Industry wounds still raw

Kate PollardCountryman

It's been 12 months since the northern cattle industry was struck a devastating blow - the broadcast of horrific images of Australian cattle being cruelly treated in Indonesia abattoirs and a subsequent ban on the trade.

What followed has been nothing short of a nightmare for the pastoralists and others along the supply chain as they came under intense public scrutiny and saw their livelihoods thrown into limbo.

And there is still a long way to go before they recover - financially, emotionally and mentally.

The Federal Government has spent time and money on senate inquiries, reports, the Bill Farmer review and told exporters they had to put in place the mandatory Export Supply Chain Assurance scheme.

After the trade suspension, the Government offered compensation and grants for those affected.

South East Asian Livestock Services manager Dean Ryan said the cost of regulating the trade for exporters had gone up 400 per cent in the past 12 months and at the same time sheep and cattle exports had dramatically dropped.

LiveCorp figures show Australia's live cattle exports fell 21 per cent between 2010 and 2011.

Demand from Indonesia, our biggest market, valued at $275.6 million, is down by a fifth.

In WA last year, 256,420 cattle were exported live, down 34 per cent on the previous year.

Animals Australia, one of the most vocal opponents of the trade, believes the live export industry was given a second chance, one it did not deserve.

They said the new regulatory framework was not protecting Australian cattle from abuse in Indonesian abattoirs.

In February they made a formal complaint to the Government with more damaging footage saying it was evidence Australia could not ensure the well-being of exported animals in importing countries.

They also said the footage revealed "the immoral nature of Australia's live exporters who continue to reap profits from animal cruelty".

After attempts to introduce bills into parliament failed last year, the animal welfare group is still calling on the public to lobby politicians.

While a cloud of uncertainty still looms over the future of the trade, there is hope, says Nita Downs pastoralist Kirsty Forshaw.

In the short-term, Mrs Forshaw said there was hope Indonesia would need more cattle and increase permit numbers this season.

In the long-term, she is hopeful a northern abattoir will get up off the ground as an option for cattle producers in the north. Besides the animal welfare benefits, it could provide more local indigenous employment and support local businesses.

As the gap between city and country grows every day, the live export debate has been a chance to explain what life on a station is life, how the market works and where food comes from.

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