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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26810

Mr HAWKER (5:36 PM) —In his classic, extraordinarily underrated but hugely influential book written nearly 80 years ago, called Propaganda, Edward Bernays wrote:

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group in mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.

Bernays is credited as the leading founder of the public relations industry. He saw public opinion as being shaped by a small, educated group—and, if enough money and tactical skill were employed, opinion could be manipulated.

There are numerous examples that support his thesis. The tragedy is that, despite these thoughts being freely available, they are employed with ever-increasing sophistication on an unsuspecting public. This happens in a way that can lead to motivated minorities manipulating others to their views in a way that would never normally succeed if impartial and factually based decision making were employed.

Today I want to outline one such case. A protest was held in Portland in my electorate last September, attended by about 25 demonstrators and a larger contingent of media. The protesters claimed they were there to close down the live sheep trade, because of their concern for animals. The media were so enthralled that helicopters were used to fly in crews, who salivated at the thought of hot news. ABC radio even ran live broadcast crosses all afternoon. Unfortunately for the media, bad weather stopped the live sheep ship from docking, so the stories that were filed had to be modified. However, given the investment in flying crews into Portland and the setting up of satellite dishes et cetera for transmission, stories had to be reported, and the handful of protesters could not believe their luck at the national one-sided coverage provided free.

That day, as the local federal member, I received a phone call from one of the protesters, lecturing me on the justification of their case in trying to interfere with others trying to earn a living and going about their business in a law abiding manner. After a few minutes I interrupted this man to ask him if he was a vegetarian. His response, while refreshingly honest, rather stunned me. `Oh, yes', he said proudly, `we all are; in fact, we have two carloads of vegans who have driven from interstate.'

Never once did I hear this reported. Never once did I hear the media mention how one of the leaders of this protest is already facing charges of breaking the law over sabotage of property of pig farmers and, similarly, for attacking chicken farms—all run by farmers lawfully trying to earn a living. And rarely was it reported how important this export trade from Portland is for the region. This same person is now facing charges of having tried to deliberately contaminate with pig meat the feed troughs of sheep in a nearby feedlot—something alleged to have occurred last November. Again, there was no mention of these prior charges.

I guess the obvious question is: is it okay for a vegetarian to feed meat to sheep and yet as a vegetarian express concern about the welfare of the sheep? Again, few seemed to notice the irony. But the Melbourne Age did, and put it succinctly in an editorial on 25 November which said:

... the irony of animal liberationists using dead animal flesh to taint live animals poses questions about what it is they stand for and whether or not feeding meat to herbivores is not in itself cruelty.

In case there is a misunderstanding that it is only extremists who actively oppose live exports, let me quickly dispel this: as well, some commercial interests are also beating the drum.

In an extraordinary but frank address to a seminar in Werribee earlier this year, Mr Roger Fletcher of Fletcher Meats told the gathering that live exports not only were holding back the processing industry but also were a threat to a farmer's viability, posed a disease risk, were a threat to the environment and created virtually no jobs for Australian communities. Mr Fletcher went on to imply that live animal exporters were avoiding taxes and did not have problems of payroll tax, superannuation, workers compensation, insurance and so on.

No-one would deny that Mr Fletcher is a very successful meatworks operator—but talk about dressing up self-interest with a coat of many colours! One thing he did not mention was that live exports are pushing stock prices higher than to his liking. He also did not mention that this might actually help farmers stay in business and he did not mention all the jobs that this creates—for example, 300 direct jobs just around Portland for a start. Just for good measure, Mr Fletcher had a solution to what he feels live exports are doing to his processing business—he wants a tax on live exports. As the old saying goes, when you see self-interest running in the race, back it because you can be sure it is trying. And what interesting bedmates: vegetarians and an abattoir owner!

As a wool grower, my message today is that, contrary to the grossly misleading case put by a very small minority, we have in live exports a major export industry generating in excess of $1 billion in export earnings and creating thousands of jobs in Australia. It is an industry that not only underpins wool growing but also opens up exciting new prospects from as far away as China and across to Mexico. Furthermore, the sheep and cattle exported are carefully selected, healthy, in good condition and are vaccinated against diseases. Veterinarians supervise this preparation. Once on the ship, the stock are well cared for; well fed; inspected daily by qualified stockmen; and they have sufficient room to move about freely. In fact, the sheep actually put on weight while being shipped—hardly a sign of a stressed animal.

In other words, when it comes to animal welfare, the stock are well cared for and, with the use of a sophisticated computer model in place for the loading of ships, together with a science based heat stress program, as part of the government's risk management initiative, the risks of losses at sea are low. It is no wonder that the Victorian Stock and Land newspaper ran a story in January this year headlined `Portland's record better than the rest'. This article pointed out that, during last winter, the loss of stock being exported from Portland was barely over one per cent, which is well below the industry standard setting of two per cent.

The conclusion of all this is that we have an industry that not only is worth a lot to many parts of regional Australia but also is certainly getting its act together—and, in my view, it must continue. But a small vocal group is doing its best, as Bernays put it, to control and regiment the masses without their knowing it. As I said earlier, Bernays wrote:

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group in mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.

This message is one that we really must be putting very firmly in front of the whole community, not just on this issue but on a number of others. The danger to the community is that if these people succeed other minorities will try to manipulate and control the majority, often to the detriment of the community. To give you another example of the way some of those people operate, Mr Deputy Speaker, there was an advertisement in the Sunday Age of 23 November 2003 headed `All we are saying is give sheep a chance', with a line at the bottom saying, `Ban live export.' It had a picture of an extremely sick animal of the sort that would never be put on a live sheep carrier. It would not even be considered for sending off the farm in that state.

In conclusion, I want to say that for the sake of the future livelihood of many farmers, shearers, truck drivers, port workers, stock agents and myriad others in the community, not to mention over $1 billion of export earnings, this trade must continue—not in an unfettered manner but in a responsible manner and free of unreasonable restrictions. Clearly, small and vocal minorities cannot be allowed to impose their prejudices. I call on my colleagues, the media and Australians from all walks of life to resist this pervasive and dangerous manipulation by the extremists to deliberately mislead the community with, in many cases, disgusting stunts. Their efforts to try and destroy the livelihoods of so many others trying to lawfully earn a living must be resisted and at no stage can they be allowed to succeed.