The Coalition has continued its attack on the federal government’s suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia, raising fears the abrupt decision about 15 months ago, could now inadvertently spark an epidemic of the crippling foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Australia.
During question time in the federal Senate yesterday, Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back directed several questions at Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig about the ongoing impacts of his decision to implement the month-long ban.
The suspension was made in the wake of an unprecedented public furore following an expose of animal cruelty in selected Indonesian abattoirs by the ABC’s Four Corners program on May 31 last year.
Senator Back asked if the Minister was aware of reports that Indonesian government ministers have stated they now intend to import beef and buffalo meat from Brazil and India “whose herds are endemic for foot and mouth disease”.
He asked Minister Ludwig what measures he was taking to prevent such action, given the high risk of FMD, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and meat-borne diseases affecting humans, “which will reach Indonesia and possibly Australia”.
Minister Ludwig dismissed the claims swiftly and defended the new Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) which the government and industry implemented to appease the animal welfare concerns underpinning the ban.
He accused the Coalition of arguing against a secure supply chain and wanting poor animal welfare outcomes, saying, “I thank Senator Back for his continued scare campaign across these areas”.
“The Australian live export trade to Indonesia and other markets continues to support jobs, families and communities right across regional Australia,” he said.
“The government's reforms place animal welfare at the heart of the live export trade.”
Senator Back also asked the Minister to explain other cause and effect issues of the controversial trade suspension which has seen major economic damage and social disruption to the local beef industry and in Indonesia.
That includes the Indonesian government effectively halving quotas for live cattle and boxed beef exported from Australia over the last 12 months.
They are now imposing a 5 per cent import tariff on all cattle from Australia and demanding a pedigree certificate for all commercial breeding stock sent to Indonesia.
“Will the Minister admit that these trade restrictions are as a direct result of him suspending the shipment of live cattle to Indonesia last year and will he advise what action the Australian government is taking to restore this critically important trade in both live cattle and boxed meat with our nearest trading partner?” the former veterinarian asked.
Minister Ludwig made no admission but said Australia had a strong relationship with Indonesia and the two governments continue to work together.
That includes meetings in Darwin in July between trade and agricultural officials, where the live cattle trade was discussed and market access issues were raised, high on the agenda.
Indonesian officials also called for domestic investment from the Australian industry, as that country moves towards beef self-sufficiency.
Minister Ludwig said the Department of Agriculture was aware that at least one consignment of Australian breeder cattle had not been released to the Indonesian importers by Indonesian authorities.
He said the Department understands that the Indonesian authorities are seeking clarification of the pedigree of these animals.
“The Australian government has not been notified of any changes to Indonesia's requirements for information about the pedigree of imported breeder cattle,” he said.
“The Australian government does not certify the pedigree of breeder cattle for the Indonesian market.
“These are directly commercial matters.
“In terms of the live cattle import tariffs, I am aware of industry concerns.”
Senator Back also asked Minister Ludwig to confirm that Indian buffalo meat is being packaged and labelled as 'product of Australia' then sold illegally into Indonesia.
He said the catalyst for the misleading packaging and “highly damaging trade” was in direct response to the doubling and even trebling of beef prices in Indonesian villages due to the cut in beef supply from Australia, “due to the minister's actions”.
Minister Ludwig said Senator Back “wants to dwell on a scare campaign” and any evidence of misleading labelling should be provided to the relevant authorities.
“What is important to recognise is that this government continues to support the live animal export industry,” he said.
“We continue to ensure that it manages its animal welfare issues.”
Minister Ludwig said the Coalition had a position that resulted in poor animal welfare outcomes that limited the trade’s future.
Live export industry sources declined to comment on the political stoush in the Senate this week.
But the Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said the issues raised in Senator Back’s questions were areas of concern to industry, including the threat of FMD potentially entering Australia via Indonesia.
She said the issues have been raised through appropriate channels and they are working with government to resolve them, in particular the 5pc tariff.
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