|Lifeline: PNG could play a big part in the cattle industry in the future. Cairns Post|
AUSTRALIAN cattle could be sent to Papua New Guinea within the month in a bid to ease pressure on graziers crippled by drought and an Indonesia live exports ban.
The Cairns Post understands PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill will write to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott within days to seeksupport foran export trade.
PNG could take up to 15,000 head of cattle before the end of June, with the capacity for more than 100,000 animals exported over coming years.
Half the animals would be used for breeding and half for slaughter.
The Federal Government last night confirmed it was working with the cattle industry to get the plan off the ground but government sources said a one month time frame would be "optimistic".
The Coalition also yesterday told graziers it would support an establishment of live exports to Papua New Guinea should it win government at the September election.
Australian representatives involved in brokering the deal with PNG were in Port Moresby yesterday meeting with government officials.
PNG's deputy prime minister Leo Dion told the Cairns Chamber of Commerce: "We are 200 per cent behind this".
It is understood Prime Minister O'Neill in his letter to Ms Gillard will offer the use of 10,000 hectares of state-owned landto accommodate the cattle imports.
Two private investors are interested in purchasing the cattle. However, under the proposal the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments would be involved in improving facilities and ensuring exporters adhered to the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System designed to prevent the mistreatment of animals.
One grazier involved in establishing the trade said yesterday: "I would expect it to be up and running in a month".
"They could take 15,000 head of cattle tomorrow and it has the potential upper limit for more than 100,000 head a year," the grazier said.
"There are 40,000 beef producers in northern Australian and it would help the whole lot of them. It would be a lifeline."
News of the plan came as graziers from northern Queensland descended on Canberra for crisis talks with politicians, bureaucrats and the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, over the industry's future.
One of those farmers in Canberra yesterday, Barry Hughes, said graziers were battling a "perfect storm" scenario of drought, a high dollar and falling prices that had plunged the industry into crisis.
He said the Federal Government's decision in 2011 to ban live cattle exports to Indonesia, after footage emerged showing cattle being mistreated in abattoirs, had been the catalyst for the "crisis".
"Never before has there been a situation like this in the north Australian beef industry where so many negatives have come together at the one point at the one time," Mr Hughes said.
More than 100,000 cattle would not survive unless a solution was brokered soon, he said.
A spokesman for Ms Gillard said once a letter from Prime Minister O'Neill had been received "we will consider it and respond in due course.