Indonesian-Australian Meat Relations
Here is a topic which is relevant for Indolaysia right now: the politics of the Australian-Indonesian beef trade. It turns out that this is a really hot issue right now. Last month, Australia banned all exports of Australian cattle for slaughter to Indonesia out of animal welfare concerns. This came on the heels of reports that Australian cattle were being tortured in Indonesian abbatoirs. (NB: turn off the video, it’s not pleasant.) Today the Australian government allowed the resumption of cattle exports, and the Indonesian government has apparently promised to try to do better in terms of protecting animal welfare.
The interest group politics around this is interesting. On the Indonesian side, there remains an old nationalist economic impulse under the heading of Berdikari (a portmaneau of the Indonesian phrase for “Stand On Your Own Two Feet”) that is all too happy not to import Australian beef. Some Indonesians who care about such things are a bit peeved at the idea about being lectured by foreigners about the way they handle livestock. (It does not seem to be about halal slaughter techniques, it’s more about basic sloppiness and cutting corners in big and unregulated factory-style slaughterhouses.) On the other hand, Australian beef is really, really popular in Indonesia. If you go to a nice Western or Japanese restaurant, they will proudly include Australian beef on the menu (and it is the most expensive option).
On the Australian side, the beef industry lobbyists were furious at the government for banning exports. There’s something uniquely symbolic for Australians about the cattle industry here. (We have cowboys and ranches in the US, they have cattle stations.) The ban on exports to Indonesia was a big blow to the industry, and as you’d imagine, industry lobbyists painted this as being really difficult for small stations in the rural parts of the country. I have no idea if this is really true–if the US experience is any guide small ranchers comprise a very small part of the industry. At the same time, it appears to us that Australians are also very proud of the quality of Australian beef and the conditions under which cattle are raised. The main supporters of the export ban appear to have actually been animal rights groups and their allies in the Labour party. Which makes it interesting. The people who probably knew the cattle the best and had the most personally at stake in the animals’ welfare were by and large not the ones clamoring to look out for animal welfare in Indonesia.