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Fighting for Australia's cattle farmers

Caught between a drought and live animal export bans, Queensland's cattle farmers are feeling the pinch.
Last modified: 18 May 2013 06:02

There's a political activism group in Australia called GetUp. It is mainly a way for armchair activists to get involved with liberal causes: members receive emails, they can donate, and they can tweet their support, or share it via Facebook. The list of passions of those involved in GetUp includes environmental protection, saving the Great Barrier Reef, supporting same sex marriage, advocating the rights the rights of asylum seekers - and the abolition of the live animal export trade.

Bob Katter's views are the antithesis of those of GetUp members. A maverick politician who is independent of Australia's mainstream political parties, Katter says he deplores just about everything GetUp stands for.  For him, same-sex marriage would be an abomination; environmental protection should always take a distant second place to people's jobs; the Australian 'race' should always be protected from invasion by boat-loads of refugees. 

And the rights of farmers to earn a living should always trump the rights of city-living activists concerned about animals' lives. 

Katter is no armchair activist.  When we meet it's still dark, at 5:30am, outside a hanger on the fringes of Townsville Airport. Katter is smartly dressed, topped by his trademark cowboy hat.  We won't be getting back to this spot until gone 10:00pm.  By then, we'll have flown in a seven-seater 'air caravan', two hours west deep into Katter's outback constituency.  He'll have addressed a "cattle crisis convention", given numerous media interviews – and spent the evening in a pub in Richmond - hours by road from the nearest next town. There he'll cajole and console farmers, some of whom have driven hundreds of kilometres to meet him. 

It's not a good year to be a cattle farmer in northwest Queensland.  Drought would make it a bad time regardless – paddocks are dusty dry.  But this year, things are worse.  A mainstay of the grazers' industry – exporting live animals abroad - is under assault.  Animal activists have distributed videos shot in abattoirs in Indonesia and Egypt which show vindictive cruelty towards cows that started their lives in Australia. 

Live exports to Indonesia were suspended for months last year.  There is a freeze on exports to Egypt right now.  Cattle that should have been on cargo boats months ago instead hang around in bone-dry fields. 

Katter wants government intervention, and fast: direct financial assistance, the lowering of the sky-high Australia dollar to jumpstart exports, a goodwill gift from Australia's government to Indonesia's of thousands of head of cattle and, in the meantime, the opening up of National Parks for hungry farm animals to feed in.  It's an interventionalist's list.   On the plane he tells me a political hero is Jean Marie Le-Pen. 

"Most famous for being racist!" I exclaim. 

But Katter says he admires him for standing up for France, just as Katter says he stands up for Australia.