“It was like the north stopped,” Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association chief executive officer Tracey Hayes says of the days and weeks that followed the Gillard Government’s June 2011 live export ban.
While the ban technically lasted for just four weeks from June 7 to July 8 in 2011, the reverberations went far beyond just 30 days on a calendar, she said.
In practical terms the ban stopped the trade for close to five months, based on the time it took for exporters to re-open supply chains under new export rules, to secure import permits, and for producers to get orders and to begin mustering again. While the first boat returned to Indonesia in early August, the trade did not return to significant volumes until November 2011.
The export control order issued on June 7, 2011, effectively stopped the entire northern cattle industry in its tracks, she said.
With access denied to the only viable market at the time, mustering programs were abandoned. Helicopters stayed on the ground. Road trains stopped moving, ships stood at anchor.
Income could not be earned but costs remained. Properties drew back to just mum and dad and the kids. Families could no longer afford the diesel they needed to power the generator to provide electricity to their homes. Some had no choice but to pull children out of boarding school.
With paddocks overstocked, producers trucked cattle to abattoirs thousands of kilometres south to avoid an animal welfare crisis at home, only to return less money for their cattle than what it cost to freight them.
Property values plummeted. Within months more than half the Territory was for sale. Producers suddenly found themselves in negative equity situations. No one knew how bad it was, because the Territory went for more than 12 months without recording a sale. No one knew where the bottom of the market was.
For some, businesses, the impact was terminal. For others, like a chronic disease, recovery remains a long way off, Tracey Hayes says.
While much of the focus of the ban has been on the financial hardship it created, the personal hardship has also been enormous, she said.
“They are trying to handle the enormous emotional stress of suddenly having this balance sheet erosion.
“Their cattle are worth nothing, their properties are worth nothing, there is no market for them.
“So all of the fundamentals of a business where things are underpinned or strength are all gone…”
“There is barely a business model that can withstand a business interruption of that magnitude without it causing major long term effects.”
In the midst of the fallout from the June 2011 ban, animal rights groups were heavily critical of the northern cattle industry for having become so reliant on a single market.
On that front the industry has experienced a massive turnaround.
In the past 12 months, export volumes to Indonesia have recovered, while demand has also increased significantly from other South East Asian markets including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. In another sign of growing market diversification for the industry, Australia is believed to be close to signing a protocol with China which will open a trade in feeder and slaughter cattle to that market.
NTCA president David Warriner, said the human and financial toll of the live export ban has been significant for many people across the broader Australian cattle industry.
The statement of claim filed yesterday says that at the time of making the second control order, Minister Ludwig knew that prohibiting live exports to Indonesia would create serious on-farm problems, cause loss of income and cash flow issues for producers and impact on investment in regional north Australia.
Mr Warriner said property values, assessed by the Valuer-General, crashed post ban placing great financial pressure on producers, their businesses and their families, as well as secondary and tertiary businesses and communities.
“The NTCA is looking to the future of this vibrant and important industry and hopes that a resolution of this claim will assist the industry and greater community in moving forward,” he said.
“These proceedings are not about objecting to a Government taking action against animal cruelty, it is about ensuring future Government decision making processes are appropriate.”