Documents - Northern Beef Cattle Industry

Senator IAN MACDONALD ( Queensland ) ( 20:20): I move that the Senate take note of the response by the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Joyce, in relation to the northern beef cattle industry. Leave granted.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I thank the minister for his response in which he sets out some of the work that the government is doing in relation to the drought and he details in brief the drought package that has been implemented by the Australian government. I am appreciative of that. He goes on to talk about how the Australian government has introduced the Interim Farm Household Allowance to help farmers in hardship with their daily living expenses. He draws attention to the Farm Finance Concessional Loans and the rural counsellors who have been increased under this government. He then goes on to talk about the government's white paper on developing northern Australia and a green paper that has recently been released in that regard. I know Senator Eggleston will be talking on that later—specifically on northern Australia. I am disappointed that the minister and the government have not addressed a real issue in the northern beef cattle industry.

The beef cattle industry is one of the most significant and major industries in northern Australia and it employs a very considerable number of people, including a lot of Indigenous people. Apart from the mining industry, in rural northern Australia it is clearly the biggest employer and the biggest industry. But the Senate will recall that a capricious and criminally stupid decision of the previous government was to ban live cattle exports from Australia, and that principally meant from the northern beef cattle industry in Australia. I accept that Mr Joyce, as agriculture minister, was not the government that caused that problem for the northern beef cattle industry, but it was a decision of the Australian government that ruined the livelihoods of so many people—people who had no part in the circumstances that led to their own ruination.

I know a lot of families right across northern Australia —in the Gulf in particular—who have lost everything because of that decision of an Australian government to ban live cattle export. Most senators will recall what happened on the Monday when Senator Ludwig, then the agriculture minister, announced that live exports were being banned to five or so identified abattoirs in Indonesia that were doing the wrong thing by the animals. I remember Senator Ludwig was attacked by the Greens on not going far enough. I have to say that, on that first day—on the Monday, as I recall—Senator Ludwig put in a sterling defence on why it should be those five abattoirs to which live cattle exports were to be prevented and he defended very well the industry's continuation of exports to other parts of Indonesia. But, lo and behold, overnight, the then Prime Minister, Ms Gillard—because, I suspect, within Labor Party circles a couple of members threatened to resign and cause by-elections, which Ms Gillard knew she would have lost and therefore she would have lost the Prime Ministership—made the decision to ban all live exports. I remember the hapless Senator Ludwig coming in the next day having to completely reverse his argument of the previous day and try to justify this ban. He was never able to do it. I know he never had his heart in trying to do it. But that is what happened, and those people, because of nothing they had done, had their livelihoods ruined. People who had been on those properties for generations, had to walk off and are still having to walk off, as the banks foreclose because of the financial tragedies that occurred as a result of that government decision.

It was not a decision of this government, but it was a decision of an Australian government. I have always said that it behoves the Australian government to in some way compensate those people who have lost everything because of a government decision. Those people, I know, will put up with droughts, with fires and with floods, because that is part of natural calamity. But they cannot put up with capricious—and, as I say, criminally stupid—decisions of government, retrospective decisions, that ruin people's lives. If that had happened in the union dominated manufacturing industry, you can be assured that the very next day Ms Gillard would have had a package of compensation to help those people who had been hurt by a decision of a government. And good luck to them if she had done that. So why are these farmers so different?

Why wasn't something brought forward then? I say to my government: it was not your fault; you did not do it, but an Australian government did and an Australian government should announce some sort of compensatory package. I am disappointed that Mr Joyce has not used the opportunity to come forward with some program that will give some hope to those people who have lost everything. I know enough about how governments work to say that I am not being personally critical of Mr Joyce. I know that he can only do what the government allows him to. I also know that the government is in a difficult financial position, trying to pay off the Labor Party's $650-odd billion debt that they ran up over a few years. I know money is tight and I know that there is not a lot of money around for compensatory packages. But, in all fairness to those people, why does not the Commonwealth government, who made that decision, come forward with some recompense?

I often relate it to the scenario where the government suddenly retrospectively decides that all politicians' pay would be suspended for two years. Where would the politicians go? What would all of those who have mortgages and kids at school do? Yet this is what happened to those landowners in the Gulf. They all had commitments. They had mortgages and they had kids away at school and, when their income stopped overnight due to this retrospective decision of the previous government, they lost everything. We heard evidence in various Senate committees of children having to be taken out of school because the parents could no longer afford to pay the school fees. It was a tragic circumstance. Without getting into the blame on this occasion, I do say to the current government: the Commonwealth government made that decision and the Commonwealth government should bring forward some sort of compensatory package that in some way tries to address the hurt that has been suffered by so many families that were relying on the northern beef cattle industry for their living.

Question agreed to.

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