PETER CAMPBELL | Darwin Correspondent | [email protected]
PRIME MINISTER TONY Abbott says the 2011 ban on cattle live export was “an act of God” and that he shouldn’t have to apologise for something he wasn’t responsible for.
The comments have met wide condemnation by The Nationals and the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association, saying that the prime minister’s remarks were deliberately inflammatory and completely uncalled for.
The PM’s statements come as the government faces a class action from Territory cattle producers who are seeking damages from the federal government over the ban.
In 2011, ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast footage filmed in an Indonesian abattoir which showed workers treating Australian livestock appallingly – prompting the ban on live export by the federal government.
While the ban was lifted a while later, the legacy of Julia Gillard’s foray in to Territory politics is still felt today.
The knee-jerk reaction crippled the cattle industry in North Australia and brought entire swathes of the country to the brink.
Jake Tidwell is headstockman of the iconic Victoria River Downs Station, which lies roughly 250km west of Daly Waters in the Northern Territory.
“Disgusting,” says Mr Tidwell.
“I don’t get why he’d even bring it up. Everybody up hear has moved on best we could – now this idiot wants to dig it up again.”
It’s not the first time the prime minister has used the “act of God” explination in his dealings with rural Australians.
Sensationally in 2005, the then health minister said that the crippling drought was ” caused by God” and not by El Nino.
Those remarks were met with a “few raised eyebrows” by farmers and an apology from former Nationals leader John Anderson.
“That afternoon, Tony was called by John Howard,” says Mr Anderson.
“After a short conversation, the prime minister had to remind Mr Abbott that he was the minister for health – that was all.”
Mr Abbott was due to tour Northern Australia in the lead up to the wet season but has since cancelled his Territory jaunt – which his office has assured has nothing to do with his derogatory remarks about Territory cattlemen.
As parliament resumes next week, the PM is expected to receive a grilling from the Opposition over the controversy – the very same party that enacted the ban in the first place.