Shameless MPs ignore their consciences to follow the party line.
If last Thursday's vote in Federal Parliament on two bills to end live animal exports was a true indication, Australia has only two MPs - Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt - who do not support one of the cruellest trades this world has known.
This is, of course, not the case, which is why the view from the parliamentary gallery of these two men lodging their silent protest against live exports - while across the floor colleagues distracted their consciences with meaningless chatter - was a tragic one.
The sad nature of this spectacle was magnified by the sight of MPs from the ALP and Coalition, who have voiced their opposition to live export, forced to vote in line with party policy.
Only days before this vote, more than 20,000 Australians took to the streets to call on the government to ban live animal exports. Earlier, about 350,000 petition signatures had been lodged calling for a ban. As Parliament sat, 67,000 sheep were stranded for a ninth day in Port Adelaide on a broken-down live export vessel. Hundreds have died. Had this breakdown occurred in the Indian Ocean rather than the Spencer Gulf, thousands would have died.
A fortnight earlier I stood in slaughterhouses in Turkey observing sheep and cattle being shackled and hoisted by a rear leg into the air to have their throats cut while fully conscious.
Despite this practice clearly breaching base international standards, more than 500,000 animals have been exported to Turkey in the past 18 months.
Not content with already exporting live Australian animals to more than a dozen destinations where there are no laws to protect them from cruelty, exporters continue to seek new markets without concern for the consequences animals will face.
Five months earlier, I spent six consecutive nights in Indonesian slaughterhouses, witnessing Australian cattle being brutalised in the most terrible manner imaginable, with this treatment enabled through restraint boxes branded with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp logos. Never had the complicity and culpability of Australia's live trade in animal cruelty been more evident to the government and community.
MPs' ongoing defence that by ''being in the market'' it can improve animal welfare was fully exposed for what it is - public relations spin to maintain producer and government support. Nearly a decade of evidence reveals their willingness to supply animals to importing countries regardless of their treatment.
As the investigator documenting the treatment of exported animals in nine importing countries since 2003, I have witnessed the full extent of the collateral damage of this trade. Most of these countries are still to recognise their legal and ethical responsibilities to treat animals humanely. And why would they when Australia endorses a trade that causes the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands of animals during transportation annually?
But the damage doesn't stop there. The provision of millions of Australian animals for decades has reinforced local views that their cruel treatment of animals is acceptable.
To argue that this unethical trade should continue on the basis of profit is extremely offensive, but the argument also lacks economic validity. Live trade profit is insignificant compared with broader meat exports or with wheat, coal and even wine. Australia's sheep-meat exports to the Middle East last year were worth $114 million more than live sheep exports ($400 million against $286 million), revealing buyers' increasing willingness to take a chilled product. This market would increase if Australia did not provide live animals.
Australians will neither forgive nor forget the live export trade for its culpability in animal cruelty in Indonesia and other importing nations. The memory of one black steer from the Kimberley shaking violently in fear in an Indonesia abattoir while watching his mates slaughtered is indelibly imprinted in Australians' memories. The federal government's failure to mandate pre-slaughter stunning as a prerequisite for granting export permits on the reopening of the trade ensures that this black steer will not be the last to tremble in terror in foreseeing his own fate.
That the ALP and Coalition remain wedded to this cruel trade defies logic, economics and the wishes of most Australians. Most producers who send animals to the live trade already have the option of sending their animals to the domestic market.
The Wilkie bill, which would have phased out live export over three years, allowed for readjustments, including the opening of processing facilities in Australia's top end. That such a reasonable piece of legislation failed to win the support of either major party should rest heavily on the consciences of their powerbrokers.
Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has warned the live export industry that it is in danger of losing its ''social licence''. As far Australians are concerned, the industry was never granted one.
The ALP and the Coalition have underestimated the importance of animal welfare to Australians. Although the bills failed this time, their time will come. Those creatures, whose agony we witnessed, did not die in vain. More and more people are demanding compassionate treatment of species other than our own. Ultimately, even the forces of greed, indifference and ignorance will not silence them.
Lyn White is campaign director of Animals Australia.