FEDERAL Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has publicly condemned Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s handling of the live export ban debacle, saying it has had a “profound negative impact” on producers.
Mr Entsch addressed parliament last night (Monday) on his Private Members’ Motion, saying that while it gave him “no great pleasure at all” to raise the issue again, the plight of cattle producers could not be ignored.
“The process that was used by the Minister, and the decisions that he made, showed quite clearly that he had no understanding whatsoever of that portion of the industry he was charged with representing,” Mr Entsch said.
While no one would endorse the treatment of the cattle shown on the ABC’s Four Corners report, the ramifications of the government’s knee-jerk reaction are clearly still being felt.
Mr Entsch cited examples of North Queensland farmers who have been penalised by having to either sell off stock at a reduced price, or hold onto them at an increased cost, due to timing and weight restrictions for the live export market.
These included Mary and Vic Inverardi from Lakeland, who had to obtain agistment and pay for supplements for their steers and heifers, and Troy and Erica D’Addona also from Lakeland who were prevented from selling their older cattle and are now overstocked with a shortage of grass.
Kieran and Tracy Lucey from Mount Garnet received a double whammy not only were they affected by Yasi and unable to sell cattle through the normal period, but they had four decks of cattle booked for the live export boat which was due to leave the week surrounding the export ban.
Mr Entsch said the fact that Minister was prepared to offer a $25,000 support package showed that he recognised grave mistakes had been made in the handling of the issue.
“We all welcomed the decision that… money was going to be made available certainly not to compensate, but at least to assist those producers who had been negatively affected to survive another season and deal with their problems,” he said.
However the shortcomings of the program soon became evident.
“(Producers) were told by Centrelink staff who, like the Minister, had absolutely no understanding of the program they were administering – that they had no entitlement,” he said.
“So they went about their businesses, disappointed, repairing fences and other damage by cyclone Yasi. It was only later they realised, when they spoke to others outside the district, that they may well have been entitled to that $25,000.”
It was on that basis that Mr Entsch wrote to the Minister expressing his concerns and urging him to reconsider his position. He had the support of agricultural peak body AgForce, who themselves had received calls from a wide cross-section of producers who had “all raised their concerns that Centrelink paperwork for eligibility was very misleading”.
They went on to say that;
“The three month claim period was far too short considering the state of this region following Yasi.”
Mr Entsch said Mr Ludwig’s response, stating that he would not extend the grants, was profoundly disappointing and again urged the Minister to reconsider extending the timeline for eligibility.
“He should open it up to allow those who have been so badly affected by this to give them an opportunity to recover some of the losses that they are continuing to suffer even to this day,” Mr Entsch told parliament.
“These were very, very bad decisions by a Minister who clearly does not understand much of the portfolio that he is charged with the responsibility of administering.”
To see a copy of Mr Entsch’s Live Cattle Motion, please click here
To see the full speech on Hansard, click here