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Chat: Marlee Ranacher

Monday, August 1, 2011

Interviewer: Marlee, thank you for talking to us tonight, in our live online chat room, about a topic that has captured the minds of so many, on so many levels.

Marlee Ranacher: Thank you for having me I'm looking forward to the questions.

Interviewer: Now we will go to the questions from our guests.

Nequitia asks: Marlee can you give us an idea about the history of Bullo River Station?

Marlee Ranacher: My father bought the station in the late 1950's it was a bare block, no fencing, only wild cattle. My sons are the third generation now. The Station was originally 1 million acres it's now half a million acres. I could go on forever and my family has been here for 3 generations.

John531 asks: Marlee, did you ever enquire about the treatment of your cattle once they had left Australian shores?

Marlee Ranacher: I did not do that, but it is my understanding there are 700 abattoirs in Indonesia it's also my understanding there are only 12 abattoirs with problems. Like all industry there are always dodgy operators but to destroy the industry for a few is harsh.

Aussie asks: Marlee the government has offered some compensation but I don’t think they should have crippled ranchers like you, did the compensation help you at all??

Marlee Ranacher: Very little help. To date we have received $5000 from the Government which is about 1/2 cent per animal. In the two months since the ban, we have had to care for 8,000, so really the funds haven't helped at all. We were all only allowed $5,000 there is the possibility of more later but it still won't be anywhere near enough.

Meat_eater asks: Why aren't these cattle offered to Australians to eat?

Marlee Ranacher: They are bred specifically for the tropical Indonesian market, they are a Brahman breed not the British breeds that are favoured down south. They are bred as they handle the hot conditions and the Indonesians prefer the leaner meat.

Paul asks: Apart from the weight restriction is there an age restriction on the cattle being shipped overseas?

Marlee Ranacher: The two go hand in hand, weight and age are relevant. So yes, they don't like animals who are too old about 350kg which is 18 months to 2 years is what they want. Age for weight.

AndrewF asks: Marlee - 'Evil beyond words' is how YOUR cattle and your other farmers cattles were treated once in Indonesia. Regardless - why is this the governments fault? Surely your anger should be towards Meat & Livestock Australia who knew about the problems in Indonesia and did nothing. Why are they not providing assistance? Why are they not to blame?

Marlee Ranacher: I do think that Meat and Livestock have fallen short of the mark however in any industry there are dodgy operators. The majority of the abattoirs in Indonesia are of Australian and International standard. You do not destroy the whole industry for a few. Also we are in another country telling them how they should do things, and they have listened. The concept is that all the cattle were treated badly and that is not the case at all.

bingbong asks: I wonder how it is possible that you and your family (and others who are in a similar position)have not been planning for such a ban in Live Export. There has been growing controversy for a number of years. Have you been aware of the growing concerns over the inherent cruelty? 60 Minutes even showed footage that was horribly similar in 2006.

Marlee Ranacher: Once again, there are always problems in every industry. I think the export industry is run well and the vast majority of cattle are well treated. It is a misconception that all animals are treated badly. I don't condone bad treatment in any way. We shouldn't all have to suffer because of a few in another country. You don't shut down the car industry in Australia because of a problem in, say, Germany. You deal with the industry here.

countryvic asks: Do you feel the last how ever many years that not only you but your mother have slogged out on the land for the better of this country have been totally unappreciated by the government?

Marlee Ranacher: I do think that we and a great many farmers are a bit undervalued, particularly the people of the north as we are a long way away. It's a shame because the primary production of any country is like the roots of a tree and it's important to have healthy roots.

tricia asks: If you saw someone slashing at your cattle with a machette would you intervene? Just because you don’t see it happening and your business makes money and creates jobs does not make it OK. The end does not justify the means. I am pleased the government stepped in because the meat and livestock industry wasn’t going to do it voluntarily. Cant you see why many people are upset. If an act would be illegal in Australia can we condone it overseas?

Marlee Ranacher: I don't condone animal cruelty in any way, shape of form, but I believe the majority of cattle that go to Indonesia are treated well. I keep saying there are only 12 abattoirs in contention in Indonesia. Some of their abattoirs are better than those here in Australia. We need to think of the thousand of people who have lost their jobs. As for animal welfare how are we going to feed our cattle if we lose our income? This has affected thousands of people and many many cattle as well.

Philip asks: Are the cattle being sent overseas of Australian quality? meaning could they be on our dinner plate??

Marlee Ranacher: These cattle are specifically bred for tropical conditions in Indonesia. The meat is a lot leaner and not all that suitable for our southern markets or the Japanese markets as they prefer highly marbled meat. So to answer your question it's not suitable, and not popular for Australian plates.

Mark asks: Hi Marlee - I feel for you over this incompetent Governments decisions. Just how large is this problem - how many farms/people and Is there an action group working on your behalf?

Marlee Ranacher: There are several people working towards an action group. The problem with farmers is that we are always overworked and don't have a lot of time to do that. Quite literally this is the greatest humanitarian, animal welfare and environmental crisis Australia has ever seen. We are talking about thousands of people with the responsibility of millions of cattle that should be shipped offshore by now plus another drop of cattle due. I should add we personally have had 10 months with no income and the rescue package was $5,000 so we are in dire straights.

sameasyou asks: Cant the cattle go anywhere else rather than simply be shot ? That doesnt seem to make any sense ?

Marlee Ranacher: There are no abattoirs in the north of Australia. The closest is Adelaide or on the East Coast and the cost to truck them is more than they would be worth. Also we are talking millions of cattle so it's not practical and it would also destroy southern markets.

sbf74 asks: Is there any chance of keeping the station now that the export ban has been lifted Marlee?

Marlee Ranacher: Despite the export ban has been lifted, the Govt has not issued one single export Permit. There is a ship due in a week and Indonesia has issued import permits but we have no export permits and no confirmation the Govt will issue export permits. So at this point, No.

query asks: You are an animal lover. How do you think this process should of been handled?

Marlee Ranacher: I think that the abattoirs that were in question in Indonesia in a despicable manner should have been banned from receiving our cattle. The misconception is that all animals are treated badly but the majority go to an international standard abattoir. Elders can trace cattle from point of birth to slaughter they own their own ships and abattoirs in Indonesia they should never have been stopped from exporting.

Brenda asks: Marlee, I wonder if there are other stations which would tide over your cattle until you can release them for sale. They look fantastic. I know in desperate times in drought down here, neighbours will help out other neighbours.

Marlee Ranacher: The problem is that everybody in this area is in the same boat. We are on our knees and desperate to truck them further is not cost effective. We are talking millions of cattle the main problem being once the banks won't support us then we won't be able to buy diesel and pump water. We have enough feed but my primary concern is water.

mark.obryan asks: Can you give some idea of how tough it is at the moment just out of curiosity? I live on a farm that is rented and i can see by there difficulties its tough on the south coast.

Marlee Ranacher: At the moment, the last time we shipped was October last year, we went into a record wet season which resulted in the season start being delayed. We had cattle ready to truck and then the ban came in. Now it is 10 months since we had income from export cattle. So tough doesn't even cover it. The result of what the Govt has done to us is more like fatal at the moment.

Fallsy asks: The farmers should be talking to their representatives; meat and livestock....if there is anyone who they should be moaning at, start there and then look at their business model of selling to a single international market. If a cafe sold coffee to only a narrow market and went belly up. Would anyone have any sympathy!

Marlee Ranacher: I agree that M and A have fallen short of the mark, I also agree we should have a broader market and these are being developed. They are in countries in Asia, such as China and the Philippines. This takes time and money. I do agree it should be a broader market and this was just a bad time to hit us. Whilst all the other markets are being developed, it takes time and hasn't started yet.

Annie525 asks: Why hasn't the Australian government been over to Indonesia and check out all these slaughter houses and just banned the ones that are treating the animals wrong?

Marlee Ranacher: That's a question I wish they would ask themselves. You hit the mark on the head, deal with the people who are shonky and don't penalise the people who are doing the right thing. The majority are doing the right thing and the majority of cattle are treated well. There are only a few that are not acceptable, but don't penalise everyone.

jazzleo asks: I am very sympathetic towards you and the other Farmers but how as everyday consumers are we able to help your cause??? My Husband suggested the big companies such as Coles and Woolies getting on board and buying your meat and selling it cheaper to disadvantaged Australians rather than you having to shoot them??

Marlee Ranacher: The logistics of moving our cattle 3,000kms is prohibitive. The other concern is what we call "store cattle" they are for fattening in tropical conditions. The Brahman cattle meat is not suitable for southern markets and the cattle at the weight we sell, are too light to go through an abattoir and they wouldn't make any money. It would really destroy the southern market also, so it's just not practical to do that.

Dale asks: Marlee does the Govt keep you up to date with this or have you been told and left to manage on your own?

Marlee Ranacher: They gave absolutely nobody any warning this was happening, they didn't speak to anyone even Indonesia. They didn’t even tell their Ministers. Once the ban was on it seems they did their best to damage the industry and insult our trade relations with Indonesia. They have lifted the ban but we have no export permits there are thousands of cattle in holding facilities that we can't export without the permits. It's appalling.

BanLiveExprt asks: Do you think that the resolution to all of these issues is to have these Cattle humanely slaughtered in Australian abattoirs? Thus, creating more Australian jobs...

Marlee Ranacher: That would seem like a logical conclusion however there are problems with that. The religious belief of Indonesians require the animals are slaughtered in a specific manner so it's a religious based issue. Secondly, the majority of Indonesia don't have refrigeration so it's a requirement that cattle are slaughtered on a daily basis so people get fresh meat and it doesn't require refrigeration.

timnkelly asks: Marlee, do you think that before the agricultural minister makes decisions like this should people like yourself and others in the industry be consulted to resolve problems like this because it is people in the industry that would know best?

Marlee Ranacher: Oh my gosh I wish you were a politician ! Yes I think we should be consulted this is our business, our future and our livelihood. We also have an industry here that supplies 800,000 head to Indonesia. Indonesia has a reciprocal business that provides food, jobs and wages to their own people. There are other ways this could have been resolved. Also it has affected our trade relations with Indonesia which is one of Australia's largest. It's just amazing how this has been done.

Philip asks: Hey we are paying upwards of $30 a kilo for good lean meat. I wonder do you know what the kilo price is in Indonesia?

Marlee Ranacher: Actually no, I don't know that, but I do know that they don't eat very much meat, despite the fact they slaughter a million of their own cattle and up to 800,000 of our cattle that equates to 2.4kg per person per year in beef consumption. Just as an indication there are approximately 240 million people in Indonesia so compared with Australians, they don't eat a lot of meat in Indonesia.

jang asks: What is the cost of feeding the animals on a per head per day basis?

Marlee Ranacher: I have never had to feed 8,000 cattle on a per head per day basis so I don't actually know the answer to that question. We have free range grazing and we do supplement our weiners. Actually feeding 8,000 I don't know as I've never had to do that before.

Charlie asks: Marlee, I'm also in the industry and have a very good insight into your predicament. Are you aware of any action against the Govt for what can only described as an appalling over reaction.

Marlee Ranacher: I understand there are some people considering this and I hope the Govt is held accountable for what they have done. I don't think any Govt should be allowed to treat their people or their animals in this manner. I don't think it's the end of it just yet. They should be doing what they can to help the industry survive. I don't know if in the long term they will be able to heal the rift in trade relations with Indonesia.

HRTTIM asks: Marlee - not one to usually come on here but i feel unbelievably strongly about your subject ... is there anyway to diversify from cattle production to help ease the pain and save your property?

Marlee Ranacher: Not that I know of. We do some tourism here on our property it's not enough to pay all the bills but it does help. The majority of properties up here haven't diversified that way. Other than mining there are not a great many options for cattle farms of the north. Diversification takes time but we don't have much time, the industry is collapsing as we speak.

jye_aldridge asks: Is there any other markets you can send your cattle too Marlee even if it was for a lower rate ?

Marlee Ranacher: 80% of the cattle bred go to Indonesia we have small markets to the Middle East, Philippines and Asia and developing a market in China. But that's it and there are no other markets to take our specifically tropical bred cattle.

danielle1311 asks: Why can't Australia follow NZ's example and slaughter all animal on Australian soil then export? NZ banned all live export many years ago and they are still doing fine?

Marlee Ranacher: Two main reasons we can't do this is for religious reasons, the meat must be fresh on a daily basis and the slaughter is done in a specific way for religious reasons. Also refrigeration is not always available in Indonesia so they need to go daily and get their fresh meat. If we slaughtered here then millions of Indonesians would not have any meat. I'd be inclined to think NZ doesn't export to Indonesia as they don't have the Brahman cattle that we send to Indonesia.

aussieoyoy asks: Could you adopt another business plan, like tourism or similar. The place you live in is stunningly beautiful.

Marlee Ranacher: We have diversified into tourism and have done so for many years. It's not at a point that it could carry the whole property. It helps keep the food on the table but isn't enough to pay all the bills unfortunately.

Driver1 asks: When is it likely you'll see exports to Indonesia and is it likely to be as good as it was?

Marlee Ranacher: Two good questions. First it's my belief that the Govt primarily the Greens wants to stop all live export and they make no secret of this. They have cut a deal with Gillard and they want the industry to collapse. The film footage that started the issue wasn't actually released until the cattle season in 2011 as they knew it would have maximum impact. They said they want to suspend the trade for 6 months, by which time the industry would have collapsed. Even though they have lifted the ban, they have not issued any export permits. There are cattle at holding facilities at ports waiting to be shipped. But when we ship again I don't know other than I think it will be late in the year and that could be in the next wet season and we won't be able to ship then. I don't know if we would be able to repair the damage they have done with our trade relations with Indonesia it's very uncertain at the moment.

Lionel asks: Marlee, is there anything at all that the gov't can do to help you save the farm?

Marlee Ranacher: I think first of all they need to issue Export Permits so we can start moving some cattle, then we would need compensation that would help. We have each been able to collect $5,000 which is no help at all. We've lost hundreds of millions of dollars collectively. Two other things in the long term that would help would be interest subsidy to alleviate the problems with the banks as we all carry loans and overdrafts. It will take years if at all if we can save this industry and our quota numbers will be down. The businesses related to export could be tax free to enable the people who have lost so much to get a little more. That kind of 3-part rescue plan could help.

Sabreena asks: Marlee you are such a brave woman! your children should be able to inherit Bullo. What can we, the average Australian do to help?

Marlee Ranacher: Voice your opinion publically and often with the despicable way this Govt has treated it's own people and animals, if they sincerely care about animal welfare they have thrust the north of Australia into a dreadful situation. How we are going to care for our collective herd which is in the millions I don't know. The Govt needs to know what they have done is wrong and if you could make as much noise as possible, I'd be very grateful.

Interviewer: I am sorry we are out of time, do you have anything else you would like to share before we finish tonight?

Marlee Ranacher: Thank you for having me tonight. I'd like to stress that the entire industry and the people of Indonesia have been grossly misrepresented. In every industry in the world you will find people who operate out of best practises and they should be dealt with, but it's not fair to people who do the right thing and operate in the guidelines that they should be penalised. What the govt has done to us as an industry is fatal. These cattle are not suitable for the southern markets, we can't slaughter them here as there are no abattoirs here anyway and more importantly the halal kills requires the meat is fresh and this can't be done here. The 240,000 Indonesians who rely on us for their meat don't have refrigeration so they get their meat fresh killed daily. I hope Australia understands that we have the greatest regard to our animals and don't condone cruelty. This doesn't mean the entire industry in Australia and the reciprocal industry in Indonesia should suffer because a few people have done something wrong. Again, thanks for having me tonight.

Interviewer: Once again thank you for joining us, and goodnight.

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Marlee Ranacher, Sunday July 31, 2011.

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