Friday, June 17, 2016

The accidentally political dog

The photo that many interpreted as Phil endorsing a particular policy. 

Last night I learned, via an email from a colleague, that Phil was named as “one of the 23 cutest animals of the election campaign so far”. He was pictured with Labor MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Anthony was meeting and greeting local constituents in Stanmore and I had some questions to ask him about the ALP’s animal welfarepolicy, and a few points that I typed up ahead of time. Politics is tricky. Because I agree with SOME elements of the ALP’s animal welfare policy (for example, the establishment of a well-resourced independent office of animal welfare) but some aspects concern me, including allowing continued self-regulation of the live export industry.

We had a friendly chat, disagreed about some issues, agreed on others, and then posed for a quick photo. The photo has been interpreted by some as an all-out endorsement of the ALP policy which it isn’t. It’s also been interpreted as PHIL endorsing a policy. Phil is a dog. He was enjoying a chin-rub. He hasn’t read any policy and can’t endorse documents.

However, given that Phil the so-called Stanmore puppy (at 13+ years old) is in the news, and live export is in the news, I thought I’d better a) clear that up and b) raise some concerns.

Politicians, producers, animal welfarists and animal rightists alike are getting issue-fatigue over live exports. Last night the 730Report aired limited footage showing that the regulatory system has failed to ensure that Australian cattle are humanely slaughtered in Vietnam.

The methods shown do not meet guidelines for humane slaughter and would horrify any farmer or producer I’ve met.

As former ALP leader and Australian Livestock Exporter's Council Chair Simon Crean said, “no animal should have to go through the fear or the pain” – regardless of whether they are Australian cattle or not.

I understand that industry fears being exposed by animal welfare groups – but it has been repeatedly apparent that groups like AnimalsAustralia and the RSPCA, charity organisations – are better resourced and more willing to act than industry regulators charged with this role. That is the concern at the heart of the issue.

I understand people’s concerns about food security. I do get fears about jobs and employment. But these cases involve appalling, unacceptable treatment of animals – five years after live exports from Australia were banned. In the light of this evidence, arguments like "its better to be in the market" are shown as flawed. And we need to do something about it. As a veterinarian and someone who cares about animal welfare deeply I therefore support the RSPCA and Animals Australia in their campaigns to end this trade. There are alternatives.