Australian iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest has slammed the bold plan of fellow mining magnate and Kidman cattle queen Gina Rinehart to export 800,000 live cattle a year from Australia’s north to China for slaughter.
Mr Forrest, who owns five West Australian cattle stations and a herd of 40,000 cattle in his Minderoo Pastoral group, said Mrs Rinehart’s idea of turning Australia’s top end into a mass “cattle yard” for other nations to source livestock, ship overseas and to convert into high-value meat themselves was a potential “disaster” for Australia.
The Fortescue Metals chief is adamant Australia’s rich agricultural resources must not be treated like a mine to be stripped of bulk raw materials by foreign companies to then process offshore for their own profit.
Mr Forrest believes a massive new live cattle trade to China — doubling the size of the current $2 billion live cattle industry — delivers Australia minimal economic benefit and misses out on the job creation and industry opportunities harnessed through local downstream processing, value-adding and guaranteed Australian branding and food safety standards.
“The Australian beef industry is at a major turning point, but our children and grandchildren will curse us if we decide now to focus on just breeding and growing cattle and then shipping them off, and seeing 95 per cent of the value-adding benefits disappear,” Mr Forrest said of Mrs Rinehart’s live export proposal.
“It would be the worst thing possible; I thought when people invested in the cattle industry it would be for the purpose of creating jobs in Australia, not sending them, the cattle and the value-adding profits offshore.”
Mrs Rinehart and her 33 per cent Chinese partner Shanghai CRED last year spent $386 million buying the Kidman cattle empire, making Australia’s richest woman — who already owned eight cattle stations in northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory and NSW through her Hancock Prospecting pastoral arm — the nation’s third largest cattle owner.
Mr Forrest said he would be alarmed if the government encouraged Mrs Rinehart in her live export master plan or smoothed the path to a massive live export trade to China in any way, considering how detrimental it was to Australia’s own economic and agricultural growth.
Mrs Rinehart is a close friend of Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, and there have been suggestions of “senior-level” government support for her 800,000-head live export ambitions.
“It would be short-sighted in the extreme if the government in any way encourages an industry that doesn’t deliver maximum benefit to Australia in every way it can,” Mr Forrest said.
“We can either harm our industry or turn ourselves into a big cattle yard for everyone else or we can build our beef industry, our regions and our country and create thousands of local jobs; the choice is ours but the tipping point is right now.”