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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8649

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (10:58): I rise to speak on the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 and related bills. I of course have a great interest in it, particularly because the trigger for this bill relates to a quarantine outbreak of equine influenza in Australia. I think that is the reason we have this bill before us today. As a consequence of what happened with the equine influenza outbreak, the industry had to look at how it will respond should a situation like that occur in the future and what the costs will be and who will bear those costs.

We would not be discussing this bill, I believe, were it not for a breakdown of quarantine in Australia. That breakdown in quarantine was a result of shuttle stallions coming, I understand, from Japan and carrying the equine influenza being transported to Australia to a quarantine facility at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. It was from that facility, a quarantine facility, that the disease escaped into the domestic horse industry across Australia—and it spread rapidly.

In my electorate of Maranoa there is a big horse event at Morgan Park in Warwick. Race meetings in the outback were underway. The circuit had started. As result of it being identified, word got out into the horse industry, and not just around Sydney; it was identified in Warwick at Morgan Park, because horses had come from the Hunter. It demonstrates how quickly a disease—an exotic disease in this case, influenza—can spread when it gets out because of a breakdown of quarantine.

The whole of the landmass of Queensland was in quarantine lockdown. I mentioned Morgan Park at Warwick, for instance. There were people travelling with their racehorses from Mount Isa and Longreach to the Birdsville races; they were overnighting with their horses, I recall, at Windorah. They could not move; they were locked down there, 1,500 kilometres away from where the outbreak had been identified and had spread to, in this case Morgan Park in Warwick in my electorate. The races had to be cancelled—the Birdsville races, for instance.

Those races in the outback raise significant funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Sure, the outback race circuit out there is a great event, but let us look at all the other benefits of it, not only for local tourism and commerce but the funds they raise for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Horses were stranded at Bedourie, Windorah and many other parts of Queensland, because, when the lockdown occurred, no permits were given to move horses from that facility. I remember the event clearly, because it was one of those issues where people said, 'Well now, this is a breakdown of quarantine in this country.' We were in government at the time; I remember it well.

The question is: where were the quarantine facilities and those associated with the administration and control of quarantine? How can a disease such as this escape from a secure quarantine facility in Sydney? If it can escape from a quarantine facility, what does it say about our other quarantine measures around Australia? Shouldn't we be running up the red alert in relation to quarantine generally? This was a breakdown in our quarantine.

It was contained because of the lockdown, but it affected some 8,000 properties around Australia. Compensation and measures to assist people affected—some $250-odd million—was just for the equine influenza incident affecting the horse industry. There are many other businesses associated with the horse industry that did not receive any compensation. It occurred at the very start of the breeding season, if I can put it that way, with our domestic blood horse industry. I have blood horse studs in the east of my electorate—exceptionally good studs—for the racing industry. They had mares about to travel to the property. They could not come, so the service fee that those stallions would have generated in income for those studs was not realised. The mares were not able to travel. Those that were there could be joined, but those that were travelling over the next month or six weeks were not able to travel. So it affected the bloodstock industry. Pony clubs, rodeos, camp draughts, farriers and the transport sector were all affected by this—and I go back to the original point—because of a breakdown in quarantine in Australia. We should be running the red alert out on quarantine.

If a simple equine influenza and a breakdown of our quarantine can occur in relation to the horse industry, what does it say about the new protocols in relation to New Zealand apples coming to Australia? I know what the decision is, but I have to say: not only should we have the red alert out there; we should also make sure that quarantine here in Australia and in New Zealand is of the highest and strictest standards. The very fact that equine influenza has entered Australia through a quarantine station—and the cost to the horse industry and to associated industries has not been measured—demonstrates to me that, if fire blight comes to Australia as a result of Quarantine saying the protocols for New Zealand apples coming into Australia will not lead to an outbreak of fire blight, which I do not accept, we will have it forever. This levy bill resulting from equine influenza in the horse industry must demonstrate to us all that our quarantine protocols are not strict enough, and I do not have confidence in the protocols for New Zealand apples coming into Australia. This very bill should be shining a red light on our quarantine protocols. What does this also say about the possibility of foot and mouth disease entering Australia through our quarantine entry points?

I have to say that I am very, very concerned about our quarantine. I am very concerned about the decision yesterday to allow New Zealand apples into Australia. I witnessed the accidental, as it were, introduction of equine influenza that escaped detection through a secure quarantine station. So what does that say about apples coming from New Zealand in a container? Are they going to go through a quarantine station? Are there going to be any inspections here in Australia? If fire blight were to get here, we would have it forever. It would destroy the apple industry. Governments would then have to pick up the costs to the industry and the costs to individual families and orchardists across those regions.

I know the reason for this bill. It will certainly raise money and it has received agreement from the industry itself. But if we had quarantine protocols and quarantine policing, this bill may never have come before the House because we would never have seen a shuttle stallion coming from Japan to Australia, which obviously led to the outbreak of equine influenza. I acknowledge it happened on our watch as a government, but it should send to both sides of the House a red alert that our quarantine protocols can never be compromised. I fear that, with the agreement to allow apples in from New Zealand, we have allowed a compromise. There is no such thing as zero risk when you allow the physical product into Australia. It is just like the situation with the horses: if you allow the physical product—the carrier of the disease—into Australia, you do run those risks. It is inevitable that you run those risks. There is no such thing as a zero risk. There is no such thing as a 100 per cent guarantee that it will not appear. Whilst this bill has the support of the industry, we must remain vigilant.

I can assure the House that I have got the red light shining on our quarantine right across Australia at every entry point, and I will certainly not be taking a back seat when it comes to keeping up scrutiny on this whole issue of quarantine. If we ever saw a breakdown in relation to foot and mouth disease entering Australia, I fear what it would do to our magnificent livestock industries in Australia. I am not wanting to lay the blame on anyone. It was on our watch as a government that this occurred. We have to make sure that we do not see a repeat of the mistakes of the past.

This levy has been agreed to by the industry to provide funds if circumstances warranting their use arise; they may never arise but, if they do, we will be prepared. Let us keep that red light shining. I will not be taking a backwards step at any stage in relation to quarantine. I thank the House.