IN THE NEWS: On DEC 9, 2019
Hundreds of Australian cattle sold to the Indonesian Government in 2018 for breeding are malnourished or dead, and images obtained by the ABC show the rotting corpses of animals that could have bred for several years.
- LiveCorp has released a summary report on the Department of Agriculture's website finding hundreds of the cattle were starving
- An Australian Government-commissioned monitoring report into the aid scheme will not be released in full
- Australian exporters say concerns were raised when the deal was tendered
The disturbing pictures show emaciated and starving cattle sold to Indonesia as part of a program aimed at improving the country's self-reliance in beef.
Other photos show the rotting corpses of Australian animals, some with bones jutting out of their emaciated carcasses.
In late 2018 more than 2,500 Australian cattle, purchased by the Indonesian Government under the 2018 Indonesian Breeder Cattle Import Program, were distributed among small holder farms in Java and Sumatra to aid development.
An Australian Government-funded review of the consignment found at least 72 cattle, or 3 per cent of the cattle exported in late 2018, were dead by June.
These animals had been exported with the expectation they could live for up to 20 years.
The ABC understands the review by research and development body LiveCorp found hundreds more were starving.
But the Australian Government has refused to release the report in full.On Friday, following questions from the ABC, LiveCorp released a summary report on the Department of Agriculture's website.
"Smallholder farmers and cooperatives [in Indonesia] are generally acknowledged as requiring more support in the form of training to manage animal health and welfare issues," LiveCorp said in its six-page summary of its report to Government on the export breeding program.
But industry fears that if welfare concerns worsen, Australia's $800 million live cattle trade to Indonesia could be jeopardised.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton said the pictures were "shocking" when shown by the ABC.
Mr Harvey-Sutton revealed the industry had raised animal welfare concerns with the Government when the deal was brokered.
"It is of grave concern, and we as an industry we did express this concern to the Government when the original tender came through," he said.
"There was hesitation by Australian industry to supply it."
He said it was vital that changes were made if further exports were sought under the breeder program.
"If there are future requests for breeder cattle we need to determine another way, or what assistance can come forward, so we don't see images like that," he said.
"They are shocking, they are shocking without a doubt."
Varied success in program
Mr Harvey-Sutton told the ABC he had seen the LiveCorp report in full and it showed some livestock were "performing extremely well, some were going okay, and other cattle were in very poor condition".
He confirmed 300 Australian cattle sold to the small holder program were in 'Condition Score 1' — the poorest rating on an industry scale, reflecting no fat and a pronounced skeletal structure.
"Unfortunately the monitoring program concluded around July this year. But there has been an engagement of the Indonesian industry to conduct a program to assist where they can," he said.
"They may have improved in that time. Or they may have got worse in that time," he said.
Mr Harvey-Sutton said exporters supported Indonesia's drive for self sufficiency and the diplomatic nature of the deal meant it was more complex than commercial arrangements.
"If there is a situation that needs to be resolved in the commercial [supply] lines it can be resolved quite quickly because it falls within that day-to-day commercial dealing," he said.
"But when the parties are the Australian and Indonesian governments it takes on a diplomatic angle. That does increase the complexity of the situation in seeking to resolve it."
Mr Harvey-Sutton said the deal was "essentially a government-to-government arrangement and it sits outside what would be normal commercial arrangements".
Hopes rest on in-country help
The LiveCorp summary showed the mortality rate for the small holder program was higher than that accepted in the commercial trade.
"The standard we could best gauge it against is for voyages and that sits around two per cent [mortality], so it is much higher than we'd like to see. We acknowledge that," Mr Harvey-Sutton said.
He said he expected the concerns raised in the LiveCorp report would be addressed.
"As an industry it is incumbent on us to do what we can, to address that. But given that these are also aid programs it is incumbent on the Australian Government to do what they can to address that as well," he said.
"I am not going to shy away from the fact that there are issues, and yes I have seen photos. But I want to give the assurance that we are working on it and we need to do what we can to fix it."
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, when the ABC raised the matter with her, said she had asked her department for further advice about how animal welfare issues could be addressed for the breeder trade.
"Just as Australia would not want Indonesia dictating how livestock here should be cared for, we understand that as a sovereign nation Indonesia feels the same way," Ms McKenzie said.
"We've got a long and solid relationship with Indonesia when it comes to red meat."
A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said it did not have a regulatory role once breeder animals arrive in another country.
"The department is working with the Australian industry and Indonesian industry to help improve the management of livestock after they arrive in-country," it said.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who questioned LiveCorp about the trade before a recent Senate hearing, upon seeing the images obtained by the ABC said LiveCorp needed to "come clean" on what it knew of the breeder program.
"These pictures of sick and dead Australian cattle are disgusting," Senator Faruqi said.
LiveCorp declined to comment.