The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says the failure of Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and the Albanese government to act immediately has almost condemned Australia to being hit by foot and mouth disease.
Mr Walsh says Australia’s livestock industries are all but resigned to foot and mouth disease devastating their herds, their flocks, and their futures because even the simplest of measures – footbaths at airports – have still not been effectively implemented.
He says while Canberra prevaricates, Australian tourists keep pouring back into the country, each one a potential biological timebomb.
“Mr Watt in Canberra is trying to reassure everyone the risk of FMD entering Australia is around 11.6 per cent but at the weekend Bali-based cattle industry veterinarian Ross Ainsworth has upgraded that to 50-50,” Mr Walsh says.
“Dr Ainsworth says Australian tourists are ticking ‘no’ on customs’ forms when asked if they have been on a farm. As he rightly points out, it is a stupid question because all Bali is basically one big farm,” he says.
“Tourists shopping in Bali’s Ubud, or Nusa Dua or similar are mixing with locals who all have exposure to the island’s farming areas.”
Mr Walsh says Victorian beef analyst and veteran global meat trader Simon Quilty told The Age almost all cattle are owned by small farmers, housed for security reasons in the backyard and early every morning are led by the nose to the nearest grazing, often past tourist villas.
He says Mr Quilty reported as few as 5000 of the 600,000 cattle in Bali have been vaccinated, and people there have stopped reporting cases because they are sick of it and it’s everywhere.
“Dr Ainsworth added when an animal is infected, it can be shedding virus on to the footpath in front of your villa for up to four days before showing any clinical signs,” Mr Walsh says.
“You can be in a taxi and in Darwin in four hours,” he says.
“Dr Ainsworth’s major concern is the lack of footbaths at airports. He has said Indonesia has no emergency response plan to an outbreak and no vaccine bank. Indonesia has no money, no plan, no expertise – and no real emergency because they don’t export anything. Their market access is unaffected.”
Mr Walsh says the growing threat, and the inability of Mr Watt and/or the Albanese government to grasp the full extent of this crisis, is now coming under criticism at the grassroots level.
He says he has been contacted by producers and saleyards pleading for someone who understands this disease to do something beyond sound grabs and TV spots.
Yea saleyards committee of management chair Jan Beer says despite the Federal Government last week claiming footbaths would immediately be put in place at all airports in Australia, “it is obvious that this is not the case, as tourists returning from Bali to Melbourne are reporting there are no footbaths, no inspections, no ability to get shoes cleaned”.
Ms Beer says every farmer she has talked to “is horrified the Federal Government’s reaction is so slow and so slack”.
“I ask that all politicians do everything in their power to prevent FMD entering Australia,” she says.
“As it is, I feel it is only a matter of time before the disease hits our livestock industry and the result will be catastrophic. The impacts and domino effects on practically every facet of Australian business and national food security would be horrendous.”