June 6, 2012
Cattle farmers are “outraged” over a $3 million federal assistance package for workers affected by a suspension of live exports to Indonesia, saying it will do little to help the nearly 7000 employed in the northern industry. Executive director of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Luke Bowen said the government funding “doesn’t even figure” and was just a drop in the ocean of what was needed to keep the industry afloat while a suspension remains. “We’re talking about a multi-million-dollar business here,” Mr Bowen told The Australian Online. “In the Northern Territory there are over 2000 people employed on wages on properties and around 3000-5000 employed in allied industries which have some involvement in servicing live cattle exports. It’s an outrage – that money doesn’t deal with all those people who are on the brink. “It’s no alternative to reopening the trade.” Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig this month announced a suspension of all live cattle exports to Indonesia for up to six months after footage emerged of Australian livestock being mistreated in the country’s abattoirs. Three weeks after the suspension was enforced, Senator Ludwig today announced a $3m funding package which includes payments for people who have lost their jobs as a result of the decision, and assistance for employees and small business owners who earn most of their income from the live cattle trade to Indonesia. The payments will be backdated to June 7, when the suspension took place, and will provide financial assistance to individuals for up to 13 weeks through Centrelink. Mr Ludwig said the period of assistance had no connection to when he expected the trade would reopen. “I am not going to speculate on that,” Senator Ludwig said. But Mr Bowen said the assistance was not enough and the focus should be on reopening the trade as soon as possible. “This whole thing has been managed abysmally and Indonesia has every right to be offended,” Mr Bowen said. “To suspend this trade overnight without any warning has left our relationship with Indonesia absolutely trashed and our Prime Minister and senior ministers need to get on a plane and get over there to work this thing out now – that’s what will help the industry.” Andrew Ogilvie from the Cattle Council of Australia said he was pleased the government had taken a first step in relation to assistance for those employed in the trade, but did not know if it would be enough. “The long term solution is to put the systems in place to resume the trade,” he said. Senator Ludwig said he recognised people were struggling due to the ban but did not want to speculate on when trade would resume. “Clearly I understand the decision to suspend has been tough for some in the industry but I know setting up safeguards is essential if there is to be an industry in the future,” he told ABC radio. “What I want to see is the trade recommence as quickly as possible and I want as part of this to see those people who are impacted in the short term be provided an income assistance package.” Senator Ludwig said the government was still in negotiations for Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to set up a $5 million contingency fund to help provide food and water to cattle which were earmarked for the Indonesia market. He said he was reluctant to force their hand, but challenged the peak body to “step up to the plate” and rollout the funding. “What I don’t want to do is get to a position of having to force them through a direction,” he said. “I think the MLA should take responsibility for this industry … they certainly have the ability to do this but as this point in time we are still in some of those negotiations.” But Senator Ludwig conceded today he would have to get the support of both houses of parliament to enforce the payment. “It is a disallowable instrument,” he said. Australian and Indonesian officials are trying to negotiate a resumption of the trade on the basis of World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare standards, to which both countries are signatories. Senator Ludwig said Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was involved in the negotiations, and would fly to Indonesia this week.