Address to the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association Annual Conference

17 March 2023



It’s a great pleasure to join you here in Darwin, as Australia’s Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Emergency Management.

I’d of course like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we’re gathering, the Larrakia people, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I want to recognise the great work the NTCA has done to support young First Nations people for employment in the northern pastoral industry, and I’m keen to foster more of those opportunities in Australian agriculture. 

I acknowledge the many current and former political representatives in the room, particularly my good mates Luke Gosling, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Warren Snowdon and the NT Agriculture Minister, Paul Kirby, who all represent the Top End so effectively, both here and at the national level.  

To David Connolly, Will Evans and all at the NTCA - thank you very much for the invitation to speak here today. I’ve enjoyed a strong relationship with the NTCA back to my days as the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia and it’s a great honour to speak at your conference, as a Minister in the Australian Government.

It’s also a pleasure to welcome Professor Wiku Adisasmito, Coordinator of the Expert Team and Spokesperson for the Foot and Mouth Disease Task Force in Indonesia.

I first met Professor Wiku during my brief visit to Indonesia last year and it’s terrific to see you again in my own country.

I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to representatives from across the cattle supply chain here this morning, many of whom have travelled a long way to be here.

I’ve said before that I feel very fortunate to be Australia’s Ag Minister at a time when the industry, overall, is doing very well.

Last week, ABARES released its annual outlook, projecting that Australian agricultural production is expected to hit a record $90 billion for 2022-23.

And our cattle industry is a big contributor to the good news. 

As all of you know, premium Australian cattle and cattle products are in high demand, both across the nation and around the globe.

There is much for us all to celebrate about this industry - its economic value, its contribution towards food security here and overseas, and the important role it plays in so many regional and remote communities, especially across our north.

On behalf of the Albanese Government, I want to thank you for the work you do and the contributions you make, in each of these ways.

The gross value of Australian livestock production is forecast to remain steady in 2022-23 at $36 billion and live cattle exports continue to play a big role.

In 2021-22, Australia exported nearly 618,000 head of cattle - predominantly to South-East Asia - with a value to the Australian economy of over $1.2 billion. 39 percent of those exports started right here, out of the Port of Darwin - the largest live export port in Australia.

Last time I was in Darwin I visited Berrimah Export Yards and could see for myself the importance of this trade to this part of our country.

As you know, prices of beef and cattle have been high with the industry in a herd rebuilding phase since early 2020. 

And it’s exciting that Meat and Livestock Australia has forecast that in 2023 Australia’s national cattle herd will grow to its highest level since 2014 at 28.8 million head.

Although with that, prices are forecast to fall from their recent historic highs to operate at longer term averages in 2023.

We also know the industry has faced some recent challenges, such as the impact of FMD and LSD on live export numbers to Indonesia.

Flooding events throughout 2022 and into 2023 have impacted on production in the Victoria Daly Region here in the Northern Territory, in addition to what we’ve seen in the Kimberley and Queensland’s Gulf Country, where I’ll be heading this afternoon. 

Despite these challenges, and others I will mention, our Government remains bullish - if you mind the pun - about the future of the cattle industry in Australia, including live exports. 

And I am here to tell you that, in the Albanese Government, you have a friend and supporter in Canberra.

I understand that some have questioned that, in light of our commitment - across two elections - to phase out live sheep exports by sea. And the speculation about what that means for live cattle exports. 

Like I said at the LIVEXChange conference in November last year, and will continue to say, the Albanese Government strongly supports the live cattle export industry, and we will not be phasing it out. 

In fact, we want to support the live cattle industry to grow and prosper into the future.

As I’ve said, I have enjoyed a strong relationship with the industry, well before I became Ag Minister.

In your Federal Labor representatives, Luke, Marion and Malarndirri, you have strong champions in Canberra. 

And in Prime Minister Albanese, you have a strong supporter, one who has travelled to cattle properties here in the NT, as a guest of the NTCA.

Our support exists for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that live cattle exports are a cornerstone industry for Northern Australia, contributing more than $1 billion to the national economy each year. 

An industry that delivers vital jobs and opportunities - including to Indigenous Australians - in some of the most remote corners of our country. 

An industry with a strong commitment to animal welfare, recording far lower mortality rates than live sheep exports.

Which is not surprising, given the comparatively much shorter voyages and much hardier species being shipped.

These are important differences with the live sheep export industry. 

And lest anyone think that concerns with that industry are limited to one side of politics, let’s not forget that less than 12 months ago, the now Federal Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party was calling for live sheep exports to be banned.

Having introduced a Private Member’s Bill to ban the trade despite being a senior Minister in the last government. 

And it was under the former Coalition Government that live sheep export volumes crashed by around 70 percent, to a point they now represent less than 1 percent of Western Australia’s agricultural exports.

I do want to work with the Australian cattle industry and our trading partners to ensure export regulations meet the high standards of animal welfare expected by the Australian and overseas community. 

But for the reasons I’ve set out, our government remains focussed on strengthening our markets for live cattle exports and continuing to produce quality meat for Australians and our neighbours.

And it’s because of that support that we have been working closely with your industry on some serious challenges facing it.

Chief among them being biosecurity.

I think everyone who cares about the cattle industry has been through a very stressful time, understandably worried about the risk of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD).

While these diseases have been present in Asia for a number of years, their emergence in Indonesia in the last 12 months was a major shock Australia’s livestock industry. 

Following official confirmation it had spread to Bali in July, our Government acted immediately to impose new measures to protect Australia from an incursion. 

And as a result, Australia remains free of both FMD and lumpy skin disease. 

We put in place a three-pronged response - tough measures at our borders, support for our friends in Indonesia, and reviewing our preparedness, in case of an outbreak here.

We committed $14 million in immediate funding to manage the increased threat of FMD and LSD, in addition to $1.5 million to supply vaccines in Indonesia and $1.1 million to support industry-led assistance through Meat and Livestock Australia.

Since late July 2022, over 800,000 people arriving from Indonesia have walked across disinfectant foot mats in Australian airports.

All of this work has been done in partnership with industry. While some called for border bans, our Government got to work on real solutions to keep our livestock industry safe.

That work has continued.

In October last year I joined Minister Kirby and industry representatives, including the NTCA, to launch Australia’s first ever National Lumpy Skin Disease Action Plan, right here in Darwin.

The Plan, developed through extensive engagement with government, industry and other stakeholders, sets out national priorities for actions to strengthen Australia’s LSD biosecurity; preparedness, including market access; response and recovery. 

I’m pleased to say that 22 of the 27 activities identified in the Plan are already underway. 

Implementation of the Plan is an ongoing priority and progress will be reported through to the National Biosecurity Committee.

One of the key activities in the Plan is to support Indonesia, to assist with their current disease eradication efforts for both LSD and FMD. 

This includes the provision of resources such as vaccines and sending experts to assist on the ground in Indonesia.

I am very happy to announce today that our government has committed to providing a further 1 million doses of LSD vaccines to Indonesia, with the first tranche of 500,000 vaccines expected to arrive in Indonesia in the coming months. 

This is in addition to the 435,000 LSD vaccines Australia provided to Indonesia in 2022 and the 4 million vaccine doses provided to combat FMD.

I can also announce that we are committing $1 million, through CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, to work with Indonesia to lift diagnostic and testing capability in local laboratories. 

We’re making these commitments because the best way to reduce the risk of LSD and FMD entering Australia is to help curb its spread on our doorstop. 

While the threat of an outbreak here remains, our government does not regard it as inevitable. 

We will continue to work closely with Indonesia and other neighbouring countries, to secure the best outcomes for all our nations—and that’s a very good thing for the livestock sectors.

A related topic is livestock traceability.   

For cattle and other products, traceability is integral to Australia’s continued access and expansion in key export markets, our ability to respond to pest and disease outbreaks, and ensuring food safety.  

Our livestock traceability systems are world class, and the Australian Government is committed to engaging with industry and State and Territory governments to strengthen it.  

To mitigate the increased risk posed to Australia by nearby FMD and LSD outbreaks, we have accelerated national reforms to further enhance Australia’s livestock traceability systems. 

The success of any changes in Australia’s livestock traceability arrangements relies on a shared approach between the Australian Government, the state and territory government regulators, and the livestock industry.  

That being said, the Australian Government is doing its part. 

We announced $46.7 million to support livestock traceability enhancement as part of the 2022-23 Budget.  

This includes up to $26.6 million funding to uplift the National Livestock Identification System or NLIS. 

The NLIS has served us well to date and is world class. We want to ensure it remains fit for purpose and world class for the next 20 years. 

This funding will deliver significant system-wide traceability benefits for all animal species captured by the NLIS and allow for future additions to the system. 

The faster and more accurately animals are traced, the faster we can respond and recover from any emergency animal disease outbreak. 

Beyond the biosecurity benefits, our traceability systems will be increasingly essential to opening new markets for our exports, as well as keeping and growing the ones we have.  

Agricultural traceability provides the evidence to maintain trust in Australia as a provider of high quality, safe and sustainable food and fibre products.  

We have heard there is a need for a cohesive and strategic approach to ensuring all our systems - commercial and government - are fit for purpose into the future.  

That is why, with industry, we are developing Australia’s first ever National Agricultural Traceability Strategy, to be finalised and released midyear. 

The Australian Government is already investing to support implementation of the forthcoming strategy;

We have committed up to $6 million to support industry-led collaboration on regulatory technologies and traceability, to generate insights and guidance for trade system reforms and industry uptake of new technologies to enhance economic benefits.

While in Europe earlier this year I announced a commitment of up to $4 million to support the agriculture sector to develop consistent sustainability codes and credentials for market access.

The other challenge on which we are working closely with your industry is adapting to climate change.

It is beyond doubt that climate change is already affecting Australian agriculture.

ABARES modelling shows that the average Australian farm’s profitability has fallen by 23 percent over the last 20 years, as a result of climate change and the changing seasonal conditions it has caused.

Violent storms, wide scale flooding and prolonged drought are having an impact on bottom lines, right now.

That’s why strong global action on emissions is in the interests of the sector.

These issues, as you know, are also becoming a major factor in our search for new export markets.  

As I reminded British and European Agriculture Ministers earlier this year, Australia is doing its part, having now legislated serious emission reduction targets.  

And our agriculture sector is a key partner in delivering those targets, building on the incredible work the sector has already performed.

The Australian livestock industry has recognised the challenges and opportunities climate change presents, and was far ahead of government, in setting its own ambitious goals.

People internationally were surprised when I told them of the work done by industry, including the red meat sector’s commitment to carbon neutral production by 2030.

We need to recognise this and celebrate it.

Everywhere I go, I meet farmers and station managers who are exploring ways to reduce emissions, such as through improved management of herds to reduce methane emissions intensity. 

Feed supplements and other technologies are also emerging as options, with more work to be done on application in more extensive production systems like those in the Northern Territory.

That is why we are investing:  

  • $8 million in supporting the commercialisation of seaweed for use as a low emissions feed supplement
  • $29 million in the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock program to support research, development and deployment of methane inhibiting livestock feed, including deployment to grazing animals.
  • significant funds in the industry’s Research and Development Corporations and the Future Drought Fund.

There are also significant opportunities for landholders in the growing carbon market.

For example, savanna burning projects. 

  • The Australian Government is providing $20.3 million over four years from 2022–23 to establish the Carbon Farming Outreach Program. 
  • The program supports Australian farmers and land managers, including First Nations peoples, to reduce emissions and participate in carbon markets.

Between government and industry, there is plenty happening in this space.

It makes good business sense, quite apart from the environmental benefits.

And there will need to be plenty more done, and it’s my firm intention to do it in partnership with industry.  

In conclusion, can I again say that the Albanese Government recognises the massive contribution your industry makes to our country, but especially here in our north. 

We will continue to support the industry by implementing policies and programs that foster productivity, business resilience and profitability in the longer term. 

And we want to do it in partnership with you.

I look forward to working at your side to deliver those outcomes. 

Today is a well-earned opportunity to reflect on your many successes. I can’t wait to help you build on that work.

Thank you.