This weekend marks the 10 year anniversary of the ABC’s Four Corners documentary on live cattle that devastated many people and businesses in Central Queensland.
The documentary uncovered shocking mistreatment of cattle, exported from Australia to Indonesia. The animal cruelty was from a limited number of rudimentary abattoirs, none of which were the direct responsibility of the Australian cattle industry.
The then Labor government made the correct decision first. It banned Australian cattle being exported to the facilities identified in the documentary. However, it then buckled to a rampant pressure campaign and shut down the live cattle trade to Indonesia overnight.
Within weeks cattle prices crashed and many producers had no market to sell their cattle. A drought meant some had no choice but to cull their own herd. The impact was felt right through Australia, even for cattle producers in southern Australia who would never send cattle to Indonesia. Thousands of other jackeroos, truck drivers and helicopter pilots lost their jobs from a knee-jerk government reaction.
The Labor government’s response to a backlash created another backlash as the sympathy of Australians turned to those Labor had put out of a job, and the family farmers who were at their wits’ end through no fault of their own. The ban only lasted a month, the trade to Indonesia was restored and the market has gone from strength from strength since.
Cattle prices are now double what they were after the trade was banned 10 years ago.
The impact of these price increases were clear to see at the most successful Beef Week ever in Rockhampton a few weeks ago. I have never seen Rocky busier. There were a record 115,000 people through the gate and 63 tonnes of beef eaten - or about 250,000 steaks - working out at an average of just over two steaks per person. I might have batted above the average.
A big congratulations to Bryce Camm, Ian Mill and the whole Beef Australia team for their wonderful efforts organising such a world class event, even if the world couldn’t come this time thanks to coronavirus.
If there is a silver lining from the live cattle ban fiasco, it is that it reminded us all how important the beef industry is. You only miss something when it is gone, and boy did we miss the live cattle trade. No government will ban such a large part of the beef market like that again.
One reason that won’t happen is because some determined cattle producers - led by the Northern Territory Cattle Association CEO, Tracey Hayes - won a court case last year against the decision. They fought for almost a decade for justice. Finally the judge ruled last year that the then Labor government acted in ‘misfeasance of public office’. A rare charge that allows those affected by a government decision to be compensated for their losses.
There was a time last year when it looked like the government would challenge this decision, delaying justice for cattle producers. Myself and other Nationals senators lobbied hard against a challenge and eventually the government agreed with us. Something like $500 million will now be paid to cattle producers amounting to a huge injection of capital into the industry.
Such an injection comes at the right time as producers look to expand production in response to the higher demand and prices for our high quality beef. The beef industry is in such a strong position now that it would take more than a TV program to knock it off course. That is great news for us who live in and around the beef capital.