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Friday, August 12, 2011

"How do you sleep at night?" How minister Ludwig coped

Centrelink telephone operators answered calls to the department of agriculture and letters of complaint to minister Joe Ludwig went unanswered in frenzied attempts to deal with an outpouring of public concern in the wake of the Four Corners program on live animal exports aired on May 30.

Freedom of Information documents released to The Age suggest each one of the 500 complaints sent to the department or minister in the four days after the program wanted live exports banned or suspended.

“People working at the department must find it hard to face their children at the end of the working day,” said one website comment sent within minutes of the program going to air. “Do you pretend you work elsewhere? Do you say it’s not your fault?”

A letter received by the minister two days after the program said the writer had had trouble sleeping.

Another read: “I grew up on sheep and cattle stations, and was killing my own meat the age of 14, but I have no stomach for the collection of various tortures I have witnessed inflicted upon the species bred by us, to sustain us. You want to hope there is no animal-sympathetic entity to which we will all, one day, become accountable.”

The documents show the department adopted a triage system of responding to complaints, deciding not to respond to the 80 per cent of messages it dismissed as “standard campaign mail”.

Where the text of one email was identical to another only the “originator” received a response. Hundreds of others did not.

Letters from people identified as special - “MPs, industry associations, famous/important people etc.”... were given red carpet treatment, receiving individually-tailored replies.

Other members of the public received identical replies regardless of the content of their complaints.

The first draft opened by saying the government “shares community concerns”. The final draft was strengthened to say anyone who had seen footage “would have been shocked”.

Within a day of the program going to air the department diverted its inquiry line to Centrelink, where call centre staff answered as if they were from the department and used a preprepared script to tell callers their concerns would be noted.

The documents released to The Age provide no indication of the way in which the concerns were noted. The department released to The Age a representative sample of 20 of the 500 letters of complaint.

Asked whether it was right not to reply to form letters but to use form letters and Centrelink call centre operators in its own replies to members of the public the minister’s office told The Age he took community views seriously and had worked hard to ensure they were properly responded to.

Published in today's SMH and Age



How do you sleep at night?

What we said

“I truly do wonder how you sleep at night knowing that you work for a government that allows millions of innocent animals to be tied down and tortured before being slaughtered.”

Tuesday May 31


“All of the people working at the department of agriculture, fisheries and forestry must find it hard to face their children at the end of the working day. Do you pretend you work elsewhere? Do you say it’s not your fault?”

Monday May 30


“Minister I trust your dept’s website is under gridlock as a result of your inaction over the last 10 years. To see the suffering that those animals went through on 4 corners using Aust government approved (and probably funded) installations is beyond belief.”

Tuesday May 31

“I am sick to my very core on what I have seen on the program. As a developed society with values on cruelty to animals we can not let these practises continue.”

Tuesday May 31


“I grew up on sheep and cattle stations and was killing my own meat the age of 14, but I have no stomach for the collection of various tortures I have witnessed inflicted upon the species bred by us, to sustain us. You want to hope there is no animal-sympathetic entity to which we will all, one day, become accountable.”

Tuesday May 31

Correspondence to the department of agriculture, fisheries and forestry released to The Age under freedom of information act.

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