COMMENT FROM WAFARMERS PRESIDENT, TONY YORK
Minister for Agriculture and Food Dean Nalder and Premier Colin Barnett have recently made some encouraging comments in support of the State Government and public’s commitment to biosecurity funding, and we urge them to continue to work together to find a resolution to these funding concerns.
Western Australian agriculture is dependent on its clean and disease-free produce and is both a national and international leader in biosecurity. We have an enviable reputation that enables us to gain access to export markets and, often, extract premiums.
Ongoing funding and staff reductions in recent years have brought the Department of Food and Agriculture WA (DAFWA) to a critically low capacity, with the Department in danger of losing its ability to maintain biosecurity standards.
Biosecurity is a public and industry responsibility and is in need of funding security. However, to what degree the public should fund biosecurity is a matter of resolution, and this is critically important to recognise.
Biosecurity funding cannot just be supplied solely by industry, but must be balanced with the whole state. Many biosecurity hazards are not created solely by agriculture and may be caused or brought into Western Australia by other industries or individuals; from people and passengers, goods, plants and equipment, transport such as cars, ships or aircraft, or even by wind.
Further, biosecurity can be threatened by the transient nature of wild or feral animals. An example of this is wild dogs roaming and building in numbers on state reserves and Crown land, then moving onto farming properties and attacking livestock.
Clearly a joint responsibility and cost is required to manage biosecurity to best effect. The current challenge is to determine how this is to be achieved.
DAFWA has carried much of this cost, and individuals on private properties are doing so constantly, but reduced capacity is forcing a new debate. Industry is being asked to carry a charge to meet its share, and accepts this. A council rate is being applied, but for how much of the state? The Shires immediately affected by biosecurity threats alongside those further away, or all councils?
Many have suggested a rate across all property rate-payers in WA, housing included, as is the case for emergency services.
Our farmers are being challenged today to foot an ever-increasing level of funding for much of the state’s biosecurity costs, but clearly a commitment on how the remainder of the state’s industries and individuals meets its share is in need of certain resolution.
It is encouraging that Minister Nalder and the Premier are both in agreement on the importance of biosecurity, and it is essential they continue to focus on what can be achieved in this government and work cooperatively for the good of our industry.