Animal Protection > AR Interviews


Meeting Dr John Auty recently at an inner-city Melbourne café he makes it abundantly clear in the opening sentence that he is not a vegan. He is not an animal rights person. He is a retired scientist who is sick and tired of science abusing its rights and privileges. He is for Social Justice.

So much so Dr Auty came out of retirement to speak out against the Live Export Trade debacle now currently raging in Australia. It all started with 3 years of hard work from organisations such as Animals Australia and PACAT (People Against Cruelty in Animal Transport) that Sixty Minutes reporter Richard Carleton reported on. They presented their footage on the Live Exports scandal and it aired on Channel Nine in early September.

The Sixty Minutes program featured Fremantle veterinarian Tony Hill, who claimed that despite up to 2000 sheep dying on a voyage he accompanied two years ago, he was forced by the captain of the ship to report only 105 deaths.

Animal activists from around Australia rallied at the Portland docks. Appalled by the news that 53,000 sheep adrift on a ship in the Persian Gulf without a destination – on a journey in which 4000 had already died – the protesters were trying to prevent the loading of another shipload of livestock bound for the Middle East.

Before a spokesperson for Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss had time to down-play the issue, news hit the headlines that the 53,000 sheep on Australia's "ship of shame", the Cormo Express, are likely to be slaughtered at sea and dumped overboard. Public outrage has been positively in favor of the animals ever since. It sends a clear message to the government that the cruel Live Export Trade will not be tolerated.

Hilda Egan lives only two kilometers from the Kobo Feed Lot on a Cape Nelson property. She drove to the blockade to support the protesters. "Because I live so close to the feedlot, I see the trucks driving past packed with sheep, sometimes with their limbs hanging out the sides," she says. "It is so poorly regulated; nobody seems to want to accept responsibility for making sure the animals' welfare is looked after…".

Dr John Auty took it one step further. "Fundamentally, the industry gets into trouble because it does stupid things". "They are always trying to cut corners; it is the nature of the business. For example, they said they vaccinate all the sheep they send for export. I have heard claims that some operators vaccinated 10,000 sheep a day. One extreme case I heard was that 60,000 sheep loads were vaccinated in one day". "Operating at that speed they are going to miss some. Is it any wonder that shiploads are turning up and being rejected because they are diseased?'

In 1981, John Auty was a vet working for what was then known as the Federal Department of Primary Industry. It was the beginning of the live export trade and he had the title of assistant director of the Bureau of Animal Health. "I have always said that the industry needed two things to succeed. Firstly you need to treat every animal as an individual. That doesn't mean you have to hold each one by the hand; what it means is, if you see one with its head drooping, you need to find out why. There must be meticulous attention to detail". "The second thing was you needed to have a vet on every ship. The industry fought against that from the beginning. All they thought about was money".

Auty has reached the conclusion that live exports should be banned. He says he and another vet from Sydney will move a motion to the effect at the annual general meeting of the Australian Veterinary Association next year. He said he believed the argument that a ban on live exports would reduce farmers income was false. "Most of the sheep exported are fine wool Merinos. With the wool shortage and prices high, if farmers keep them an extra year or two, they would make up the price difference there".

Since the death of his wife Dr Auty has joined all the inner-city gays, bohemians and rich folk that populate Melbourne's inner city. He muses that Laurie Levy's Duck Rescue campaign is the only really successful large pro-animal campaign that has succeeded against the odds and stayed that way. "With all due respect to Laurie" Auty says "he is a fanatic. He's there for the justice of it". These birds are sitting on the wetlands for over 8 months of the year and then one morning (3rd weekend of March) they get the hell shot out of them for human recreational pleasure". Back in 1985, when Dr Auty found out about the campaign he said to Laurie Levy " You cannot go and rescue these ducks unless you give them veterinarian attention otherwise you'll be accused of cruelty by the shooters". That was at the beginning. " I went down and run a clinic for him for the first few years. On the first weekend I treated 208 wounded birds which were rescued. This meant there were several thousand more out there that weren't being rescued. That was the measure of the problem".

Dr Auty has worked within government agencies. He knows how these things work and he waited for the reaction. By the time the governments PR people got motivated the horse had bolted. "You couldn't keep this one back". Laurie Levy received enormous media coverage and the community was on his side. "All you have to do is damage to the bigger image". "As far as I know," Auty says "they {the government} did nothing until it was too late". In the seventeen years that duck rescue has been running its gone from 95,000 shooters and the turnover from the munitions people, to last year actually outnumbering the shooters on opening morning.

Here's the punch. Auty is convinced that when you look at all the other animal programs being worked at you find that they were successful for a little while but slowly people go off on other things, other tangents. "Levy's genius is he always knew he had to stay with it". The Norwegians and the Japanese are still cruelty killing the whales even though this was stopped for a time. Auty provides Australian Duck Rescue as the crème a la crème example of all animal campaigns ever waged in this country and abroad.

What about the kangaroo? Auty is a Peace activist. He is an anti-imperialist and is thoroughly against kangaroo cruelty. He thinks Broken Hill should live and let live on eco-tourism. "What is needed with the kangaroo issue is exactly what Laurie has done with the duck shooting issue. What he did is this. "On the basis of my thinking about the Duck campaign it is all about Injustice. The ducks are in trouble. Something has to be done. Run a campaign and base it along these principle".

"The only reason kangaroos are shot commercially is because their skins can be sold for specialist leather activities. Kangaroo leather is used because it is cheap. It's pre-good. This means that the kangaroos in the Outback are raising themselves. "It's like somebody coming to you with a farm and saying I have 10,000 sheep here and they are all yours". There is no overdraft and there are no overheads. All you have to do is skim off the top.

Auty suggests to win the kangaroo campaign is to go straight for the throat. "Target the shoe manufacturers who are using kangaroo leather for reasons best known to themselves". "What the kangaroo activists have to say is: If there is no leather, there is no meat. If you can do this one thing then the Industry dies and so is its predicated cruelty".

On the day I met Dr John Auty he was off to meeting with his veterinary colleagues "and I hope I get out alive" he throws my way. "Veterinarians might as well call themselves glorified veterinary shopkeepers these days". True to his word, Dr John Auty does indeed stand up for social justice issues whatever the cost and wherever the need.

Interviewed by Claudette Vaughan