Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce must get serious about keeping Australia safe from current and emerging pests and diseases.

Over the Christmas period prawn farmers were dealing with failings in Australia’s biosecurity system and forced to destroy thousands of prawns claiming that “"It is a big wake-up call to Australia. We have a wonderful country free of most exotic disease and it is such a hardship when it falls on farmers in particular because our livelihoods are in jeopardy."

Sadly, rather than seriously bolstering Australia’s biosecurity, yesterday Barnaby Joyce announced that the Turnbull Government will fund 10 projects through a grant program. 

This type of ad-hoc funding will do little to reassure our farmers that the Turnbull Government is taking Australia’s biosecurity seriously.

The Government’s own 2016 National Research Infrastructure Capability Issues Paper states that “Australia must be able to diagnose and control any exotic animal, plant or aquatic animal disease or high risk zoonosis incursion to ensure timeliness of testing and selection or development of vaccines appropriate to Australian conditions. Australia cannot rely on overseas research and must maintain its own capacity in biosecurity across all sectors as perspectives on the importance of diseases varies between countries”.

Labor understands that Australia’s biosecurity is critical to the success of our agriculture and aquaculture sectors. This is why Labor went to the last election with a commitment to establish an Institute for Biosecurity  to manage the challenges of pest animals, weeds and plant and animal disease incursions on the land and in our waterways and oceans. 

This was just one part of Labor’s comprehensive plan for science and research, to restore and strengthen capability to universities, agencies like the CSIRO and innovative firms – capability that is essential for Australia’s future prosperity but that has been weakened and endangered by repeated cuts and threats by the Liberal Government.

Australia’s competitive advantage in the food sector relies heavily on our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe and high quality produce. Protecting our reputation is an important economic priority as is addressing the cost to farmers and graziers of tackling invasive weeds, animal pests and plant and animal diseases.

But it appears that the Turnbull Government has a lack of understanding of the importance of Australia’s biosecurity - as demonstrated by its decision to relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to Barnaby Joyce’s own electorate at the expense of the capability of the Authority. This decision will have a direct impact on the availability of crop protections and animal medicines in Australia to deal with biosecurity incursions.

Labor urges the Turnbull Government to prioritise Australia’s biosecurity before it’s too late.

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