WA's live export trade kicks off early due to Queensland floods

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Devastating flooding in Queensland has provided an unexpected boost to Western Australia’s struggling cattle live export industry.

The first shipment of 3600 cattle from the Pilbara left Port Hedland today aboard the Gudali Express, six months ahead of schedule because of shortages in Queensland.

The flooding has caused a backlog of cattle in Townsville, and left buyers in Indonesia looking to the Pilbara earlier than normal to fulfil orders.

Port Hedland Live Export Depot manager, Paul Brown, said the flood events have been heart-wrenching to see.

“Nobody wants to see tragedies like what are unfolding in Queensland, first it was the drought then it was the flood,” he said.

“People are shedding tears here for what’s happening over there, but that gives us an opportunity here in the in the west, here in the Pilbara, to show what we can do.”

Pastoralists in the north-west have been hit by below average rainfall over consecutive seasons, and many had been considering an early muster and offloading some of their stock until the rain comes.

The Pilbara Ports Authority has been trying to re-establish the live export industry out of Port Hedland since 2017.

Port ready for more cattle exports

The live export of cattle was banned in 2011 after an ABC Four Corners investigation into animal welfare issues in Indonesia.

About 8,000 head of cattle overall have been exported from Port Hedland since exporting resumed two years ago — a far cry from a trade that at one time saw as many as 20,000 head exported in a year before the ban.

Mr Brown said there was no issue with the conditions for cattle about to be exported.

“They’re not lying down, they’re up and drinking water, they’re socializing, they’re eating and they’re not stressed,” Mr Brown said.

“They’re not stressed at all.”

Pilbara Ports Authority Live Export Manager Jon Giles said as the largest bulk export port in the world, Port Hedland would be able to accommodate those figures again.

“We’re just keen to get Pilbara cattle loading out of a local Pilbara port,” Mr Giles said.

“It’s got to be a benefit for everybody not having cattle travel a long journey, and also financially, for getting them quickly and safely in and out of the port.”

“We’re well placed to be able to handle cattle shipments or any other shipments at any time of the year, so we’re encouraged by having a vessel on this early,” he said.

No other live cattle export ships have been confirmed as being scheduled to leave Port Hedland in the coming weeks.

It is understood the port of Townsville could begin exporting again as early as next week.