A DELEGATION representing the northern cattle industry travelled to Canberra yesterday for three days of crisis talks with ministers and shadow ministers.
Chair of the Beef Crisis Steering Committee Barry Hughes, along with Rob Atkinson and Russell Lethbridge, arrived in Canberra yesterday (Tuesday) to pass on an urgent message: the industry needs assistance right now.
The beef industry is linked to more than 200,000 jobs nationally and generates $16 billion a year for the economy.
While facing a looming animal welfare crisis as the big dry tightens its grip across north and north west Queensland, the embattled industry has also urged the federal government not to risk scuttling a free-trade deal with Japan by rejecting Tokyo's demands to scrap the 5 per cent tariff on imported Japanese cars.
Grave concerns regarding the welfare of thousands of cattle have resulted in the Queensland state government defying Canberra to introduce legislation to parliament last week permitting temporary grazing across a number of Queensland-owned national parks.
The move had the support of the RSPCA, which has acknowledged the animal welfare risk if action is not taken urgently.
Graphic images of drought-affected cattle being put down came to light over the weekend, highlighting the issues facing desperate cattle producers.
The country's largest beef cattle producer, the Australian Agricultural Company Limited (AACo), announced on Friday a net loss after tax of $46.5 million for the three months to 31 March 2013.
A company spokesperson said the ongoing effects of the federal government’s June 2011 suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia and below-average seasonal rainfall in northern Australia had significantly depressed domestic cattle prices.
Since an industry crisis summit in Richmond, Queensland, on May 7 some progress has been made. Meetings have been set up with federal Treasurer Wayne Swan, federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, and chief of staff for federal Minister Craig Emerson, Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Asian century policy.
The Coalition has also expressed keen interest in holding talks with the Beef Crisis Steering Committee members, who will stay in Canberra for three days of discussions.
Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott was set to hold talks with the committee, followed by discussions with shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and shadow minister for trade Julie Bishop, as well as shadow minister for environment Greg Hunt. Senator Barnaby Joyce has also committed to talks with the group.
Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia, has also committed to hold discussions in regard to the impacts of the live export ban to both Indonesia and Queensland.
The six resolutions taken from the summit at Richmond, as well as grassroots concerns from the grazing industry, will form part of an agenda for open dialogue in Canberra.
Mr Hughes said it was of utmost importance to highlight the need for change in regard to how the government does business with the grazing industry, as well as recognising that the industry needs to embrace changes to remain competitive in a global market space.
"Industry leadership from the ground up is imperative to the sustainability of the northern grazing industry," Mr Hughes said.
"Grassroots issues need ground-floor representations.
"I applaud the work of Bob Katter, federal Member for Kennedy, Robbie Katter, state Member for Mt Isa, and other elected members for instigating the Beef Crisis Summit, and I would also like to acknowledge the state government from Premier Newman to John McVeigh, state Minister for Agriculture, for their initiative to go it alone with regard to live export to our northern neighbours," Mr Hughes said.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has confirmed it will lift restrictions on Australian beef imports to ease cost and supply pressure heading into next month’s Ramadan religious festival and the Eid Fitri Festival in August.
A statement from the Federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig confirmed the decision.
The Ministers said Indonesia's announcement was welcomed and would benefit Australian beef producers and exporters.
“This is great news for Australian beef producers, especially those who are doing it tough,” Senator Ludwig said.