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Quarantine celebrates East Timor success.

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DAFF04/223WT - 5 August 2004

Quarantine celebrates East Timor success

One of Australia's biggest peacetime military deployments involved dealing with some unusual risks - the threat of exotic pests and diseases hitch-hiking back from East Timor with military equipment and personnel the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss said today.

Keeping those risks offshore was the responsibility of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), part of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The Coalition's four-year commitment to protecting Australia from exotic plant and animal diseases, pests and weeds was celebrated today in Canberra with the presentation of plaques to a number of quarantine staff who served in East Timor. Similar presentations will take place to AQIS staff in other parts of Australia in the near future.

"Over recent years, AQIS staff in East Timor inspected close to 9,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and their equipment, and more than 1,400 support vehicles and machines to ensure quarantine risks were kept offshore," Mr Truss said.

"Invasive pests such as Siam weed and giant African snail, both present in East Timor, could devastate Australia's agriculture and the environment if they were to establish here as hitch-hikers from East Timor.

"As part of the AusAID-funded program, AQIS officers also lent their expertise to East Timor's Government, establishing a quarantine service for the world's newest nation, and training personnel to protect Timor's fledgling agriculture industries from diseases found throughout Southeast Asia, including foot-and-mouth, rabies and bird flu.

"The Australian Government made a major commitment to East Timor, providing funding for the new nation's infrastructure and training for East Timorese personnel in order to help it protect its own industry, but also to act as an extra buffer between Australia and some of agriculture's most feared exotic pests and diseases.

"AQIS worked closely with other parts of my department, the ADF and AusAID to establish East Timor's quarantine service and to develop offshore quarantine clearance procedures that are so efficient they have even been built into design requirements for new military equipment," Mr Truss said.

"The ADF's enthusiastic support of Australia's stringent quarantine

requirements was invaluable, involving stripping down machinery and cleaning it to prevent the introduction of exotic pests to Australia."

Mr Truss said that although the Department's fulltime on-the-ground commitment in East Timor was now winding down, support from AQIS through scientific surveys and operational assistance would continue as necessary.

Further media inquiries:

Minister Truss' office: Tim Langmead - 02 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433