Live trade limbo

Andrew Probyn, Nick Butterly, Jayne Rickard and Kate MatthewsCountryman

Australia’s live export industry is in limbo after the Gillard Government moved to indefinitely suspend trade to Indonesia yesterday.

At the time of going to print on Tuesday, Countryman understood pastoralists and industry were being told of the decision in Darwin by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The $330 million trade has come under mounting pressure since Four Corners aired footage, on May 30, of cattle being cruelly slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig immediately banned exports to the 11 Indonesian abattoirs shown in the footage and launched an investigation.

But it did little to quell the public groundswell calling for a total ban of cattle exports to Indonesia and ultimately a ban on all live exports.

Meat and Livestock Australia, LiveCorp, Cattle Council of Australia and the Australian Livestock Exporters Council pitched a plan to limit cattle exports to 25 Indonesian abattoirs that met OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) animal welfare standards to Mr Ludwig on Monday.

The do-or-die plan for the industry, which was due to be put in place immediately, allowed for 40 per cent of cattle exports to leave Australian ports for Indonesia.

But it was superseded by the Gillard Government’s hardline measure when cattle from the Pilbara were prevented from boarding an Elders livestock carrier bound for Indonesia at Port Hedland on Monday.

“If they’re going to do that, give the industry some warning, don’t just ring up one morning and stop a ship loading, ” said WA pastoralist Lang Coppin, who had 200 cattle waiting to board the vessel.

“There’s a fair bit of logistics to get that to happen, to pull it up midstream. I think the industry deserves better treatment than that.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said people had been “rightly shocked” by the Four Corners footage and that the suspension would remain until Australia could be sure its cattle were treated properly “at every step of the supply chain”.

“We will be working closely with Indonesia, and with the industry, to make sure we can bring about major change to the way cattle are handled in these slaughterhouses,” she said.

The Indonesian ban is the first time Australia has halted the export of live animals to a country since the Howard Government stopped sheep shipments to Egypt in 2006 after revelations of animal cruelty.

The move also headed off a Labor backbench revolt, with at least 20 MPs demanding an immediate ban on live trade with Indonesia.

Several Labor MPs have been pushing for a complete ban on all live trade — including lucrative sheep shipments to the Middle East — within three years, with Federal Member for Fremantle Melissa Parke leading the charge.

Mr Ludwig said the suspension would hurt the industry, but on Tuesday night insisted the industry had to be “built on the ability to safeguard the welfare of animals”.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) president Rob Gillam said the suspension of exports would be devastating for northern Australia.

PGA spokesman Sheldon Mumby said the industry was hoping for a swift resolution.

“It is also unclear where it leaves the four ships that have already left and are on the way to Indonesia,” Mr Mumby said.

Mr Mumby also expressed concern about any possible ban by Indonesia on other Australian exports, such as wheat.

“We don’t want to see this turn into any further bans, because any ban would have drastic impacts on WA producers,” he said.

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