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Broome hearing: Live export industry ‘cornerstone’ of north

by James Nason, 02 September 2011

The live export trade is the cornerstone of the northern cattle industry and without it there was little to no future for Kimberley and Pilbara producers, yesterday's Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Committee was told in Broome. 

The Senate inquiry into live exports yesterday travelled to far northern Western Australia where cattle producers, businesses and live exporters discussed the importance of the trade to the region and what a permanent ban would mean.  

David Stoate of Anna Plains Station said the industry played to the natural advantages of both Indonesia and Australia.

“We’re good at breeding cattle, and Indonesia with their ample supplies of low cost feed and cheap labour are good at finishing cattle," Mr Stoate said.

“Our produce represents an important source of protein in Indonesia, and we believe it would be irresponsible for Australia to turn its back on the trade, which provides important social, economic and environmental outcomes for both countries.”

A lot of discussion at yesterday's hearing focused on the issue of whether northern abattoirs could provide a viable alternative to the live export trade.

Kirsty Forshaw from Nita Downs Station, Broome, said it would not be economically viable to finish cattle for slaughter in many parts of the Kimberley.

"If we were to do slaughter cattle ourselves, which our country can or may not handle, we would probably have to keep those animals for about five years,” Mrs Forshaw said.

“Those numbers would build up, we only have so much land, we would have to reduce our breeder numbers.”

Haydn Sale, Yougawalla, Halls Creek, said he his business had endured a loss of $400,000 on one line of cattle alone when a sale contract fell through because of the ban to Indonesia – value he believed was unlikely to be seen again.

“I doubt whether they will ever be worth that again because that was a moment in time when there was confidence in the industry, there was feed, we had a good season,” Mr Sale said.

“I think what has gutted us so much is this was a year where we were going to go okay.

“There are a lot of years where we struggle, but this year we had good prices, good seasons, everything was looking for, and we just had our hearts torn out.”

Asked by a senator if shooting cattle to lighten numbers would be required, Mr Sale said it was a realistic possibility.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that you have to get rid of stock, because we run breeding enterprises.

“It’s not we can just make that choice of, oh, they can stay, you know, more are coming on, we can’t say okay girls, no having calves this year. They’re on the way.

“So only by fortunate circumstances we had a good wet last year, we had some ability to carry them, but if we don’t get a good wet this coming year, then it is going to be a disaster of epic proportions.”

Another Kimberley producer and Vietnam war veteran, who spoke about the significant advances that had been made to improve cattle welfare across the north, said he had been shocked by the way cattle producers were publicly portrayed during the live export ban.

“When this all happened I said to myself, well shit it is just another calamity for the beef industry, because I have seen a few of them over the years since the early 1970s,” he said.

“But I certainly didn’t like the way we were portrayed, I had a very similar feeling when I came back from Vietnam, it was as if no bastard wanted you.  I said it was a disgrace to the Australian Government and in many ways a disgrace to the Australian people.” 

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