The first thing a Coalition Government will do if elected in September will be to travel to Indonesia to apologise for the Gillard Government’s 2011 cattle export ban, federal opposition leader Tony Abbott told journalists on Friday.
Speaking at the Tamworth saleyards, Mr Abbott said an incoming Coalition government would never commit the “kind of folly” the Gillard Government had been guilty of, particularly in respect of the
“arbitrary, capricious cancellation of the live cattle trade with Indonesia in panic at a television program”.
“This was a catastrophic decision – very bad for our relationship with Indonesia – disastrous for the cattle industry more generally,” Mr Abbott said.
“We would never make that kind of decision because the Coalition has rural Australia at its heart.”
Accusing the Gillard Government of damaging Australia’s relationship with Indonesia through “megaphone diplomacy”, Mr Abbott said he would make a priority of restoring the relationship.
“The first thing we’ll be doing is going to Indonesia and apologising for the way the current Government has handled this issue – mishandled this issue and letting the Indonesians know that we are confident that they are more than capable of dealing properly with Australia and also exporting to their country.”
He added he was confident that through building bridges with Jakarta, Australia could grow its cattle trade with Indonesia in future.
Mr Abbott said he did not accept suggestions the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System introduced to improve welfare protections for Australian animals in foreign markets was not working.
“Now, I’ve been to Indonesia, I’ve seen Indonesian abattoirs at work. I’ve been to abattoirs here in Australia and I can say on the evidence of my own experience that the standards being applied in those abattoirs in Indonesia were more or less identical to the standards being applied here in Australia.”
He said the live export trade provided an important source of meat in the diet of many Indonesians, particularly because refrigeration was not widely available throughout the country.
“You’ve got to have live cattle exports if you’re going to have a viable beef export trade to Indonesia.”
The opposition leader said rural Australia would be at ‘the heart’ of the decision making process under a Coalition Government, contrasting the Labor Cabinet in which no member lived outside a metropolitan area with the Shadow Cabinet, in which eight of 20 members lived outside metropolitan areas.
Mr Abbott said the coalition viewed agriculture as a sunrise industry. “Yes it’s an important part of our history, it’s been very important in setting the Australian ethos, but it’s going to be a very important part of our future as well.”
Mr Abbott’s comments in support of the live export trade were warmly greeted by Northern Territory primary industries minister Willem Westra van Holthe, who is travelling to Indonesia next week with Queensland agriculture minister John McVeigh in a bid to develop and strengthen trade relations.
Mr Westra van Holthe will then travel to Vietnam to meet with cattle industry stakeholders in that country.
“I welcome today’s news that Tony Abbott will apologise to the Indonesian Government over the live cattle ban, if elected Prime Minister in September.
“As a nation we must acknowledge the need to repair the relationship between our two countries.”
He said the northern pastoral industry had taken a beating in recent years but with real commitment Australia could re-engage existing markets and develop new foreign markets.
“The pastoral industry is a major part of the Northern Territory’s economy and stands as a pillar industry which many small businesses feed off.”