WHEN the controversial ABC TV Four Corners program, “A Bloody Business”, broadcast dramatic images of shocking and unprecedented treatment of Australian cattle slaughter in Indonesian abattoirs into the lounge rooms of hundreds and thousands of Australians.
On May 30 last year, Cattle Council of Australia Chief Executive Officer David Inall sat and watched nervously in Meat and Livestock Australia’s board room in Sydney, along with seven other key industry representatives.
An hour later after the documentary finished exposing its horrific images which damned their industry for what may seem eternity, David Inall and his colleagues sat alone in stunned silence contemplating the immense gravity of what they’d just witnessed amid feelings of uncertainty about what would now unfold for them all.
“It was the longest pregnant pause I’ve probably ever experienced in a group,” David said while admitting goose bumps at recounting the mood of the evening 12 months on.
“We sat there for about five minutes saying nothing, knowing that what was coming our way was going to be huge.
“But then nobody could have really prepared for just how big it was going to be.”
Immediately, Australian cattle producers and the live cattle export industry knew they were again under siege from relentless animal rights groups like Animals Australia and the RSPCA who’ve declared they won’t stop campaigning until the trade is shut down forever.
Images of animal cruelty had been televised before on other television programs like 60 Minutes and A Current Affair, subjecting the industry to intense public scrutiny at the hands of Animals Australia, even causing the suspension of cattle trade to Egypt.
But this time the mood was completely different.
This time a strategic political bomb had just been dropped by Animals Australia, with a huge leg-up from the journalistic credibility of the ABC’s Four Corners, with its crippling dynamite deliberately aimed at Canberra’s ailing heart.
That bomb was about to land in the nervous lap of a struggling government desperate for a political win or to achieve a welcome distraction from internal woes and leadership doubts.
Mr Inall said his industry had seen unpleasant images from other countries broadcast in various media forms before.
But the May 30 expose was the first time the Indonesian market had been targeted.
Industry members first caught wind that something explosive was brewing in the background two months before the May 30 telecast when ABC researchers had started asking probing questions of industry members.
The questioning suggested footage had been obtained from Indonesia but they had no idea where it would eventually be aired.
Mr Inall said industry groups and exporters had started preparing for a crisis, even though they were in the dark about the actual size and scope of the demon they faced or where the bomb would go off.
“We were confident we’d done a lot of good work and had meetings explaining to politicians the good work being done and the outcomes we were achieving,” he said.
“But the footage we saw in the ABC program was far worse than we’d ever expected.”
Mr Inall said he’d spent many years working in the Indonesian market and had never seen anything like what was shown in the footage.
“We’ve been criticised by some of our own members for not being well enough prepared but there’s only so much preparation you can do when it’s the biggest news story of the year,” he said.
Mr Inall said animal welfare groups’ strategy of placing the Australian government at the centre of responsibility for animal welfare in the Indonesian market succeeded.