JULIA Gillard faces heightened pressure to ban live animal exports as concerns among backbenchers over the cruel slaughter of Australian sheep in Pakistan spread beyond the Labor MPs who were instrumental in the revolt that led to last year's Indonesian cattle ban.
Labor Party MPs opposed to live exports will use the last caucus meeting of the year to urge the government to phase out the live cattle and sheep trade as the meatworkers' union, the Greens and independent MP Andrew Wilkie all demand an end to the practice.
While the footage has energised backbenchers who sparked last year's live export ban, sources told The Australian the incident in Pakistan had increased the number of MPs with concerns about the live export trade.The growing unrest in caucus came as the Prime Minister used a bilateral meeting with her Pakistan counterpart, Raja Pervez Ashraf, at a global summit in Laos to ask for action on the matter and secured a promise that he would launch an investigation into the treatment of sheep exported from Australia after being told of strong concerns about acts of cruelty at a Pakistani abattoir.
"I explained to him that Australians are distressed to see these acts of cruelty and that I wanted the matter investigated. He responded that he would investigate this culling of Australian sheep, which is being done in circumstances that rightly distress Australians," said Ms Gillard, who is attending an Asia-Europe meeting in Vientiane.
"I was very clear about Australia's concerns, very strong in raising those concerns, very clear that this is something that has distressed the Australian people."
Labor backbencher Melissa Parke, who was instrumental in last year's caucus revolt over live cattle exports, which led to a one-month shutdown of the industry, said she would push for answers when Labor MPs meet for the final parliamentary sitting week, beginning on November 26.
"What we have seen is there are inherent risks in sending animals overseas," Ms Parke said. "The risk extends to both the animals and the farmers. This new supply system was supposed to ensure that these events do not occur.
"It's time to transition out of livestock exports to domestic processing and a chilled meat export trade.
"It's better for the animals and it's better for Australian farmers."
The issue is set to spark another bitter brawl, with northern Australian representatives including Northern Territory Labor MP Warren Snowdon signalling they will fight any move to shut down the industry.
"These images are unacceptable but should not be used to taint the Northern Territory's live cattle trade," Mr Snowdon said.
"Over the last year, our cattle industry has made significant changes to safeguard animal welfare standards for cattle exported to Asia."
The Weekend Australian revealed on Saturday that brutal practices were used to slaughter 21,000 sheep in Pakistan and ABC TV's Four Corners aired footage on Monday showing the sheep being beaten and dragged, having their throats sawn with blunt knives and being thrown into pits, some still alive.
In Vientiane,asked if the live sheep trade was sustainable, Ms Gillard said the government was working to ensure it was and that the concerns about the shipment of sheep were different from the concerns that arose last year about the live cattle trade to Indonesia.
"This was a false claim about disease in these sheep and the industry has already voluntarily responded by suspending live sheep being sent to Bahrain and to Pakistan," the Prime Minister said.
Exporter Wellard yesterday conceded for the first time that "in hindsight" some of its decisions might have "contributed to the cull" in Pakistan. This included not telling Pakistan the sheep had already been rejected by Bahrain. Wellard maintains however the rejection was not the reason why local authorities triggered the cull.
The backbench showdown over live exports threatens to explode in the final parliamentary sitting week with Ms Parke and Victorian backbencher Kelvin Thomson saying they will use the last caucus meeting of the year to demand the government move away from live exports to domestic meat processing.
The pair took part in last year's caucus backlash after the screening of Four Corner's expose on the treatment of cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses forced the government into a month-long ban of live cattle exports. The industry shutdown cost 326 jobs in northern Australia and left at least 274,000 animals stranded. It also tested Australia's relationship with Indonesia, straining diplomatic ties.
By Miranda Rout and Sid Maher, The Australian