Australian Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has reopened live cattle trade to Indonesia on condition exporters are responsible for the welfare of stock sent for slaughter.
Although there have been no inspections of Indonesian abattoirs by Australian officials, Senator Ludwig said export permits would be issued only if exporters complied with a new system that ensured individual cattle were tracked and slaughtered under international standards.
The ban, which was imposed after evidence emerged of Australian cattle being treated brutally in Indonesian abattoirs, has devastated the $320 million a year industry and sparked tension with Australia’s nearest neighbour. Senator Ludwig’s decision means Australian exporters can now apply for export licences to start shipping stranded cattle to Indonesia if they meet strict conditions to track animal movements to ensure their humane treatment.
Cattle producers in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia have few other options for selling prime stock.
When we were there last year, Indonesia had changed the rules, reducing the weight of cattle which could be imported and that was putting huge pressure on station budgets.
The change was made because Indonesia wanted to increase domestic production to reduce its reliance on imports. The ban has added impetus to that:
The Indonesian government described the scrapping of the ban as ”great news”.
Deputy agriculture minister Bayu Krisnamurthi said Jakarta is now rethinking its reliance on live cattle imports in the wake of the ban.
He said Indonesia’s recent experiences with Australia show that depending on food imports is risky.
The ban cost Australia 10s of millions of dollars. If Indonesia does manage to increase its self-sufficiency it will have a major impact on Australia and northern cattle producers in particular.
Daytime temperatures never got lower than the mid 30s when we were in the Northern Territory and Northern Western Australia in August and we were very aware of the fire danger.
We were also conscious of humidity but the locals told us this was nothing, it was still the Dry and we wouldn’t know humidity until we’d been there in the Wet.
It was difficult for us to understand what somewhere so dry could be like in the wet. An average rainfall of 800mm ( a little more than 30 inches) is less than half as much again as North Otago’s, but it’s a lot when most of it falls from late November until March.
The stations we visited were geared for both the Wet and the Dry. Calving was timed to coincide with peak feed and allow most stock to be fattened and sold before the rains came. Most workers went away for summer with only a skeleton staff were kept on to look after stock which remained.
It seemed to be a very tough life to us and not just because of the climate. Katherine and Kununurra are thousands of kilometres away from reasonable population centres which could provide domestic markets so cattle was shipped live to Indonesia and exactly what they could sell was subject to changing whims of the government there. It had recently decided it wanted to be self-sufficient in beef in a few years and dropped the live weight of cattle it would accept. That was forcing the stations to rework their budgets and would have a significant negative effect on the bottom line.
But the people we spoke to loved it. They might go over to Queensland for a holiday during the wet but they were always happy to get back home.
They’ll be on holiday now, I hope it’s not in the area which has been flooded.
We often look in wonder, sometimes even envy, at our neighbours across the ditch but it’s not always the lucky country.
Australia was generous in its support for us after the Canterbury earthquake and during the Pike River mine disaster, now it’s our turn to help them.
Most of our banks are accepting donations. Red Cross is sending a team across to help and you can make an online donation here.