The chief minister of the Northern Territory has urged Senators investigating Australia’s live export industry to immediately drop “reckless” legislation that seeks to permanently ban Australia's live export trade.
NT chief minister Paul Henderson was one of several speakers involved in a Senate Rural and Regional Affairs committee hearing in Darwin today as part its inquiry into animal welfare standards in Australia’s live export industry.
The Senate committee heard from representatives of businesses and organisations at all levels of Australia’s live export industry, from livestock transporters and producers to live export industry leaders and the Northern Territory Government.
Among the Senators involved in today’s hearing were Greens Senator Rachel Siewert and independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who have both introduced draft bills to Parliament calling for a total ban on all live animal exports.
Mr Henderson told the 10 Senators on the inqury panel that the temporary ban had caused “the single biggest crisis” in the Northern Territory in his 12 years as a Parliamentarian.
He urged the Senators to recommend that the bills lodged by Senator Siewert and Senator Xenophon be immediately dropped.
There were many ways for politicians to debate an issue without introducing “reckless” legislation that sought to bankrupt hard working Australians and sent confusing and insulting messages to an important neighbour and major trading partner Indonesia, he said.
“We have got people on their knees right across the Northern Territory today trying to recover from this temporary ban that was put in place,” Mr Henderson said.
“The last thing they need is insult heaped on injury by our Federal Parliament even debating these bills.”
Senator Xenophon and Mr Henderson were among a group that visited Waterloo Station south west of Katherine yesterday. Mr Henderson said owner Emily Brett detailed a heart wrenching account of the financial and personal hardship her family had experienced since the June 7 ban wiped out their ability to sell cattle and earn income for the year.
Despite having no income, the Bretts had payroll commitments for a staff of 12 to meet every fortnight, and with every mail delivery received an ever-increasing number of bills that could not be paid.
“Imagine trying to run a business, trying to run your household when you’ve got bills coming in, mortgages to pay, and you don’t know where your next cheque is coming from.
“And to add insult to injury the Australian parliament is looking at legislation to permanently ban this trade and throw these people onto the scrapheap.”
Mr Henderson told the Senate committee he would formally write to Prime Minister Julia Gillard this afternoon asking her to provide the same level of cash assistance to businesses crippled by her Government’s ban that it provided to victims of Cyclone Yasi in Queensland in February. Assistance provided to businesses following the cyclone had included low interest loans of up to $250,000.
“$25,000 (the total amount of Federal assistance currently available to affected businesses) goes nowhere,” Mr Henderson said.
“That pays half the payroll for a fortnight.”
He also called for the formation of a strategic high-level management team to work with industry to ensure that small family owned operations had an equitable opportunity to get cattle into Indonesia on the remaining boats this year.
He said it was important that the big companies did not swallow up all of the early opportunities to market cattle.
“This is a cash flow crisis and there needs to be some equity in who gets what cattle onto ships going over to Indonesia to get some cash back into the system.”
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