Prawn inquiry underlines impact of biosecurity budget cuts

A report by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity has confirmed that budget cuts were a major factor in an outbreak of white spot disease that devastated Queensland prawn farms.

Inspector-General Helen Scott-Orr yesterday released her inquiry into the cause of the outbreak last year, which has so far cost prawn farmers and tax payers tens of millions of dollars.

Dr Scott-Orr found the number of frontline inspectors from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has fallen by 25 per cent in the past five years, as volumes of cargo, mail and international passengers have continued to grow.

CPSU Acting Deputy Secretary Brooke Muscat-Bentley said: “This report underlines the critical importance of a properly resourced biosecurity inspection system to Australian aquaculture and agriculture. Cost cutting by the Turnbull Government in this case alone has cost prawn farmers more than $40 million!”

“Dr Scott-Orr’s findings confirm what our members in biosecurity have been saying all along – the department does not have enough staff or resources to properly inspect imports of prawns and other food items coming into Australia. That poses an unacceptable risk to our aquaculture and agriculture industries.”

“This is a gutting situation for biosecurity staff, who are normally rightfully proud of the work they do. They’re stretched to breaking point, forced to cut corners because of ongoing budget cuts under Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce. The number of inspectors should be rising along with import volumes but instead it’s been cut by a quarter!”

“Prawn importers have demonstrated that self-regulation simply doesn’t work. They quickly realised how stretched the inspectors were and actively worked to exploit that weakness at our borders to bring in infected prawns, putting the livelihoods of these Logan River farmers at risk in the process.”

“It’s time for Minister Joyce to put Australian farmers and consumers first. Inspectors may have been diverted to better scrutinise prawn imports but the reality is that’s putting other Australian food producers at risk. What’s needed here is funding to train and deploy more inspectors so we can be confident all food imported into Australia is free of disease.”