Strong biosecurity requires clear targets

Farmers have welcomed the federal government’s move towards a sustainably-funded biosecurity system, but say the days of passing the buck need to end.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced a public discussion paper seeking ideas on a long-term sustainable biosecurity funding model, something NSW Farmers Biosecurity chair Ian McColl said farmers had long been calling for. 

“The biosecurity threats not just to our food and fibre production but to our entire economy are quite serious,” Mr McColl said.

“We have been arguing for some time that we need sustainable funding and a long-term view of biosecurity controls to keep our country pest and disease free.

“This is a promising move from the federal government, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at the discussion paper and have their say.”

The discussion paper identifies Australia’s animal, plant, human and environmental health outcomes rely on strong biosecurity controls to manage and minimise the risk of pests, weeds and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading within Australia, while facilitating trade and the movement of plants, animals, people and products.

However, Mr McColl said he was concerned about the scope of the paper, which would not consider the biosecurity activities of other jurisdictions. The lessons of COVID-19, Mr McColl said, were that gaps in bureaucratic oversight led to gaps in our control and response efforts.

“We cannot afford to have the states and the Commonwealth pointing fingers and passing the buck while a disease or pest spreads far and wide, which is precisely what we saw with COVID,” Mr McColl said.

“It is absolutely critical that we have a biosecurity system that is focused on the outcome of keeping disease, pests and weeds out, regardless of who is responsible for compliance or funding.

“If we fail to get everyone on the same page, and leave gaps in the system, we run the risk of wasting time and effort in the event of an outbreak.”

Mr McColl said farmers wanted what most Australians wanted – governments to get on with the job, and sort out jurisdictional issues later.

“People in rural communities couldn’t care less if it’s state or federal or local money funding something, as long as it gets funded,” Mr McColl said.

“Because they are the people who will feel the impact of an $80 billion Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, they’re the ones who will lose work and won’t be able to move around.

“This discussion paper is one part of the puzzle – the other part will be all governments working hand-in-hand with other stakeholders to ensure everyone knows exactly who needs to do what and when.”

Date: Monday, November 7, 2022
Media Contact: Steve Mudd  | 0429 011 690 | [email protected]