Live exports under fire for abuse of Australian cattle in Gaza

FEDERAL Labor is calling for the export licenses of some livestock companies to be suspended while investigations are carried out into animal cruelty in the Middle East.

Footage has emerged of Australian cattle being tortured in Gaza, with the most disturbing images showing a bound animal being stabbed in the eye and another knee-capped with bullets from an assault rifle.

The images have reignited calls for the live export trade to be abolished, as parliamentarians from across the political divide come together to demand better animal welfare standards.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said he had viewed the footage and found it “confronting'' and “distressing”.

“The footage . . . has the very great potential to undermine public confidence in what is a very, very important industry for this country," he told reporters in Canberra today.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry had been investigating the alleged breach of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme since November.

But the investigation is not likely to conclude this year, and Mr Fitzgibbon called on the department to issue "show cause" notices to the companies allegedly involved.

“This would require them to demonstrate why their license should not be suspended until the investigation is over. Suspending the licenses would send notice to all those who work in the industry that the government and the community would not allow indiscretions to occur,'' Mr Fitzgibbon said.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Gaza incident was first reported to the department by industry on November 5.

An Australian exporter of cattle to Israel also contacted the department to report that it was investigating whether the cattle in the footage in question originated from its approved supply chain.

“The Department of Agriculture, as the regulator of the livestock export trade, takes all reports of animal welfare seriously, and is currently investigating these reports,” the spokesman said.

Australian Livestock Exporters Council said banning the Australian livestock export industry would not resolve the problem and Australia's “on the ground presence'' in markets was showing people a better way to handle and respect livestock.

The ALEC statement confirmed its chief executive Alison Penfold was shown the footage on November 8 and reported the footage to the Department of Agriculture following internal inquiries and board discussion.

“We chose not to release the footage publicly at the time of formally writing to the department as the vision was gross and disturbing, its origin could not be verified and public debate could not add any factual weight to our complaint or formal investigation by the industry’s regulator,'' the statement said.

The statement said ALEC was ``very much aware'' that a number of recent complaints of possible breaches of ESCAS relate to alleged leakages from ESCAS approved supply chains.

``While we await the outcomes of the departments investigations into these complaints and without prejudice, industry is considering options to strengthen traceability and control mechanisms within supply chains.''

``With that said, the images present in the footage remind us as a community that we face a global challenge of improving attitudes and behaviours to animals by people who do not handle livestock on a daily basis.''

Animals Australia said the abuse was sickening and in breach of Australia's live export regulations.

"There are no words to adequately describe the carnage in these videos and the scale of abuse endured by Australian cattle," Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said.

"It is shocking and completely harrowing to watch.

"Any politician or industry supporter who has propagated the industry's clever PR line that we can improve animal welfare by being in the market should be locked in a room and forced to watch an hour of footage from Gaza."

The animal welfare agency said the footage had been provided to all MPs and Senators.

It has lodged a legal complaint about the abuse - the third in two months following breaches of regulations in Jordan and Mauritius.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie joined with Greens MPs and Labor backbenchers Kelvin Thomson, Melissa Parke, and Alannah MacTiernan today to condemn the footage.

Mr Wilkie said the barbaric treatment of Australian livestock in overseas markets must stop.

“Gaza is just the latest in a long line of revelations which show clearly that Australia's so-called supply chain assurance is failing," Mr Wilkie said.

"If the government doesn't have the backbone to stop the trade altogether, then it should at least commit to ban or refuse permits to all companies that have demonstrated a continuing disregard for animal welfare."

Livestock Shipping Services, the largest cattle exporter into Israel, self-reported potential breaches of Australia's live export regulations in Gaza last month.

LSS is under investigation for breaches in Jordan in June and October.

Nationals MP Andrew Broad said "in the real world" there is a demand for live animals in developing countries, and Australia is always trying to lift animal welfare standards.

He dismissed Labor suggestions that exporters should have their licenses reviewed in the wake of this scandal, saying the opposition had a poor track record when it came to the live animal trade. "They nearly shut down northern Australia," he said, referring to Labor's 2011 temporary suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia.