Seven months after northern cattle producers had their world turned upside down by a Federal Government decision to close their major cattle market, the financial and emotional fallout from the decision continues to run deep.
The blanket ban left hundreds of businesses at all levels of the northern cattle industry unable to earn an income for more than two months during their busiest time of year.
Hard work and significant investments by exporters and importers to restore the trade to high-volume levels by September, combined with high prices as a result of the shortage of cattle available to Indonesia, helped to generate badly needed cash flow for many businesses in the final months of 2011.
However the returning sense of certainty generated by the rapid resumption of the trade was again rocked in early December when the Indonesian Government announced larger than expected cutbacks to import quotas from Australia for the next 12 months.
Northern Territory cattle producer Marie Muldoon from Midway Station in the heart of the Douglas Daly region told Beef Central yesterday the industry was desperately hoping for some better luck in 2012.
When the June 2011 ban was announced the Muldoons had 400 cattle in the paddock in front of their house ready for export to Indonesia. Thousands more cattle on other properties owned by Marie's family, the Underwoods, also had to be diverted to alternative and lower value markets when the ban took hold.
"We took a big hit on those animals," Mrs Muldoon said.
“We got a bit lucky in that we had a good season, and we did have additional pastures so we could handle the cattle, but it has really crucified a lot of families.
“It has had a huge impact, on a commercial level, on an emotional level, on so many different layers of business through the northern cattle industry.
“Just the uncertainty has been horrific, the fact that people didn’t have cash flow for a couple of months, that speaks volumes, and obviously would have hurt.
“My parents have been on the land for 60 odd years, it is just heart breaking to know that your government is part of the problem, you feel very let down.”
One positive generated by the ban and the associated media attention, she said, was the greater understanding it fostered of northern Australia among the general public and Australia’s parliamentarians.
The outlook for 2012 remains dominated by the Indonesian quota situation.
Mrs Muldoon said producers were hopeful that cutbacks would not occur to the degree that has been indicated by the Indonesian Government.
“What the Gillard Government did was very insulting I think to the Indonesians, so I don’t know whether that is retaliation or not, but all of our industry sources tell us it will sort itself out.
“The Indonesians have done this before, so we’re just hoping things will settle down and the cattle will keep flowing.
“At the end of the day their people are now used to eating meat and I don’t think they would be very happy if they couldn’t get it, so hopefully common sense will prevail.
“But looking ahead, I think people are very resilient in this industry, and very positive and very practical, and I think we are just hopeful it will be a really good year, and that we get a change of luck as well.”