Indonesian Ambassador’s direct exchange with gulf cattlemen

James Nason, in Qld's Gulf Country, 02/07/2013

Bob Katter, Indonesian ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, and northern Queensland cattlemen Russell Lethbridge and Barry Hughes in the Vanrook cattle yards.IT'S not every day that grassroots cattle producers get to cut through the political red tape and talk directly with the Indonesian government’s key representative in Australia, but such direct lines of communication were open on a unique tour of Queensland’s gulf country on Monday.

Indonesian ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema and his embassy colleagues Denny Lesmana and Ronny Rahman yesterday joined Katter Australia Party leaders Bob and Robbie Katter and Gulf region cattlemen Barry Hughes, Rob Atkinson and Russell Lethbridge on a helicopter tour of some of the Gulf region’s biggest cattle stations, including the Vanrook group of stations and Delta Downs near Karumba.

The tour is the latest example of how Gulf cattlemen, assisted by their local member of parliament Bob Katter, are endeavouring to rebuild relationships with Indonesia that were damaged when Australia suddenly cut its cattle supply to the region on welfare grounds in June 2011.

Mr Katter and the three Gulf cattlemen, who had helped to organise a beef crisis summit at Richmond in April, met with Mr Kesoema in Canberra in June and invited him to tour northern Australia’s cattle industry. 

The ambassador accepted the invitation and yesterday he and his colleagues experienced a comprehensive introduction to Queensland’s gulf country, sweeping in a fleet of R44 helicopters across a vibrant landscape of snaking tributaries, sun-baking crocs, and Brahman cattle stringing out across vast coastal plains and savannah land stretching from horizon to horizon.

They also toured South East Asian Livestock Services’ export facility near the mouth of the Norman River at Karumba, where a consignment of 2500 cattle is currently being assembled and prepared for shipping to Indonesia next week.

At the one million acre Delta Downs, which commands no less than 120km of coastal frontage to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Morr Morr Pastoral Co director and Carpentaria shire mayor Fred Pascoe explained to the ambassador that Gulf stations were specifically geared to supplying the Indonesian market, and were very eager to continue helping Indonesia to secure its food supply well into the future.

By virtue of their location close to the SEALS export yards at Karumba, he said the region's stations were uniquely able to provide a reliable supply of cattle to Indonesia throughout the wet season.

“We’re ideally set up for Karumba, and we have bred our cattle for the last 20 years specifically for the Indonesian market, but the live export ban pretty much brought us to our knees,” Mr Pascoe said.

Next door to Delta Downs is Vanrook station, which along with its adjoining sister stations, covers 2,644,274 acres, or an area 4.5 times larger than the ACT. The group of properties is also geared to live export and is currently running over 100,000 cattle including progeny.

Manager Neil Arnold said much now hinges on the timing of the forthcoming summer wet season.

Vanrook experienced one of its driest wet seasons in 91 years of records last summer. It is running more cattle than normal at this time of year because of the cutback in live export orders and the difficulty in finding grassfed or feedlot buyers further south in a supply-saturated environment.

Supplementary feeding costs will also soon begin to mount, as will the costs of having to transport cattle to alternate markets away from the live export market.

It normally costs less than $10 a head to deliver cattle to the export yards in Karumba from Vanrook, but will cost at least $70 plus to transport them to markets in Central Queensland, provided buyers can be found.

The Vanrook team is currently mustering dry cattle to make room for No.3 weaners coming through and turning off stock as quickly as possible to save what grass is remaining. 

“What feed we have got is short and sweet, but we haven’t got enough to hold us all the way through until it rains,” Mr Arnold said.

“If it doesn’t rain until early January like it did last year, it is not going to be much fun.”

Bob Katter, the federal member for the northern Queensland seat of Kennedy, said the cattle trade from northern Australia to Indonesia represented an industry of tremendous mutual benefit for both countries.

“The ambassador represents the fourth biggest country on earth, a surging economy, and we would hope that each year we would send a million head of cattle over there,” he said.

“(Australia) will get about $1000million out of that we hope, and we hope they will process that into leather and shoes and meat to eat and that would be a value in the international market place of about $4000m (for Indonesia).

“It is a trade of tremendous mutual benefit to us, but at the moment it is very very small.”

Mr Katter said he believed from discussions with prime minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Tony Abbot that both were very conscious of the damage that had been caused by the 2011 live export ban, and he said both had indicated to him that they were very keen to rebuild relationships with Indonesia.

Ambassador sees opportunities

Indonesian ambassador Kesoema said he appreciated the opportunity to visit northern Australia and said he saw great opportunities for the northern Australian cattle industry and Indonesia to work together in future.

“The two countries are very close to each other. We are a very different (but) we are very complementary, especially in this live cattle industry.

“We need more protein for our people, so we need to import more cattle from this area, and we have discussed with people from the cattle industry here and are ready to boost up the economic relations for the future

“As Mr Katter said, the live cattle export to Indonesia is not only to give beef product to Indonesia but also to give the extra benefit for the people like the skin which can be processed into shoes and bags and also other industries.”

He said there were three main options for economic collaboration in future.

“The first option is where we invite Australian investors to come to Indonesia and invest in in the industry, the farming there,” he said.

“The second one is Indonesian investors, they can come to Australia, perhaps they can buy lands or cattle stations and then operate here and then also to secure the supply into Indonesia.

“And then the third one is we make the joint venture. I think this is the best one, because in Indonesia we also have a lot of places that we can spatially dedicate for cattle industry.

Barry Hughes, who runs the North Head Cattle Company at Georgetown, said northern cattlemen were grateful for the opportunity to meet with the ambassador in northern Australia.

“To have the ambassador visit the north Australian beef industry is something that doesn’t drop into your lap on a daily basis,” he said.

He said the concept of joint ventures raised by the ambassador was something the Australian cattle industry should embrace.

“It represents a huge opportunity for the northern Australian beef industry to take a leading role in regarding an education process in terms of animal husbandry, but also the infrastructure joint venture side of it, in terms of furthering the skills base of people in Indonesia in regard to livestock feeding regimes, taking those cattle through a breeding program, basic animal husbandry in regard to animal production.

“There are just so many issues that Australia can get on the front foot and work with the Indonesian government on to take up the invitation that the ambassador has put forward this morning.”

  • See more reports, including Beef Central's exclusive interview with the Indonesian Ambassador tomorrow.  



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