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Opinion: foreign minister blind to farmer despair

Opinion by Chris Back, Liberal Senator for WA, 28/02/2013

Liberal senator Chris BackTo rephrase Nero’s memorable lines, Canberra continues to fiddle while Australian farmers are burning.

While hundreds of Australian farmers and pastoralists are incurring savage losses with the sudden termination of the live animal exports, Senator Bob Carr claims he is unaware of any concerns.

In the February Senate estimates, I grilled Senator Carr with facts that sales of beef and live cattle into Indonesia have more than halved and the Western Australian sheep industry is on the point of collapse as a result of the decline in trade to most, if not all, of our Middle East customers—some 40 to 45 years in existence, with Kuwait for example.

The Foreign Minister’s response:

‘I will not respond. I am not aware of any concern from the industry. The promotion and marketing of the live export industry and the chilled meat trade is being carried out by Meat and Livestock Australia.’

This is unacceptable.

As the minister representing the trade minister in the Senate, Senator Carr should be well briefed in these matters. It is unacceptable that he is not aware of concerns of an industry on the brink of collapse.

Evidence of farmers’ despair is aplenty.

One quick internet search revealed more than 109 pages of media articles relating to the woes of Australian farmers who are watching their futures disappear following the ban on the livestock export trade.

One long-time farmer and friend is concerned for the mental health of his 27 year old son, who has spent his last six years building up a flock of rams bred specifically for export. In recent years, he sold 5000-6000 rams annually to the Saudi market at around $115 per head. This year he has cleared less than 600. He is not on his own.

This week small numbers of export-bred rams sold on the local market for around $30 a head. They are not wanted by butchers for the domestic trade. The remainder are unsaleable.

Feed is now running out in both the agricultural and pastoral areas. The prospect of shooting pregnant ewes and poor-conditioned and unsaleable animals is imminent.

It is an animal welfare disaster

Once actions such as these commence, there is no going back; and perfectly good, formerly viable operations are destroyed unnecessarily.

And another – a WA stud merino breeder reports the demand for his rams is fragile at best.

A ram breeder for 33 years, he bemoans there are no current contracts for his rams, and now he can either sell his flock at  the stock sales for $20 – $30 per ram, or hand feed them, hoping for a change in the export environment.

Last year, his rams fetched $90 – $105 dollars each.

The sheep meat market has collapsed in the absence of competition from the live export market.

Butchers are setting their own prices and producers claim the carcass gradings on lambs sent to the abattoirs are severe.

Last week some farmers trucked stock to Muchea which did not get a single bid. They were trucked home. Others transported stock to saleyards and got a bill for the cost of transport.

MLA officials constantly update Agriculture Minister Ludwig on the desperate state of the livestock export industries and the unfolding animal welfare disaster.

It is inconceivable that Senator Ludwig would not brief his Cabinet colleagues of this situation.

Agriculture and trade are inextricably linked. Senator Carr has a responsibility to know about such grave issues affecting his portfolio.

It sounds like he doesn’t care?

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