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Myrtle Rust: Ludwig in biosecurity breach cover-up of previous part-time Minister

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John Cobb, MP 

Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security  Member for Calare 


Myrtle Rust - Ludwig in Biosecurity Breach Cover-up of Previous Part-time Minister

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 The Coalition Spokesman for Agriculture and Food Security today accused the Labor Party of gross negligence which could potentially destroy hundreds of thousands of hectares of world heritage forests, National Parks, timber plantations, parks and private gardens.

Mr Cobb said for the past eight months he had repeatedly warned the Labor Party that the outbreak of ‘Myrtle Rust’ on the Central Coast of NSW was much worse than the Government was letting on and now it has spread to Queensland.

“Despite confirmation by the nation’s premier experts identifying the ‘Myrtle Rust’ outbreak as the much more deadly ‘Guava Rust’, the previous Minister for Agriculture and his successor have both shown complete negligence on the issue.

“The exotic disease incursion was first found at a Central Coast nursery in April 2010 and until late last year Industry and Investment NSW was conducting eradication programs. But when the fungal disease was found in three plant nurseries in Brisbane's north the government deemed Myrtle Rust as not eradicable.

“The exotic disease, which affects the Myrtaceae family which includes Eucalypts, has now officially been detected at over 140 sites, including 25 bushland areas and has affected 19 species of plants.”

Mr Cobb said the Government must reveal what it knows about the outbreak and must inform the public about what it can do to ensure that Guava Rust does not become endemic in Australia.

Mr Cobb said the Minister for Agriculture is still refusing to clarify the Government’s response to the $1.7 million Beale Review into Australia’s Quarantine and Bio-security systems, despite the Government having it since 2008.

“The review found that our border defences are significantly under-resourced, putting Australia’s economy, people and environment at significant risk.

“The appalling management of the outbreak is testament to the findings of the Beale review and people’s livelihoods are now at risk. If this disease spreads into tea tree plantations, a plant known to host the disease, then the tea tree farmers are at risk of potentially losing all of their trees.

"Commercial tea tree is planted at about 30,000 trees per hectare so if this disease gets into the plantation it will be impossible to eradicate.

“In the meantime, the Agriculture Minister must justify why he or the former minister should not be sacked for their incompetence and complete dereliction duty to protect Australia from exotic diseases and pest incursions,” Mr Cobb said.

Contact: Richard Hyett - 0487 250005