Senator Nigel Scullion talks to ABC News 24 on the mental health impact of live exports ban.
At least two Northern Australian pastoralists have committed suicide. And the news comes as Territory cattlemen lobby the Indonesian Government to cut its import cuts. Two Liberal senators say some people have taken their lives because of the impact of the live export ban:
Clip of Senator MacDonald: There have actually been two suicides directly associated with the financial failures as a consequence – as a consequence of the live cattle ban. Others we’re suspicious off. The Federal Government suspended trade last year after footage of animal cruelty was exposed? Where is the concern about the suicides that are happening directly, directly because of the actions of Senator Ludwig and the Greens political party.
The Greens say the senator’s comments are insulting and they care about people in the bush.
Members of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association are in Indonesia to lobby the Government to increase imports which have been cut by half since the ban. Many connected to the industry say the ban’s full effect is yet to hit and more are seeking help from health services. They’ve seen a dramatic increase in health issues, particularly in people who are suffering from depression, and clearly this is about having a pretty bleak financial future. But a rural financial counselling service, contracted by the Federal Government to help Territory graziers last year, says its services were cut when its six-month contract finished. It says there is no similar financial service available to cattlemen and it’s not surprised by the suicide reports. A lot of really, really large debt and so compounded with the live cattle export issue is going to take some time for us to be able to work with them to get them to anywhere near where they were before that issue arose. Representatives of the counseling service are meeting the Federal Government and are hopeful there is a chance they will be re-engaged to help the cattle industry. Senator Nigel Scullion says the impacts have been severe. For more, he joins me from the Parliament House studio in Canberra. Senator Scullion, welcome.
Farming is something of a tough gig and suicide has been a problem in that sector. What’s the evidence that these suicides are directly linked to the live export trade?
Well, there is no doubt that the health system and the health professionals whether I move right across the Northern Territory into the Barclay, across into the Gulf, all are indicating to me there are significant increase is mental health issues, depression and anxiety. It was a knee-jerk reaction that caused a huge amount of financial insecurity, and so it also has some very specific effects. Now we’re looking at a 350 kilo maximum limit into Indonesia, instead of 750,000 export, we’re 240,000 export and so suddenly you’re found without a market. I was sitting with a bloke under a truck a couple of weeks ago and he had the most magnificent barrels of Jarrah hay and he told me he has no market for them. Every day he gets up, mows the hey, got that finished, he knows is he losing money, but just doesn’t know what else to do. Those are the circumstances that are the most acute. They’re very, very tough people in this industry; but the circumstances at the moment clearly are the most acute that many of them and many of the families and communities have felt for some time. So that’s one example there.
Have you heard of any examples in terms of exporters themselves when it comes to the financial impacts of this?
Absolutely. I am speaking to the producers all the time and the families and they are beside themselves. This is very, very difficult. They just had themselves at a time where they could start making investments, borrowed moneys against the increase in property value because they had the market, this was a long-term secure market, and overnight that was killed, so they’re just struggling. I’m hearing from the producers all the time and just hearing them and talking to them, whether they are the cattle producer, or helicopter pilot or truck driver, or those who make the Jarrah grass to feed these animals, right across the board, they are in the most acute financial and emotional circumstances .And the trade has started again, but it’s nowhere near what it was; now it’s a fraction of what it was, and constantly threatened by a whole range of market-driven issues. Indonesia was our closest neighbour and greatest friend. Good relationships are based on trust. Indonesia was reliant as a sovereign nation on another sovereign nation for its principal supply of protein. We’ve now become a nation of sovereign risk. Of course, that relationship changes, we are now seeing them having a much better relationship with places like Brazil and South America, so in terms of the farming communities and the producers
themselves, they see all these things and the future is looking bleaker and bleaker, and that’s why where the Commonwealth can, they should ensure that they are investing in financial counselling services and counselling services right across that area.
So what’s happening with those counselling services now?
Well, the counselling services obviously are not designed to be in an environment where there is such a massive tidal wave of need and demand, and the services I speak to, in the counselling services but particularly in the front line medical services, they do their best. A lot of the counselling is done by doctors. Today is Are You OK Day. It will be tremendous for Territorians, but it is a good signal to send that you’ve got to watch your mates. That environment is so acute that the Commonwealth must look to ensuring that the resources that have been placed there for a normal need, that need has clearly increased and we need to increase the services to meet that demand. Is it the case that there was one particular telephone counselling service that was available but it was stopped pretty abruptly. Well, that, I understand, was for a short period of time and I don’t understand the details of the contractual nature of that particular service, but clearly the services that are there on the ground at the moment were designed for far less demand than there is now, and the Commonwealth need to do a review of those services and their needs and immediately fill the gap. After all, the Commonwealth has to take responsibility for the circumstances we’re looking at, at the moment. There are stats that suicide rate in the Territory is higher than the rest of Australia.
What do you put that down to?
There are a number of issues associated with that. We have an Indigenous population of 35%, and tragically cells of Indigenous suicide. We’re still trying to get our head around that as a nation about how we can ameliorate that issue, so that can contribute, and also in the Northern Territory, certainly outside of Darwin, relatively, these are simply country towns, so we’re very dependent on the bush, very dependent on agriculture. This is a very, very tough situation to be in and particularly as we’re subject to the various breezes and winds of the various jurisdictions, particularly ill breeze when it’s come to the recent decisions of this Commonwealth Government.
Nigel Scullion thanks for talking to us.
Of course if you are having problems, significant problems; you can call the regular services, including Lifeline.
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