Union warned of biosecurity risks after budget cuts: ABC report

Australian aquaculture under threat

The CPSU is dedicated to standing up for the important work that DAWR does. Below is an ABC report in which Deputy National President Rupert Evans takes on the government over job cuts which have put Australia’s aquaculture at risk.

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Union warned of biosecurity risks after budget cuts in 2014

  • Source: ABC Rural
  • Author: Sarina Locke

Quarantine staff feared three years ago staff cuts would threaten the biosecurity of Australia's multi-million-dollar agricultural industries.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) surveyed 300 of its members in 2014 and found two thirds said "Australia's biosecurity has become worse or significantly worse over the past decade due to declining standards and increasing risks".

The figures have been reviewed as the Queensland Government moves to spend about $15 million on south-east prawn farms while white spot disease is traced and eradicated.

It is unknown what caused the white spot disease outbreak that has shut down the Logan River prawn farms, where prawns with a combined value of $25 million have been euthanased, but tests have shown white spot on imported frozen prawns from Asia.

This week, the Federal Government issued a recall of all remaining frozen imported prawns for testing.

Tight budget puts pressure on capacity

CPSU deputy national secretary Rupert Evans said the clear view of members was that budget cuts, the adoption of a risk-based approach, and industry self-regulation would lead to more biosecurity incursions.

"Our members would be saddened and even gutted that they might be proven right," he said.

The biosecurity approach is based on risk analysis and shared responsibility between governments and industry under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity.

A review of the IGAB found a tight fiscal environment for governments had placed significant pressure on biosecurity budgets and their capacity to meet biosecurity commitments.

Not enough people on job

The union said it worried about the impact of efficiency measures.

"In 2013-14 there was a more than 10 per cent cut to the budget to Department of Agriculture biosecurity, and it was said at the time, this was going to lead to not enough people to do the job," Mr Evans said.

"Another part of risk-based intervention is that it needs to be based on sound and unbiased evidence, not just on simply reducing costs.

"A lot of stuff has come through screening of pallets, that might contain wood-boring insects and dirt on equipment.

"We used to have a very thorough inspection and cleaning regime for ships that came into port, and for inspecting pallets."

'Efficient' detector dog units removed from some ports

Members reported at the time that detector dog units had been removed from several ports, despite the dogs being the most efficient resource in detecting concealed, prohibited seeds and plant cuttings.

Mr Evans said staff reported regular travellers "had quickly worked out to not declare and come in at night when there are even less staff".

The survey is three years old, but the CPSU said the concerns remained.

"There are still major concerns about staffing levels at ports around Australia, about the risk-based analysis and intervention model, and they're absolutely gutted when things get through the net, and it's a very thin net at the moment," Mr Evans said.

In 2015 the Government introduced the Biosecurity Bill, and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources consulted with 400 organisations in developing the provisions, including reducing regulation and compliance costs.

More recently, there have been stiffer penalties introduced for parties found guilty of importing illegal products in breach of quarantine.

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