My responsibilities in the agriculture portfolio extend to the live export trade. Readers will be aware that the sector has been a controversial one in recent years because of a number of incidents involving a failure to treat cattle and sheep appropriately.
The biggest of those events was a 2011 ABC Four Corners program which showed cases of animal cruelty in Indonesia. Consequently, trade to Indonesia was suspended while a review was held and policy responses developed to prevent future incidents.
Last week I travelled to Indonesia to reassure myself those policy responses are working to my satisfaction. I followed the supply chain from port, to feedlot, to abattoir and for completeness, to a wet market in a regional area where you come to understand why frozen imports are often not possible. I was more than satisfied by what I saw.
For many people, the slaughter of cattle will always be confronting. But of course, we do it here in Australia every day and most of us consume the product most days. What is important is the way it is done and with our help, Indonesia has come a long way since the events of 2011.
The Indonesian market is an important one for Australia's economy. It creates tens of thousands of Australian jobs and supports the livelihoods of many Australian farming families. One thing it is important to understand, is that many cattle producers in our far north do not have the climatic conditions and feed to grow cattle to slaughter weight and rely on the export market where countries like Indonesia fatten them to slaughter weight in their local feedlots.
The other aspect which is important to understand is that the trade is crucial to meeting the protein needs of fast-developing Indonesia. Something they are unable to do without our trade.
This is important in humanitarian terms and important for a healthy and stable near-neighbour.
Some people ask why we can't slaughter the cattle here and send it frozen? Two points; Indonesia is yet to develop the infrastructure to support frozen imports and second, it's not what they want.
They want the job and wealth creation their own domestic supply chains create; for the farmers who supply the food for the feedlots and for those who work in the abattoirs. Saying we should do the work here is fine but you have to have a market.
Having said that, Australia is now building more abattoirs in our north to meet growing demand for boxed and frozen beef in Asia.
While we continue to export live cattle, we are also working with the Indonesians to further develop their own domestic industry. This is good for them and important given their protein needs will grow beyond the level able to be satisfied by imports. Last week I also gained a better understanding of how effective we've been in growing Indonesia's domestic industry.
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