No quick fix in northern abattoirs

Haidee Vandenberghe with AAPCountryman
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The creation of northern abattoirs isn't a fix-all for Australia's cattle industry, according to Agriculture Minister Terry Redman.

With the cattle industry still reeling from Indonesia's announcement it would nearly halve the permits issued for live cattle come next year, the push is now on to create more diversified markets for pastoral cattle.

There is already a proposal for an abattoir at Darwin, the feasibility study for another at Broome has been completed and a Queensland Government taskforce is looking at building a new abattoir near Mt Isa.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said Indonesia's decision was a blow for some, making the investigation of a new northern abattoir more urgent.

"It does spur us on to ... continue the work we're doing to look at an abattoir at Cloncurry to give these producers the option of domestic production," she said.

"A facility could get quality Queensland beef to the domestic market in a more commercially viable way, diversifying the options for producers."

But moving the industry's reliance on live trade to boxed beef might not be the answer.

Cattle Council of Australia executive director David Inall said while competition in the market was good for producers, it would not replace live trade.

"If (producers) have alternatives other than just live export, if there are buyers out there looking at sourcing stock for a meatworks that is geographically close to the producer, then that is a good thing," he said.

"We support both trades and live trade and boxed meat work well together in many markets.

"(But) the challenges of running meatworks in northern Australia are significant. You need throughput of cattle 12 months a year, previous meatworks have often been seasonal in nature.

"There are difficulties in getting labour… the frequency of using shipping container trade, rather than using livestock trade, out of northern Australia isn't as regular as what they see out of central and southern Australia.

"I have been reliably advised 14 or 15 meatworks in northern Australia have closed down over the past 20 years."

Mr Redman said an immediate northern abattoir was not necessarily the answer.

"An abattoir may start small and evolve over time but the industry also needs to mature to have cattle fed on for slaughter," Mr Redman said.

"This is one of the reasons our Government is focussed on supporting pastoralists to diversify."

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