Of cattle and children

By Ruth Limkin

It is a little heart-warming, and a little confusing, that Australians have reacted so strongly to the issue of the live export of Australian cattle to Indonesian abattoirs.

It’s heartwarming because I am greatly distressed by animal cruelty. I believe we have a moral imperative to do our best to care for creation in all its forms.

It’s a little confusing though because there are a great many other issues about which we could react to, and yet, in comparison, have voiced little concern.

The way in which the government acted so quickly – some would say recklessly – to ban an industry servicing a market worth $300 million was fascinating. While profit must never be the key driver for determining our decisions, the livelihood of men and women, and their families, was literally on the line. Add to the fact that this is an industry which only operates six months a year, and one can start to imagine the sinking feeling experienced by  those who work in this area, when their business was literally banned overnight.

However, the most compelling contradiction was around another Australian export decision.

The government, while banning live cattle exports to Indonesia, are still moving ahead with the latest Labour policy to export asylum seekers – including unaccompanied children – to Malaysia.

Why is the government so quick to condemn treatment of cattle, yet so seemingly cavalier about the treatment of children that they will hand over responsibility for them to a country that has a dubious human rights record?

The issues are complex. The number of refugees we should accept, how we process these applications, and how we ascertain the veracity of asylum claims are issues about which good and caring people differ.

However, I am yet to find anyone who thinks that that sending away unaccompanied children is an appropriate response.

Are we not outraged enough? Do we need undeniable footage of conditions in Malaysia? Are our policies dependant on whether we can get confronting images of something to share online, as opposed to whether we can debate an idea?

Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” I would add, “…and the way in which it treats other people’s children.”

That being the case, I’m afraid our soul is not looking too healthy at the moment.