CAPE York graziers have suffered another blow in the wake of last year’s live cattle export ban debacle, with the Federal Government refusing to consider them for financial assistance.
Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said pastoralists in the Cape had every right to be angry at being refused access to a confusing financial support package that was supposed to aid people affected by the decision to ban live exports to Indonesia.
In a letter of response to Mr Entsch’s concerns about the government’s Business Assistant Payment program for affected pastoralists, Minister for Agriculture Senator Joe Ludwig refused requests that consideration be granted to applicants who missed the deadline to lodge their claims because of ambiguous criteria.
The support program, which included payments up to $25,000, was offered in September last year after the government banned the export of live cattle to Indonesia, a move Mr Entsch said was a knee-jerk reaction to the ill-treatment of cattle by a select group of Indonesian abattoirs.
“The decision to ban live exports was a grave mistake to begin with,” Mr Entsch said.
“Then, instead of fixing the problem for graziers who lost business by the decision, Senator Ludwig has compounded the problem by offering a financial support scheme that confused those hurt by the ban.
“Graziers and businesses who contacted me were initially advised by Centrelink staff with no understanding of the industry to not bother applying for financial assistance because the package was aimed primarily at people dependent on live cattle exports.
“By the time they realised they were eligible, the program had expired. So these graziers have had no way to recoup the costs of an appalling government decision.”
In his letter to Senator Ludwig, Mr Entsch said North Queensland farmers were confused by the program’s criteria because it was worded ambiguously and even accountants and stock agents believed they were ineligible to apply for assistance.
Many later discovered they would have met the criteria but their applications were rejected because they missed the 12-week deadline.
In his response to Mr Entsch, Senator Ludwig defended the 12-week deadline but failed to address complaints about the poorly worded application package that graziers received.
“It’s just wrong many of the graziers who missed out on this financial support are small family operations who can least afford to go backwards,” Mr Entsch said.
“Many of them live in remote areas of North Queensland and have limited education. They had to rely on the advice of Centrelink staff and financial advisers, who they believed would have a better understanding of the assistance package.
“Add to that many of these graziers have been hurt not only by the live export ban, but also cyclone Yasi and flooding, hence they were focused on recovery efforts.
“To find out they would qualify after being discouraged to apply was a blow. To be refused point-blank any leniency to be considered compensation is another blow.
“They are the victims of a series of government mistakes and are paying the price. It highlights the fact that Senator Ludwig, like so many ministers in his government, has no understanding of the portfolio he administers and he has no understanding of the plight of the cattle industry.”