TRANSCRIPT, DOORSTOP, CANBERRA WEDNESDAY, 1 MARCH

SUBJECTS: White Spot outbreak, biosecurity failings, APVMA relocation   

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP
CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 1 MARCH 2017

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Yesterday in Senate Estimates we pursued the issue of the White Spot outbreak in Australian prawns and imported prawns and it was confirmed sadly that we have just experienced one of the most serious breaches of biosecurity or quarantine in this country in decades. Questions about failings of the Minister and his Department – potentially, charges of corruption in our quarantine services. On this issue Barnaby Joyce is completely missing in action. He is pretty quick to run to the cameras on issues like Johnny Depp’s dogs, an issue which had been fully handled and dealt with by the Department before he did so. On this very serious issue of White Spot, Barnaby Joyce’s silence is deafening. There are questions still unanswered about when he knew of the outbreak and what he failed to do about it. Barnaby Joyce today should be reassuring the Parliament and therefore the aquaculture sector and the farm sector more generally that he has quarantine and biosecurity in this country under control because Senate Estimates last night certainly painted a very different picture about whether or not he does have quarantine under control. Australia’s main competitive advantage in agriculture is our reputation as a provider of clean, green safe product or safe food. If it’s undermined then our competitive advantage disappears and that’s going to have an adverse impact on all of our farmers in this country. Barnaby Joyce needs to stand up and reassure those farmers that he has biosecurity under control.

Also, in Senate Estimates yesterday we heard more stories about the disaster that is the pork barrel - the relocation of the APVMA to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate. We heard more stories of a large number of professional staffers leaving the Authority. We heard stories about senior people in the Authority sitting in McDonald’s in Armidale to undertake their work as this process goes on. This is going to be a disaster for our farm sector and is going to be a disaster potentially for our export industry and of course it should be of concern to every Australian who eats fresh food that may, at some point, be treated by chemicals – chemicals that are importantly screened by the APVMA, but an APVMA which is losing resources very quickly and will not have the capacity to adequately do its work. That means of course the sprays and animal medicines farmers need to do their work will not be available and that’s going to have a very big impact on productivity and profitability in the farm sector.

JOURNALIST: On the APVMA for a moment, are they not some teething issues that could be pretty quickly ironed out and they are usually involved in a large-scale decentralisation?

FITZGIBBON: Barnaby Joyce was warned well and truly before the relocation process began, including in his own cost benefit analysis that the move would destroy the APVMA’s workforce and it would take five years according to his own report and seven years according to the CEO of the APVMA to rebuild that workforce. These are not people who graduate from university and go straight into a job at the APVMA. This is specialised work that takes years of in-house training. Kareena Arthy the CEO made clear yesterday they have been on a global search for people, and while she was very cautious with her words, she made it pretty clear to all and sundry that they were finding it impossible to replace this large number of people they have already lost. That’s going to be bad news for all of those who rely upon the work of the APVMA including of course and in particular our farmers. Thank you.

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