Federal Court just rules in favour of cattle exporters

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 2 June 2020

The Federal Court has ruled in favour of cattle exporters who launched a class action after a temporary live export ban was enacted in 2011 following explosive revelations of extreme cruelty.

In 2005 the live export industry published a report warning of the PR nightmare that would unfold if the Australian public was made aware of animal slaughter practices in Indonesia. It was one of six separate industry reports that consistently highlighted significant abuses facing cattle exported to the country including head slapping during cruel roping slaughter, eye gouging, tail breaking and ineffective throat cutting – all leading to prolonged and painful deaths for the animals.

This ‘PR nightmare’ became a reality in 2011 when Animals Australia documented routine slaughter practices across four cities in Indonesia. Our evidence, along with that independently obtained by ABC’s Four Corners program, was broadcast on Australian television.


You can watch the full story ‘A bloody business’ online here.


In the Federal Court Justice Rares stated that the footage in the 4 Corners program: “depicted appalling cruelty to cattle in a significant number of Indonesian slaughterhouses and several scenes showing the uses of Mark I boxes which subjected the animals to very cruel treatment."

Perhaps more shocking than the industry’s preparedness to knowingly supply millions of cattle to cruel treatment over two decades, was their facilitation of it, through the installation of brutal slaughter boxes. Boxes which according to world-renowned animal behaviour expert Dr Temple Grandin, breached ‘every humane slaughter standard anywhere in the world.’

In the fall-out of this exposé, Meat and Livestock Australia admitted that 92% of cattle exported to Indonesia – some 500,000 a year – went to facilities where they would be slaughtered while fully conscious. That means, the vast majority of cattle exported to the country faced the very same abuses Four Corners famously exposed.

Former Agriculture Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, enacted a temporary 5-week suspension of trade to ensure that cattle exported to Indonesia wouldn’t continue to be at risk of eye gouging, tail breaking, head slapping, or being restrained in brutal Australian-designed Mark I slaughter-boxes that caused immense pain and suffering.

While the Federal Court has found that Senator Ludwig erred by not allowing for exemption applications, it also acknowledged Senator Ludwig received advice as to the difficulties of policing where animals were supplied to in Indonesia. This factor has subsequently been reinforced by numerous breaches of the ESCAS ‘closed loop’ system in importing countries.

In 2006, the Howard government similarly acted to prevent cruelty in the live cattle trade by suspending shipments to Egypt on the provision of evidence of local slaughter practices that involved tendon slashing and eye stabbing. Practices once again that the Australian live export industry admitted they were aware of yet exported 1 million cattle to Egypt anyway.

It’s important to remember that, had this 5-week suspension of trade not been imposed, changes in Indonesian slaughterhouses that now see the vast majority of exported Australian cattle stunned unconscious before slaughter, would not have been implemented.

There are many Australians today who remain deeply grateful to Joe Ludwig for having the courage to make a decision that was in the interests of animals — and it should be noted that Senator Ludwig in 2011 offered affected producers compensation and all animal protection groups publicly supported compensation being provided.

And while processes and decisions made by Senator Ludwig were scrutinised by the Federal court, it should not be forgotten that the brutality Australian cattle faced in Indonesia was widespread and well known to exporters and Meat and Livestock Australia for over a decade. It was they who let cattle producers down, not the government.

"If anyone is to ‘blame’ for economic losses that resulted in the temporary halt in trade, it isn’t the government that prevented further animal cruelty, it’s the industry body that not only ignored it, but facilitated it."
- Lyn White, Animals Australia