Last year, the Four Corners investigation ‘A Bloody Business,’ exposed the barbaric treatment of Australian animals inside Indonesian abattoirs.  Complete with shocking images and video, the program sent the public and government into a frenzy, saw the trade temporarily frozen and knocked all other issues from the front pages.

Months later, ‘Sex Slavery’ exposed the cruel practices of Australian brothels and the mistreatment of the women they were importing from South East Asia.  Barely a word was mentioned following the airing of the report.

It seemed to me that as a nation we cared more for the suffering of animals than humans.

The Candy Club, exposed in 2011’s Four Corners report

This week, Four Corners aired ‘Another Bloody Business,’ which documented further mistreatment of Australian livestock, this time in Pakistan.  The report has predictably sent tremors through Canberra and the revelations have been described as ‘appalling,’ ‘cruel,’ ‘disgusting,’ and ‘extremely distressing,’ from the Prime Minister and cabinet all the way down to farmers and animal activist groups.

Once again though Australia has its priorities crooked.

As our national leaders beat their moral marching drums over the mistreatment of Australian livestock they fail dismally when the spotlight is focused back on them.

On Nauru the Australian government is taking part in its own appalling, cruel, disgusting and extremely distressing form of mistreatment.  Even worse than in Pakistan or Indonesia’s abattoirs, it is being applied to humans.  Even worse than that, humans who are asking for our protection from war, rape, violence and persecution.  So where is the outcry?

Detainees on Nauru

Up to 300 people from Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, living in makeshift tents, are reported to be on a hunger strike in Nauru after being told their claims for asylum will not be processed for at least six months.  Furthermore, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is unable or unwilling to say how long they will remain there.  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  With nothing to go on except the track record of Australian governments both Liberal and Labour, the latter must seem the most likely.  To wrestle the public’s attention away from dead sheep, fast horses and the US election, those in Nauru have had to advocate for themselves, creating a Facebook page.

Alongside the deportation of asylum seekers to Nauru and PNG the Gillard government is moving to excise the whole continent from the migration zone – a policy that was too radical for even John Howard’s government and one the current Immigration Minister described as hypocritical, illogical and a stain on the national character.  Soon, Australia will effectively disappear (along with the rights of asylum seekers) from the map for those who arrive by boat and are seeking protection in our ‘lucky country.’

The conditions on Nauru

How can it be that in such a supposedly developed country we can seemingly care more for the suffering of a boatload of sheep that we have sold, than for a boatload of people asking for out protection or of young women shipped here to be prostituted?  Are the lives of Australian cattle and sheep worth more than young Thai women or young Tamil men?

Do we need images to shock us into action – after all it worked for the sheep.  Do we need to see men crying from despair and uncertainty on Nauru as they swelter in the tropical heat?  Do we need to see prostituted women being beaten on CCTV to stir us into action?

I would hope not.

Most of all we need our leaders to do just that.  And with the same vigour and spirit of humanity for people as they apply to animals, so there does not need to be an outcry at all.