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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6037

Ms MARINO (7:46 PM) —I am extremely concerned at the Rudd Labor government’s decision to allow foot-and-mouth disease virus to be imported into Australia in any circumstances. We need to draw a very firm line on this issue. There should be no equivocation on foot-and-mouth disease. As soon as the Beale report was released, the government immediately announced its in-principle support for all of the 84 recommendations, which included recommendation 59, to import foot-and-mouth disease virus. This was announced without industry consultation and effectively places Australia’s foot-and-mouth-free status at unnecessary risk. A decision to allow the import of foot-and-mouth disease virus for experimental purposes, even after an outbreak, will overturn years of government objection to its import. Australia’s livestock industries have always vigorously resisted attempts by scientists to allow the virus into the Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.

Foot-and-mouth disease is widespread across the world. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, 51 countries reported incidences of infection between 2007 and 2008. I discussed this issue with Senator Chris Back, a qualified veterinarian who has very serious concerns with this decision, some of which I will mention. Australian agriculture, especially but not exclusively the animal industries, would be devastated should foot-and-mouth disease become established in Australia; others could tell us the very immediate impact of that on GDP. If FMD got into Northern Australia, the most likely route of infection, it is probable we would never get rid of it from the feral camel population and the several million—and increasing—feral buffaloes, as well as rangeland cattle and feral pigs—you name it. We are an island continent. Our strongest protection against diseases such as FMD is to preserve our disease-free status as long as we can. Prevention is the most effective risk treatment measure in this case. There is no basis for us introducing the live FMD virus.

The Pirbright laboratory in the UK was regarded universally as a benchmark laboratory, but it was from this very laboratory that the virus escaped in 2007, with the resultant devastation of Britain’s agriculture. The facility at Geelong is probably one of the best facilities of its type in the world, but this is no reason to allow a live virus into Australia. If we get the disease into Australia through biosecurity failure or other means, that is still no reason for us to bring the virus into the country. Australia already pays at least one overseas laboratory, if not two, to undertake diagnosis of serotypes et cetera and to produce quantities of vaccine in volumes far greater and quicker than any lab in Australia could. CSIRO scientists already work with overseas colleagues on FMD and other highly infectious diseases. Senator Back also said he could not believe there is or would be a scientifically valid reason for bringing the virus onto the Australian mainland. If there ever was a need to work with the virus on ‘Australian territory’, such work could be conducted on the Cocos Islands, where the federal government already owns assets.

From a risk management viewpoint, the only sensible course of action is prevention and I really cannot think of any reason why we would voluntarily introduce the FMD virus. We just need to look at the devastation the disease has caused in other countries, in Brazil and in the United Kingdom where six million animals were culled, causing financial losses of more than A$19 billion. It cost the UK government the approximate equivalent of A$6.1 billion in compensation for slaughtered animals and payments for disposal and clean-up costs. And Western Australia produces a wide range of meat products. We have sheep, cattle, right through to pigs, export and domestic productions. These industries provide major employment and regional economic benefits.

Australia is foot and mouth disease free. It certainly needs to stay that way. A Productivity Commission report in 2002 indicated that a major outbreak could cost Australia over $9 billion in lost export earnings—and you can imagine what it would be now. That was 2002. The beef industry would be the most affected and there are several major abattoirs and butchering operations in my electorate as well as the state herd, which totalled 2.3 million head in 2007-08. They are very important industries. I support the motion by the member for Maranoa and I, too, call on the Labor government to recognise that because of the risks associated with such importation there needs to be unequivocal recognition of this issue. It is too important and the government must reject recommendation 59 of the Beale report.