I rise, sadly, to speak about a situation that certainly two months ago no-one would have possibly thought was going happening. It was at the end of the wet—it has been a very long wet—and people were very keen to get out on the properties, starting to do those things that make a business, and that is move cattle off the place, provide an invoice and actually get some funds back in the system, because they have not had a pay cheque since October.
This has been a fantastic industry. Over the last 20 years they have gone through some major changes. They have actually changed even the breed of the cattle. Instead of having shorthorns that, although they were doing well, it was a bit of a struggle—it was very hard to get into markets and it was a long distance away. With the innovation of Australians, they changed the animal they grew. They went to Bos indicus—a brahman zebu breed—and they have bred to the country since then. Trucking companies sprang up to support the industry. Ships decided that Darwin was a major port. They developed the trade overseas, particularly into Indonesia and the Philippines. They developed feedlots. They have gone through processes of developing feedlots that met the very highest standards, trucks that carted cattle at the very highest standards and ships that did the same.
That was not always the case. I can recall times when there was a lot of concern about the distances that cattle had to go and trying to keep that in sync with the responsibilities at the same time of ensuring that the driver had enough sleep. It was a very difficult process. We developed wet markets. We developed transport chains. I am talking about little trucks and little buses that go throughout the Indonesian archipelago taking Australian beef to very small markets. None of that was around 20 years ago. This is a massive amount of infrastructure. The feedlots require fodder and that fodder is grown by over a million people involved in the industry producing that fodder. The feedlots directly involve about 8,000 personnel. That is 8,000 families in Indonesia that depend very much on this trade.
We also have a growing appetite and a growing market for Australian beef. In fact, if every Indonesian simply ate one kilo more of beef every year, it would increase by almost double the current export levels. It is a market that has a huge future.
It is a truly international industry partnership. This is where we have industry in Indonesia, Indonesian businessman, who are in joint ventures in many cases in the development of this industry with Australia. It is truly an international industry.
Sadly, that changed pretty quickly. We had the Four Corners report, images which I think most of us now acknowledge were selected to provide what we all know now is an unbalanced story. Everybody said and I will say it again—any of the things that we saw are unconscionable and they should never happen again not only to Australian cattle but to all cattle. But then we had not cyclone, not a pestilence or some major disease that can ravage industries like this; we did not even have an act of God—we had an act of Gillard! She should have just continued to listen to Minister Ludwig when he said, ‘We will close 11 of the abattoirs because we know those are the sorts of places that we don’t want Australian cattle to go. It sent a clear signal. The industry straight away ensured that they were not going to go to those abattoirs and in fact started discussions across the divide to ensure that all the Australian cattle throughout the chain were going to go through and assurance process to ensure that these sorts of things did not happen again.
This closure seems to have gone forever. It has been a few weeks but in terms of the impact on industry, since I have lived in the Northern Territory—a very long time, since 1984—I have never seen the like of this. I have never seen the like of the impact on the communities. Up and down the track particularly we have almost all the businesses, whether you are Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs or parts of Darwin, dependent on the industry. I have been a bit surprised about how many businesses, whether they sell cars, parts, food to the stations, whatever it is, everybody has been impacted. It has had an absolutely enormous impact right across the divide. Some have told me that it has impacted on people in such a way that if they knew that this business was over and they were not able to cart cattle until next year they would be better off. They would be better off because they would actually have a clear vision of the environment in which they were operating. They would know they have to get another job, close down the station, sack people and make some decisions. But the environment at the moment has absolutely no clarity whatsoever.
The minister again today stood up and rolled out the normal garbage: ‘Not a day longer; let me make this clear.’ Industry need more than that. They need some security because there is only one thing that is consistent across this industry and across these businesses—whether you are a worker, an Aboriginal stockman or you own the station—and that is that the banks are relentlessly pursuing you to ensure that those relationships with the bank are held up. It is not only about those immediacies and them suddenly saying there is going to be a foreclosure. They are not the issues we are concerned about. It is having a default on a loan and then because of the default on a loan or an overdraft your interest rate goes up by two per cent. So what was today almost bloody impossible tomorrow becomes unfathomable, thus the stress levels of knowing you are mortgaged to a certain position, knowing you could probably hold out in a tough year but suddenly you know that there will likely be no income for at least another month. What the minister needs to clearly understand is this is not an industry where you can ring a bell or blow a whistle and suddenly it can all start again.
The one fundamental part of this that those on the other side may not have noticed is that we have to ship the cattle. If you check the ports out, there are no ships. Those workers have had to go and get another job; they cannot just sit around. It costs you $150,000 a day to hold these boats there. We are going to pay huge, obscene amounts of demurrage. That is why we want to try to avoid paying demurrage—no-one can afford to pay it. The ships have gone to ply their trade, a dedicated trade, in other parts of the world. What will they be doing? They will be carrying cattle to markets with the most demand. Unsurprisingly, that market has just been created in Indonesia by this government. There are no cattle flowing to Indonesia. The Indonesian market demand is around 300 tonnes a day. It is not getting filled and that is creating demand in a market we cannot get entry to due to our own decision, but other countries can get entry to it.
One of the things that really hurts me as a Territorian when I move around these properties is when you get some of the people who have only just got access to their own properties—our First Australians, the Aboriginal people who own the properties. There are six in Queensland, 55 in the Northern Territory and 22 in the Kimberley. It was not on the back of Kidman that the industry was built. The industry was built on the back of Aboriginal stockmen. They knew the country. They knew where the water was. They did not need a five-star hotel. They needed a horse and a swag and not much else. They are the ones that built the industry and now they are actually getting something back. They have their own land and governments have encouraged the return of land. They have their land. They have herds. They are getting going. They are employed—and suddenly this. You can insure against an act of God, but clearly you cannot insure against an act of Gillard. Again, they have been completely and utterly crushed. There is no future.
No-one has made a decision that it is going to be five days out, 12 days out, 20 days out or a month out. There have to be business decisions about whether you keep people on, whether you lease another truck, whether you build yards or, in some cases, whether you can buy diesel to ensure that you can water the cattle. Imagine the fear of not being able to afford to keep your animals alive. This is going to be an absolute catastrophe in economic, social and animal welfare terms and this catastrophe was brought on this government by our own Prime Minister.
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110706 Matter of Public Importance – Live animal exports.pdf