"Forget compensation, just get the trade re-opened," was the angry response from 300 beef producers to Ag Minister Joe Ludwig during yesterday's live export forum in Mt Isa.
The Minister outlined the details of a $30 million dollar package announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin earlier in the day. Essentially two grants will be available: an immediate $5000 and a further grant of $20,000 for those who qualify.
Northern cattle producer Kelsey Neilson, chair of the Australians Supporting Beef Farmers group, said producers flatly rejected the assistance package saying they didn’t want compensation, just a recommencement of the trade.
“The audience explained to the Minister that the ban was costing businesses millions of dollars and that a $20,000 grant would do nothing to address the critical cashflow issue which has come about as a result of the Government’s decision,” Kelsey said.
One speaker from the floor pointed out that the money was identical to the category C disaster assistance program, and that the live export 'disaster' was not caused by nature, but was brought about by a government reacting to a group of 'powerful activists.'
“Minister Ludwig spoke about the importance of live exports to Indonesia and that it was his intention to reopen the trade as soon as possible. He kept repeating that he was working to quickly put in place a system that would ensure a supply chain assurance on traceability, transparency and auditing,” Kelsey said.
“Attendees, though, were strong in voicing their concerns that the government was not working quickly enough and that with Indonesian contract deadlines only 12 hours away, it became clear that Australia would not be trading in time for the new contracts effective today, July 1. This makes it almost certain that there will be at least a three-month lock-out of Australia from the Indonesian market,” Kelsey said.
The speaker panel (also including Queensland Ag Minister Tim Mulherin, MLA chairman Don Heatley and others) answered questions and responded to statements from the floor about the human and environmental costs of the ban and what producers were going to do with cattle they could no longer sell.
"Minister Ludwig would not agree to allowing the immediate re-commencement of export to accredited meatworks in Indonesia because of the perceived risk of ‘leakage’ from those facilities into other non-accredited abattoirs. He suggested this would pose too high a risk to the long term future of the industry," Kelsey said.
If there was a further issue with regard to animal rights in Indonesia it would spell the end of the industry altogether.
“The only risk of closure of the industry now or long term is the governments lack of conviction and courage to stand up for Australian families, to believe in the Australian peoples common sense and have the guts to not be controlled by the well-funded, manipulative activist groups,” Kelsey said.
Others in attendance presented Sen Ludwig with a range of questions and comments:
- One asked whether Australia’s National Livestock Identification System provided the required transparency, given that MLA had indicated that Indonesian operators could be supplied with scanners virtually overnight.
- Another asked what would now happen to cattle caught in limbo, having now gone past the 350kg Indonesian weight limit due to weightgain, given that producers could not afford the transport costs to send those animals south for slaughter.
- Another raised the potential for unintended overstocking, as the compound effect of the next round of calves hitting the ground had on stocking rates, in a bottleneck market. In this sense, an animal welfare issue in Indonesia could quickly turn into an animal welfare issue in Australia.
- Another said that with reports of plans for 25 abattoirs meeting OIE standards being approved within days, why couldn’t export to feedlots be re-activated, given that at least 90-120 days would lapse before they were ready for slaughter.
Northern gulf country beef producer Kylie Braes said the $5000 immediate compensation and additional $20,000 on offer for expenses was an insult to the cattle industry.
“It costs us $5000 in manpower and helicopter mustering fees for one-day’s mustering in a single paddock in the gulf,” she said.
“We’ve already spent that money getting cattle in the yards before Prime Minister Gillard imposed the ban. I walked away disheartened because I realised today, more than ever, that we are witnessing a severe injustice committed by our own government.”
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