FORMER Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has blasted the Abbott government for “talking big” on trade and live animal exports to Indonesia but “found wanting”.
The Queensland Senator was minister in the previous Labor government when trade to Indonesia was dramatically halted in mid-2011 due to animal welfare concerns.
This week however, he questioned why Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – one of the Coalition’s most vocal critics of Labor’s damaging decision to suspend the live cattle to Indonesia at peak trading season – hadn’t visited Jakarta in this term of government.
Senator Ludwig said a recent agricultural trade mission to Indonesia by ministers from the NT and Queensland governments had exposed the government’s trade credentials as “hollow”.
He said the trade mission led by the two state ministers to advocate for Northern Australia agriculture was the first visit to Indonesian by any Australian minister since the reinstatement of Australia‘s ambassador in Jakarta earlier this year.
Senator Ludwig said Indonesia’s recent move to only announce a quota of 50,000 head of live cattle imports for this year’s third quarter - down from 250,000 in the same period last year - represented a significant reduction in previous import quotas.
He said as a former Minister for Agriculture, he understood, “more than most” the importance of strong relations with Indonesia for the benefit of agricultural exports and particularly the live cattle market.
"Despite talking big about the potential for Northern Australia and agricultural exports Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have been found wanting when it comes to fighting for Australia,” he said.
"Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have done nothing to fight for our live cattle exports into Indonesia since this new low quota was released.
“They haven't visited Indonesia and from all reports they haven't picked up the phone.
“I commend the NT and Queensland governments for doing what Tony Abbott is unable - to work across party lines and fight for the best interests of Northern Australia.
"Agriculture and our trade exports deserve better than Tony Abbott's shallow mindedness.
“While Tony Abbott is stuck in the past, other jurisdictions are getting on with the job.”
Senator Ludwig said the live export trade was “a serious business that supports hundreds of jobs”.
He said the Abbott government would try and play “the politics of the past on this issue but I think we've all moved on”.
“The Labor Party supports live cattle exports strongly as a driver of jobs and investment, especially in Queensland,” he said.
“Labor delivered a reform to the market that even Barnaby Joyce has maintained - putting animal welfare at the centre of the trade.
"I copped a lot of personal political heat to see the live cattle trade reformed.
“I can't stand by and see Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce stuff it up with simplistic three word slogans.
"I call on the government to roll up their sleeves and do something, just like the NT and Queensland governments have done."
But a spokesperson for Minister Joyce said Senator Ludwig’s criticism was “astounding” considering it was his decision to close down the live export trade in 2011.
“Senator Ludwig almost single-handedly destroyed the live export sector; he never understood the sector then and it’s clear neither he nor Labor understand the sector any better today,” the spokesperson said.
“The proof of this government’s success is clear from the volumes of live cattle exported to Indonesia over the last two years as well as the dramatic improvement in prices our producers are receiving.
“There was a 112 per cent increase in exports in our first year in office compared with Labor’s last year in office – from 307,320 head to 652,355 head of cattle.
“And in the last 11 months - September 2014 to August 2015 - we have exported 674,509 head; a 119pc increase on the 307,320 head of cattle exported in Labor’s final year in office.
“The price of a live steer ex-Darwin has increased from $1.60 per kilo in the final months of the former Labor Government to now be $2.65 per kilo, a 65pc increase.”
The spokesperson said the Indonesian government’s recent decision to reduce imports was part of its long-term and well known plan to become more food secure through self-sufficiency; an ambition Australia was lending assistance to through the Indonesia-Australia Partnership on Food Security.
But the spokesperson said Australian beef cattle producers would still have a vital role to play in assisting Indonesia’s food self-sufficiency objectives and supply high quality cattle in the years ahead.
“If Labor, or Joe Ludwig, were across their brief they would understand this reality,” the spokesperson said.
“Instead, it is disappointing that Labor continues to play petty politics, continually get their facts wrong and are ultimately willing to jeopardise our ongoing trade with Indonesia.
“Both the Australian government and industry have remained engaged with our Indonesian counterparts on the issue of import quotas for some time, both recently in relation to the current reduced quota as well as prior to this in seeking longer term quotas to provide more certainty to Australian exporters and Indonesian importers.
“We have at all times been committed to working through this issue on behalf of our producers.”
Q3 permits could rise
Reports today say the Indonesian government had approved permits for another 50,000 head of cattle from Australia in the third quarter.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) CEO Alison Penfold said she was aware of the reports but was seeking official confirmation of the additional permits.
However, Ms Penfold said she understood a decree had been issued by the Indonesian government in late July that provided permits for the import of ready to slaughter cattle for state owned enterprises, to help stabilise beef prices.
She also said the criticism of the Abbott government was unwarranted, given the import permit reduction for the third quarter wasn’t specifically aimed at Australia.
“It’s not about Australia,” she said.
“It’s about internal politics in Indonesia and nationalistic sentiment and despite being a solid partner we’ve been caught up in the argy-bargy and become a bit of collateral damage,” she said.
The minister’s spokesperson said they were encouraged to hear reports that the Indonesian government had indicated its intention to release permits for additional slaughter/feeder cattle for import this quarter.
“We are however yet to receive any confirmation of the volume and type of cattle from the Indonesian Government,” the spokesperson said.
“While this is a matter for the Indonesian government, the Australian government’s continued engagement with Indonesia and advocacy for our livestock export industry has highlighted the benefits of a good relationship and an open trading environment for both countries.
“The minister is also looking forward to the third meeting of the Indonesia-Australia Partnership on Food Security in the Red Meat and Cattle Sector next week where he will meet representatives from Indonesia to discuss progress on this important partnership.
“These partnership meetings provide another opportunity for the Minister to engage with the Indonesian Government about this important trade.”