I had accumulated a large amount of information about live animal exports and the alternatives which are available in the form of chilled meat exports. Thanks to a very helpful lady at Animals Australia, I had so much information about the industry and the alternatives, that for a while I was a bit overwhelmed. I managed to read through all of the information, which included five pages of helpful information on structuring your MP meeting. I even typed up some notes, so that I had all the facts in the right order, along with the questions I should ask.
This morning dawned and I was all prepared. I hadn’t exactly memorised word for word what I wanted to say, but I had the basic ideas down pat. I had my folder full of helpful information, and I headed off for my appointment.
Luckily I had allowed plenty of time to get there, as I was stuck behind a huge slow-moving truck for most of the way, and then had to wait at the boom-gates for a train to pass. I still managed to arrive early, but a little bit frazzled. At least, I thought, I wouldn’t have to wait long.
Wrong. My MP was on the phone, I was told, and was having difficulty terminating the conversation. I only had to wait 15 minutes, but as I sat in the waiting room, I was reminded of waiting for the dentist, getting more and more nervous. I hoped that this appointment would be less painful.
It was, marginally.
From the moment he said, “What can I do for you?” I knew that my structured meeting was going to be tricky to maintain. It sounded so false to hear myself say that first I wanted to tell him I appreciated his efforts with the environment, particularly educating people about plastic pollution. Although this was true, we both knew why I was there, and I could tell that he was keen for me to get to the point and be gone.
I made my opening statement: that I was there to talk about live animal exports, but also to talk about alternatives – chilled meat exports. My structured meeting went out the window with his immediate response that the Indonesian poor don’t have refrigeration for chilled meat.
The focus of my research had been Middle East exports, where chilled meats are already beginning to replace live exports in some areas. I had also seen how New Zealand had ceased sending live sheep to such places and seen their export of processed lamb increase.
Although cattle are exported to Indonesia out of northern Australia, the journey time is much shorter than the journeys to the Middle East, where most of the on-board deaths occur. 4,000 sheep died of heat stress in one day in August last year on a ship bound for the Middle East. On average, 30,000 sheep die on voyages every year.
We have seen great atrocities once these animals reach their destination, but very few people stop to think about the suffering that these animals endure on the long arduous journey across the sea. I have likened these voyages to those of the slave ships of the 18th century. The conditions are similarly cramped, and fail to take into account the natural requirements of the beings involved.
I didn’t get to say any of that.
I was able to mention the report, which I found quite shocking, from a vet who worked on more than 50 voyages, but my MP was unmoved, unless I could provide company names, dates, and particular breaches of the regulations. I was not in a position to do this
My concern is that, if the animals are being exported according to “the regulations”, then the regulations are clearly inadequate, if so many sheep are still dying each year on these voyages, and if one voyage can kill 4,000 in one day.
We know that, to date, “the regulations” have also failed to ensure that animal welfare standards are met at their destination, as we discovered in Gaza in December last year.
One of the arguments put forward by my MP and others, has been that we are the only nation setting animal welfare standards for our exports, and if we were to pull out of the trade, other animals would suffer in their stead, as one of the many nations vying for this trade moved in, with little concern for their animals’ welfare. This argument might stand up to scrutiny if the animal welfare in the importing countries stood up to equal scrutiny. How many breaches of “the regulations” do we need to see, before we consider that they are not really effective?
My meeting wasn’t a total failure. I did get an assurance from my MP that, if I wished to forward him a proposal regarding the phasing out of live exports to the Middle East in favour of processed meat, he would pass it on to the relevant minister, who I told him I had trouble getting to speak to. My MP also offered to learn more about the trade to the Middle East, as he wasn’t as familiar with that issue as he was with cattle exports to Indonesia, which, as well as being vital to the poor Indonesians, he saw as vital to the cattle farmers as well.
However, I didn’t get the chance to say that I hoped that the rights of the animals would get equal consideration.
My allotted time was quickly up, and his next appointment was waiting to see him. As my MP and his assistant, who had been taking the minutes, tried to bring the meeting to a close, I protested about the late start, and searched my notes to ensure I had not overlooked anything important.
I felt like if I had taken a couple more minutes I might have been bodily thrown out the door, but as it was, the farewell was cordial.
It was only as I was driving out of the carpark that I realised that I still had in my possession the folder full of all the research information, which I had intended to hand to the MP, so had to turn around and drop it back with his receptionist, hoping he would actually get to read some of it, at least.
I was hoping that, now that the meeting was over, I would be able to relax, that the tension would disappear. Instead, I started beating myself up about what I could have, should have said. My only consolation has been that, in similar circumstances, I know that I have been harder on myself than anyone else would be, and that I usually overlook my successes, and focus on my failures.
I was reminded of a story which Cheryl Richardson told about the first workshop she gave. She had one bad review out of 100, but instead of focusing on the 99 good reviews, she focused on the one bad one, and then beat herself up about beating herself up. As I was writing this, I realised that I was in need of some extreme self care, just as Cheryl speaks about in her book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care.
I knew that I needed to look at my meeting the way that my angels would have.
I realised that, if my angels were looking at the meeting, they would have been very proud of me. They would have noticed that I was able to step out of my comfort zone to even make the appointment in the first place.
They would have seen that, rather than having a completely negative effect on my MP, I actually made him stop to consider the issues once again. He had not previously thought much about the shipments to the Middle East, and he may now do that. My angels would have known that the minister will now be receiving a proposal that he otherwise wouldn’t have done.
They would see that, regardless of any effect which my actions or words have had on the live animal export trade, they would have had an effect on me.
My comfort zone has widened. Instead of feeling like I’m waiting to see the dreaded dentist, prior to my next MP meeting I will feel like I am waiting to meet an old ….maybe not friend, but acquaintance, at least. I will be more confident, an old hand. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again.
I have expanded. I will never again be the person who has never had a meeting with my MP.
Today, my MP, perhaps tomorrow, the Prime Minister, a royal prince, or a famous singer.
I realise that we are all just people doing the best that we can in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, including MPs. No one of us has all the right answers, and no one of us can convince all of the others of our way of thinking.
However, evolution happens, and it starts with each one of us. We may not change the world immediately, but the world will change. If we want the world to evolve, we have to evolve ourselves, and that starts with stepping out of our comfort zones. In so doing, we create a new expanded comfort zone, for ourselves and our world.