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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6035

Mr COULTON (7:36 PM) —I am very pleased to be standing here tonight supporting my colleague, the member for Maranoa, on what is a very important issue. I acknowledge the comments from the member for Lyons as well. There is probably agreement that foot-and-mouth disease poses probably one of the greatest threats if it came through to livestock production in Australia. I believe the recommendation in the Beale report to allow live virus into the country, even though it says ‘after an outbreak has occurred’, sends a mixed message and we need to make sure that we are unequivocal in the stand we take.

Agriculture and livestock, even in this economic downturn, is the one thing that did not reduce in the balance of payments. Indeed, carrying Australia to a large degree at the moment are our agricultural exports. We need to protect these at all costs. In 2006-07 Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries contributed $38.5 billion to the national economy and employed more than 270,000 people in rural and regional areas. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry estimates that a worst-case Australian foot-and-mouth disease infection would cost up to $13 billion. Almost all of our animal exports would cease immediately and there would be a huge drop in demand for animal products on the domestic market. The tourist industry has suffered dramatically in every country where a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has occurred. It goes without saying that we would see widespread losses in employment and Australia’s rural economy would be devastated.

What I would like to focus briefly on tonight is that Australia is uniquely at risk. If foot-and-mouth disease came to Australia, we would not be able to control it. In the United Kingdom and other countries where foot-and-mouth disease has been in the past, they are relatively intensive, tightly managed agricultural units. The biggest threat that we have is if it got into the wild pig population. We are at risk. It would only take a seaman at Kooragang Island in Newcastle Harbour to throw the remains of his sandwich overboard with a bit of salami or something that he has brought with him from Brazil or wherever he has come from, and it could be picked up by the wild pigs.

Just in my own area, north-west New South Wales, and from my own personal experience, I know that several neighbours and I, employing a helicopter, have shot up to 500 pigs in one morning. That is without having any obvious signs; you never see them. The other thing about wild pigs is that they will travel 20 to 30 kilometres in one night in search of food, so they would spread this rapidly. There is no part of Australia, except maybe in the driest of deserts, where they are not a problem. I see the member for Solomon and the member for Flynn here, and I am sure they are very well aware of this and that, even in the tropical paradises that they come from, wild pigs would be a huge problem.

Mr Adams interjecting

Mr COULTON —Not in Tassie. The member for Lyons would probably have the ability to turn them into a delicious treat of some sort. But I digress. In the United Kingdom there is a commercial vaccine production company that has the full nine strains of foot-and-mouth disease on file. They can have up to half a million cattle-equivalent doses for each of the nine strains, and if an outbreak were to occur we would have access to that within a matter of hours. While I understand the words the minister has said—that this would only be imported if an outbreak occurred—I think that is a slightly wavering message, and I would urge that they reword point No. 59 in the bill report so that there can be no mixed messages on the point that the live virus of foot-and-mouth disease should not be imported into Australia.