Station owners left high and dry


Like many of their fellow pastoralists, the Richardson family, who run Mt Florance station in the central Pilbara, were “appalled” by the Four Corners footage of cattle slaughter in Indonesia and “shocked” by the Federal Government’s decision to slap a ban on their livelihood.

They have their hopes pinned on the Government quickly re-opening the trade to Indonesian abattoirs that are doing the right thing.

Robyn, Tony and son Jamie run a mix of Charolais and Brahman cattle on the 105,000 hectare station that has been in the family for four generations.

They were due to start mustering in July and were hoping this year’s cattle sales would help them recover after a few dry seasons.

“Weaners, calves and anything that was sale stock was sold off last year to protect our breeding stock, so we expect numbers to be limited this year,” Robyn said.

“We are hoping we can still sell our Charolais stock into the southern market if it holds up. Our big concern is what the local market will do.

“Our Brahman cattle will have to be held over, because we usually try to put them on a boat.”

Robyn said live exporters had been offering more than $2 a kilogram and the family had anticipated, with fewer animals to sell, to make up some ground with higher prices on offer.

But she said that market had now been cut from under them.

“Trying to keep a cash flow going and not knowing what value you are going to be able to put on your animals is frightening,” she said.

“We have monthly costs that keep on rolling in — we can’t just sit here without an income.”

Robyn said it was difficult to know what impact the trade ban decision would have on cattle prices in the southern Australian market. However, she anticipated graziers who used to be content buying Brahman-type cattle to finish — knowing they could put them on boats — would not be buying.

“We will just have to hold stock. We are not going to sell animals for nothing and I sincerely hope someone will see some commonsense soon and we can get them back into Indonesia because it is a valid market — a valid trade — to facilities that are up to standard,” she said.

“If we had other markets (for these cattle) we would already being using them.”

The Richardsons would usually sell about 900 head of cattle in a ‘normal’ year.

Robyn said they did have feed available this season to carry extra numbers, but it was not something they could do indefinitely.

She said the family was incensed that the Four Corners program on which the Government made such a dramatic and disastrous decision was orchestrated and manipulated to target the cattle industry at the exact time it would have the biggest impact by grinding live trade to a halt.

“The program had no balance and resulted in a shoot first and ask questions later reaction from the Government,” she said.

“It had no perspective about how widespread cruelty was, no recognition of achievements in improving cattle handling and slaughter standards.

“It is so frightening that the Government has made a decision based on the outrage factor from such well-meaning people who can’t stand animals being hurt.”

Robyn and Tony said they were concerned that the longer the live export ban dragged on, the harder it would be for the northern cattle industry to regain the Indonesian market.

They said other countries would move stock in to take the place of Australian cattle and these would become entrenched.

Robyn said she did not know how compensation could be measured, but the Government would need to step in if the ban went on longer.

“We could be losing $300,000 or $400,000 income and we are only a small operation,” she said.

As for the State Government’s offer of rent rate relief, the Richardsons said it was a good thing if it was made easy but not if there were too many conditions like some other support programs in the past.

Robyn said she did not support a recommendation that Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) fund the feeding of cattle stranded in yards around Australia as a result of the export ban.

She said more thought should have been given to putting those cattle through the high standard abattoirs operating in Indonesia under supervision.

“Ongoing discussions with all players in the industry here and in Indonesia could have this situation resolved before any more cattle reach the abattoirs,” she said.

“We would like producers to get behind MLA, which has worked hard to improve conditions in our overseas markets.”

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