By ERWIN CHLANDA
Cattle numbers in The Centre have halved because of the drought and “if it rained tomorrow” it would take five years for them to be returned to the normal level, according to the president of the NT Cattlemen’s Association, Chris Nott.
He says beef prices have remained “pretty good” because the dollar dropped, there is high demand from China resulting from the swine flu, and live export.
However, growers who rely not on feed lots but on grass fodder are forced to sell and face price drops of around 50%: “No-one’s got grass.”
Only 5% of cattle in The Centre are exported live, the bulk is sold domestically.
The lack of rain isn’t the only thing keeping cattlemen awake at night, says Mr Nott: The wrangle about non-pastoral use of land – such as tourism, horticulture, agriculture and forestry – is far from resolved.
The NT is the only administration in Australia introducing an involvement of native title holders and traditional owners (TOs), in addition to their already existing rights of access for purposes including ceremonies and traditional hunting.
The Bill was scheduled for debate in the current sittings but has now been deferred until October 14.
In the case of non-pastoral uses worth less than $15m it is proposed that TOs need to be notified.
But if the project value exceeds $15m the TOs will get a veto right if the Bill is passed in its present form.
Mr Nott says this adds a further layer of red tape and uncertainty.
The proposal is for a three months time frame for negotiations, but in many cases the identity of all TOs is not known and the process would take much longer.
Their identification and transport to meetings would be a cost to the pastoralist, likely to range from $30,000 to $50,000.
The current state of play between the cattlemen, the NT Government and the Aboriginal land councils is “we agree to disagree,” says Mr Nott.
“For all governments around the world, in 20 years’ time, the number one priority is going to be food and water for their populations.
The lighter side of life on the land: Horses for Courses riders who will travel in the saddle from Glen Helen to Alice Springs, starting on Sunday.
“And yet here we have a government so narrow-minded, so short focussed, to bring in all that red tape.
“The Murray Darling Basin problems are well documented, the drought in NSW, in Queensland – you have to have a Plan B.
“We see so much scope for North Australia, and yet we have the NT Government stifling that investment,” says Mr Nott.
“What’s the agenda? What is the ideology? The TOs already have 50% of the Territory. Why are they not developing their own country?”
Mr Nott says cattlemen have spent millions of dollars to acquire the leases, and the stamp duty they pay to the government confirms they own them.
“Why are the land councils and the government putting the blowtorch on those lease owners? Why is it that TOs have a right into the management of these leases?”
Of the 220 leases in the NT, 80 had native title claims put on them.
Industrial manslaughter legislation is another major looming issue.
Mr Nott says the association has been campaigning for its members to be aware of OH&S obligations.
Cattle work is one of the highest risk occupations, dealing with unpredictable large live animals: “These risks are hard to plan for,” says Mr Nott.
The association is also coming to grips with CO2 emissions as Meat and Livestock Australia is planning for the industry to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Mr Nott says the numbers for Central Australia haven’t been done yet.
The usual carrying capacity here is two head per square kilometre.
The question is, what is greater: The emissions from two cows farting or the CO2 being sequestrated by the flora on the two square kilometres?
Meanwhile the association is finalising a land access agreement submission for gas and oil companies and any fracking activities.