Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, told the caucus the outcry would not harm the relationship with Indonesia. ''Revolting, unacceptable and inhumane. That's why the Govt today announced immediate suspension of exports … KRudd,'' he tweeted.