Prime Minister Tony Abbott officially opened the AACo beef plant near Darwin.PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has attended the official opening of AACo’s new Livingstone Beef Facility today in the Northern Territory.

Late last year, AACo started processing its own cattle at the $91 million facility, situated about 50 kilometres south of Darwin. It’s now expected the abattoir will open its doors for processing cattle from other beef cattle operations in northern Australia.

Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association CEO Tracey Hayes was master of ceremonies at the opening event, attended by a range of industry stakeholders who have been tight-lipped, due to Mr Abbott’s attendance.

Ms Hayes commended AACo on opening the new processing facility, saying it was an “outstanding achievement”.

“I acknowledge the foresight and investment that’s taken this concept to fruition,” she said.

“The concept was seeded in the darkest hours of the Indonesian live export crisis in 2011.

“Today and into the future this facility will bring increased market diversity and opportunity for the northern cattle industry.

“And it’s an exciting, innovative, growing and resilient industry which provides much of the fabric of northern Australia.”

Ms Hayes said the AACo facility’s main value would be the competitive tension it will add to the beef cattle marketplace, in northern Australia, which has previously been criticised for having an overreliance on live exports.

“This facility will give producers another market outlet – it’s very exciting and also a sign of faith in the north,” she said.

“It’s a significant investment by AACo in the northern beef industry and an indication of an enormous commitment that hopefully the northern beef industry will benefit from.”

Mr Abbott praised the new AACo facility as an example of a positive partnership and co-investment between the private sector and government.

The facility was designed to provide processing options for cattle producers outside of the nearest existing abattoir option 2500km from Darwin, in Townsville.

Other facilities in southern Australia are also considered impractical options and more expensive, due to lengthy transportation distances and associated costs.

Mr Abbott also indicated his strong support for the northern beef industry including the live export trade and its ongoing contribution to the economic well-being of northern Australia.

He also praised potential opportunities for Australian beef exports and other agricultural commodities from the key free trade agreements that his government has signed with China, Japan and Korea.

Beef is Australia’s biggest agricultural export to Korea and was valued at $788 million in 2013.

The Korea-Australia free trade agreement was concluded in late 2013 and will see a 40 per cent import tariff on Australian beef reduced progressively over 15 years – which has already started, bringing the tariff margin closer to those of key beef export competitors like the US.

As opposition leader, Mr Abbott was highly critical of the former Labor government’s decision to ban live cattle exports to Indonesia in June 2011. He reiterated the Coalition government’s support for the live export industry today.

“What an incoming Coalition government would never do is commit the kind of folly which this government has been guilty of, particularly in respect of the arbitrary, capricious cancellation of the live cattle trade with Indonesia in panic at a television

program,” he said in May 2013.

“This was a catastrophic decision – very bad for our relationship with Indonesia – disastrous for the cattle industry more generally.

“We would never have made the decision that the Gillard government made, because we’re not enthralled to the Greens.

“If you’re not beholden to the Greens, you don’t make these kind of panicky, Green-driven decisions.

“So, we would never have suspended the trade, we would never have insulted the Indonesians.

“We would never have conducted the kind of megaphone diplomacy that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have conducted with Indonesians.”

• More to come

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