This afternoon I would like to make a contribution on the Auditor-General’s report Biosecurity — Livestock. From the outset I say that this is not pleasant reading.
On the audit the Auditor-General said:
This audit found Victoria’s livestock biosecurity system to have been weakened by a decline in financial and staff resourcing.
That now creates a situation where we are exposing ourselves to a range of diseases in our agricultural sector. This is important because, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victoria’s food and fibre exports totalled $11.4 billion in 2013–14, while the gross value of agricultural commodities, including meat, milk-derived products, eggs, hides, skins and animal fibre, was $12.7 billion. These are significant contributions to the Victorian economy.
Victorian agricultural industries have significant competitive advantages such as being relatively free of pests and diseases, which allows premium prices at market. You would think that any government worth its salt would take steps to protect and enhance such a valuable sector of our economy. But, as the Auditor-General makes abundantly clear, that has not been the case.
Under the previous government there was a significant degradation of Victoria’s ability to detect, prepare for and respond to emergency livestock disease outbreaks. The potential for a major disease outbreak going undetected until it is established has increased in the last five years. It is quite staggering that this happened with The Nationals in the coalition. I think its members have failed their traditional constituency base. They have played Russian roulette in this sector and taken a range of soft options and a lazy pathway that has put Victoria’s good reputation in the agricultural sector at stake. I believe that is quite staggering.
To give an indication of how catastrophic an outbreak of disease in our livestock industry could be, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimates that a large-scale outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would cost the Australian economy $52 billion over a 10-year period. I again quote from the Auditor-General’s report:
Of all Australian states and territories, Victoria is considered most at risk of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak due to its temperate climate and intensive livestock production systems.
What did the former government do about this threat to this multibillion-dollar pillar of the Victorian economy? It presided over a 39 per cent cut in surveillance activities and a 49 per cent cut to funding for core livestock biosecurity activities.
The Auditor-General said:
It represents a diminished return on investment for the state compared to preventive and preparatory activities.
But that is not all. The previous government also presided over a 42 per cent decrease in the number of veterinary and animal health officer positions. The number of animal health officers was halved during that period. That was at a time when we actually had a veterinary scientist as our Premier, so you would have thought there would have been more care and consideration in relation to this area. The department was over a year behind in preparing a draft plan for a response to foot-and-mouth disease. The final plan will not be ready until next year.
The former government ran things down so much that the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources reports that its existing veterinary and animal health staffing levels cannot cope with one medium or two small concurrent animal disease outbreaks. This is a global benchmark, and at the moment Victoria just cannot do it. This is an unacceptable situation. Thousands of families, not to mention the Victorian economy, depend on these industries for their livelihoods.
I could go on, but time prevents me. I am happy to say that the department has accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendations and that Labor is delivering for our agricultural sector