ALP stupidity not absolute after all

There'll be a lot of ALP voters in the cattle industry so shafting them is shafting the ALP vote

The Labor Party has lessened its resistance to the resumption of live-cattle exports to Indonesia while moving ahead with a threat to strip the industry of $5 million to care for stranded cattle in the interim.

At the same time, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said her government was working quickly to restore some live trade to Indonesia, a move that will be easier since the caucus backed down yesterday after a fiery discussion and stipulated less restrictive conditions in return for its support to lift the suspension.

The federal opposition opposes the suspension. The leader, Tony Abbott, said there was an "unfolding disaster" in northern Australia and demanded trade be resumed immediately to at least five abattoirs that had acceptable slaughter standards.

Ms Gillard said this would not occur until the industry could assure the government that cattle shipped to Indonesia would not be siphoned off to bad abattoirs.

The Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, wrote to the Meat and Livestock Association on Friday demanding it hand over $5 million from a reserve fund paid for by levies on its members. The association refused to do so yesterday. Senator Ludwig gave the organisation until Friday to change its mind. If not, he would exercise his powers under the act and appropriate the money.

The fund would be set up by next Wednesday and used to feed cattle awaiting export, transport others south for slaughter, build temporary pens and anything else required.

The association would not say yesterday whether it would challenge the senator's position in court. "The minister has invited MLA to discuss these issues with him by Friday and it is disappointing that he has pre-empted these discussions," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The chairman, Don Heatley, said the industry was prepared to direct producers' levies only towards moves that would reinstate the trade to Indonesia. "Reinstating this trade under an accredited supply chain is the most effective means to provide financial security to cattle producers and businesses."

The government suspended the trade last week after the ABC's Four Corners broadcast shocking footage of the beasts' treatment at Indonesian abattoirs. The suspension was driven in part by a caucus revolt, which gave notice of a motion calling for a ban on all live exports to Indonesia until the abattoirs there met "Australian standards".

Despite the government's acting, the caucus went ahead with the motion yesterday and it was passed unanimously. But the language had been toned down, saying the suspension should remain until Indonesian abattoirs complied with the lesser "international" standards. Unlike Australian standards, these do not require the stunning of the animal before it is killed.

The motion was watered down after some, including the WA senator Mark Bishop and the Northern Territory minister Warren Snowdon, argued that the $318 million industry was at risk.

Animal welfare groups were angry at the backdown and said they would continue to seek an urgent meeting with Ms Gillard.

In the Coalition party room, about 15 MPs condemned the government's actions. The Liberal senator and veterinarian Chris Back said that unless limited trade resumed within three to four weeks, more than 150,000 cattle would be too heavy to export and too underweight to be brought south for slaughter.

The cattle would either have to be shot or let loose on the rangelands of northern Australia, which would lead to starvation and an "environmental catastrophe".


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