AUSTRALIA'S largest cattle-producing company can't understand why the Federal Government is backing the nation's film-making industry and car manufacturing sectors, but won't fund critical state and federal infrastructure to support an abattoir project that would help inject economic resilience into northern Australia.
million into a 600 hectare site 60km south of Darwin to build an abattoir facility with the capacity to process about 200,000 head of Australian cattle per year, to feed our beef into hungry Asian export markets.
The design phase is now complete and the Northern Territory Government has granted various planning approvals, including ticking off environmental considerations and other constraints.
AACo is also finalising various tenders for the building and construction phase.
But the project is still awaiting final approvals to build expanded port facilities with refrigeration capacity to handle inbound and outbound sea containers, with Australian beef exports from the Top End set to increase dramatically.
At the moment, one container ship per fortnight is loaded out of Darwin.
AACo boss David Farley says the new abattoir facility is a game changer for the Darwin port, with two container ships per week required to service the new facility once it's up and running.
The project's total costs for land and building investments is about $85m and requires another $25m in government funding to build community infrastructure assets, such as access to power, water, gas, roads, rail realignment and port infrastructure.
Other facilities will cater for the abattoir's estimated workforce of 260, including day care for families and medical facilities to make workers compensation insurance attainable and cost effective.
Mr Farley said to get the abattoir up and running, AA Co needed to develop a better working relationship with the Federal Government and hold complete negotiations between the NT Government and all parties.
But that's proving to be a frustrating challenge.
He said the northern abattoir ties in with Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean and his plans to implement an economic sustainability strategy for northern Australia, and portfolios for Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig.
He said the project also ticks the various boxes for other government policies including energy use reduction, with road transport in the north set to plunge by about 6 million truck kilometres per year.
He said the abattoir will also create jobs, improve animal welfare standards, and generate better economic prospects for cattle producers and pastoralists.
The project represents an excellent investment for Australian dollars but AA Co's not asking the government to invest in the abattoir plant itself, only the community assets, or service infrastructure.
But Mr Farley has no idea why the abattoir project doesn't fit into the government's strategy for the north of Australia or can't be crafted to match it.
He said it was perplexing why it had no financial support whatsoever from the Federal Government in this year's recent budget but the Australian film industry and motor vehicle and other manufacturing industries did.
Recently, the Federal Government pledged $12.8m to fund Australian actor Hugh Jackman with filming and producing his latest Wolverine series in Australia.
The deal is estimated to be worth $80m to the NSW economy in production expenditure, while the one-off project will also create more than 720 jobs for NSW-based cast and crew, and possibly 1200 extras.
Mr Farley said while The Wolverine filming was a one-off project, the Top End abattoir represented a bold vision for the future, given the climbing global food demand over the next three decades.
He said Australia had the capacity to play a leading role feeding the world's most food insecure countries, such as Indonesia with 280 million people and rising steeply, and other bulging South East Asian populations.
"When northern cattlemen see the Federal Government investing in the movie industry and car manufacturing, but then they're not backing projects like this, which meets criteria for a number of policy areas and has plenty of national and commercial merit, it makes them wonder where they sit as an industry for Australia," he said.
"We need a strong government and a strong food plan with bipartisan support to make the nation's food-producing assets productive.
"But while we've got uncertainty of government around its agricultural policy and attracting investment into our agricultural enterprises, all we're doing is wasting valuable time.
"This industry needs clear leadership from the Federal Government not just from DAFF but the Department of Trade and Simon Crean's vision for northern Australia all coming together with one common policy.
"And that is, to see exactly how this nation fits in with meeting the demand for agricultural production and food demand over the next three decades.
"For many countries this is now becoming an issue of national security, and to play our part we need to demonstrate how we can help feed these countries when they can't feed themselves.
"We need responsible leadership from our governments and mature, adult conversations and relationships to work out how we develop the north of Australia and keep the agricultural industry safe and secure, and ensure it's not highjacked by minority groups.
"We need to be responsible about Australia's place in the global food supply chain and develop a really clear vision and leadership, and stop wasting valuable time."
The abattoir project also has the RSPCA's backing and that of other federal politicians including independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who believes local processing facilities would assist animal welfare outcomes and job creation.
Mr Farley said the project wasn't backed by the former NT Labor government, and since the NT election in late August, the new Country Liberal Government has been settling into the job.
He said the new government is aware of the project and he hopes to hold talks with them in the near future.
He said the reality is, the NT lives off a financial umbilical cord from Canberra, so therefore any infrastructure funding must be linked with federal programs. But he's concerned the Federal Government is saying they've exhausted all funding opportunities for northern Australia.
Mr Farley says the disruption of the live cattle trade to Indonesia last year, which forced the Federal Government to provision, within the federal budget, $100m in impending compensation to cattle producers and other associated businesses when their livelihoods were torpedoed by the snap suspension, has also had an influence on AACo's abattoir plans.
The snap suspension destroyed the economies of many small cattle producers in the north of Australia, and to rub salt into wounds, the government has not devised a satisfactory solution to aid their recovery.
They have failed to deliver a solution on an international or national platform to re-establish commerce in the Top End.
Mr Farley said many smaller cattle producers have actually closed down their farming operations and moved out of the live cattle trade.
He said the ban also had quite a dramatic impact on many of the larger pastoral stations, including indigenous properties, with export cattle numbers dropping from about 800,000 head per year down to 200,000 a year.
He said the government needs to build infrastructure in the north and back projects that will help facilitate better commerce, given Indonesia is home to 280 million people with an increasing desire to eat Australian beef, and the nation is well placed to meet that increasing demand.
But Mr Farley said the Australian Government earlier this year pledged $20m to help improve Indonesia's cattle- producing industry, which aims to become self-sufficient.
But they've not allocated $20m to help the Australian beef industry to repair damage caused by the snap suspension of trade to Indonesia last year.
He said AACo is only seeking about $25m from the Federal Government for community infrastructure to help bring the plan together.
Mr Farley said the project now needs political certainty, which the national beef industry is also looking for.
He said there were political sensitivities in Indonesia and Australia around the beef trade, which now required political direction.
"Indonesia is still at loggerheads with Australia over the disruption to the cattle trade which was caused last year, and they are trying to source meat from other countries," he said.
"Indonesia's sole goal is to become self-sufficient in beef production, which is an ambitious goal.
"The Australian Government is prepared to invest in the Indonesian cattle industry to help them become more self-sufficient. But they won't invest in a project here, which has the capacity to help feed not only Indonesia, but many other countries around the globe."
"Even though this project ticks every box we haven't been able to gain any support or access any available capital for this project.
"It becomes confusing and frustrating when we see the government investing in the Indonesian beef industry but not our own industry.
"Their words may be promising but their actions are not."
Minister Crean said any proposal has to stack up and make commercial sense.
He said the Federal Government has been working in partnership with the States through the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum (NAMF) to look at the opportunities for the sustainable development of Northern Australia, of which the northern beef industry is a major contributor.
A spokesperson for Shadow Agriculture John Cobb said they were encouraged to see the cattle industry working to build abattoirs that provided options capable of supporting the nation's beef export markets.
That's despite the loss of 17 abattoirs across northern Australia, over the past 20 to 30 years, which have failed economically, to remain viable operations.
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