The Federal Opposition is calling for agriculture minister Joe Ludwig to resign after weekend media reports claimed his decision to ban live cattle exports to Indonesia defied his own department’s advice to work with live cattle exporters to improve animal welfare standards.
However Minister Ludwig has rejected the claims, stating that the departmental advice referred to in media reports pre-dated the release of footage shown on Four Corners, which in turn changed the nature of the department's position on the issue.
The Weekend Australian reported on Saturday that departmental documents proved that Senator Ludwig was given advice to work with cattlemen several weeks before a controversial Four Corners program went to air, which showed animals being treated inhumanely in some Indonesian abattoirs.
The documents upon which the article was based were obtained by the Federal Opposition under the Freedom of Information Act.
Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald, the Coalition spokesman on Northern and Remote Australia,said the documents showed that Senator Ludwig ignored his own department’s advice to work with cattle producers and, instead, caved in to public pressure and banned all live cattle exports to Indonesia.
Senator McDonald said the briefing notes urged the Minister to only consider harsher action, including bans, if the industry’s animal welfare plan failed. They also showed that Departmental staff warned the Minister of major economic hardship for cattlemen across northern Australia if the trade was banned.
Minister Ludwig had no choice but to resign, Senator McDonald said.
“I’ve not long returned from a seven-day, 3500km driving trip through north and north-western Queensland and I can confirm that some cattlemen have been forced to leave the industry because of Sen. Ludwig’s actions,” said Senator Macdonald.
“Despite the Federal Government’s compensation package, permanent damage has been done to the livelihoods of hundreds of people involved in this important export industry and the ancillary industries that depend on its viability.
“A body blow has also been dealt to Australia’s hard-won reputation as a reliable trading partner."
However Minister Ludwig rejected the ciriticism, saying the departmental advice obtained in the FOI request pre-dated the release of footage on Four Corners that prompted his decision to temporarily suspend live exports to Indonesia.
“As the Department made clear yesterday in its evidence (in a senate estimates hearing), the advice released in the FOI was provided before the shocking footage from four corners had been provided," Mr Ludwig said.
"Obviously that footage seriously changed the nature of the advice.
“The decision to suspend the export of livestock for slaughter to Indonesia until new safeguards could be established for the trade was based on advice regarding available regulatory options provided to me by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.”
Departmental spokesperson Jo Evans told a Senate estimates hearing this week that the advice was to work with industry, provided there were no shortfalls in the industry’s approach.
Ms Evans told the hearing that the documents released under the FOI request were "a small subset" and did not reflect the full range of advice provided to the minister on live exports.
She added that the receipt of footage from Four Corners on May 30 'changed the landscape', and after its release the department identified a "series of continuing gaps and concerns" with the industry's welfare strategy.
"At that point, when we had become aware of the nature of the footage and the nature of the concerns in Indonesia, in our view, as the department, there were still really substantial gaps in the type of proposal that the industry was putting forward, and we advised the minister accordingly."
RELATED ARTICLE: Cattle exports to Indonesia growing fast