The cattle export mess continues -- maybe worsens

FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd has been recruited to help solve the worsening crisis over the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia and has met with a key industry group several times this week.

As criticism mounts over the Gillard government's handling of the issue and deteriorating relations with our neighbour, The Australian has confirmed Mr Rudd has had numerous meetings with the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association.

The revelation of Mr Rudd's involvement comes on the first anniversary of his removal as prime minister and follows repeated calls by the opposition for Mr Rudd to take the lead on negotiations over the cattle standoff between the countries.

It is understood Mr Rudd is taking a supporting role, bolstering Australia's position.

The damage done to Australia's relationship with Indonesia is also expected to be one of the main topics discussed at a meeting today between Julia Gillard and West Australian Premier Colin Barnett.

Confirmation of Mr Rudd's involvement in the cattle dispute comes amid suggestions Australian officials in Indonesia warned the Department of Foreign Affairs about animal welfare issues as far back as six months ago.

DFAT has refused to confirm or deny the existence of diplomatic cables, citing long-standing protocols that it does not comment on the subject of internal correspondence. Mr Rudd's office has stated that he "has not seen any cables on this matter".

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig returned from Indonesia on Tuesday night after failing to secure an agreement with the Indonesian government on a timetable for trade to resume or agreed standards.

Senator Ludwig was initially criticised by animal welfare groups for failing to act when they first raised their concerns, and then by industry players for being heavy-handed and not allowing trade to continue with Indonesian abattoirs currently operating to Australian standards.

Nationals leader Warren Truss yesterday implored the Prime Minister to "release" her Foreign Minister and allow Mr Rudd to negotiate a solution. "The government must urgently send the Foreign Minister to Indonesia to patch up the damaged relations between our two countries," Mr Truss said. "The government's bungling of this issue has damaged our relationships with our important neighbour."

The foreign relations crisis was sparked when the Gillard government suspended the $320 million live cattle trade to Indonesia on June 8 following a community outcry over shocking revelations in an ABC Four Corners program of animal cruelty in the country's slaughterhouses.

Australian cattle exporters fear Australia could be pushed out of the Indonesian cattle marketplace, with the head of an Indonesia parliamentary agriculture commission Muh Romahurmuziy saying the country could push for a permanent ban on Australian cattle.


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