Baston next in DAFWA saga

Brad ThompsonCountryman

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston is set to be the next casualty in the Barnett Government’s dismantling of the Department of Agriculture and Food, his shadow counterpart has claimed.

Shadow agriculture minister Mick Murray said he expected Mr Baston to lose his portfolio in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle as the Premier sought a fresh start after his severe cuts to the department, which he said was now a “radically defunded, powerless shell of its former self”.

Mr Murray was responding to the removal of six-year-serving director-general Rob Delane last week. The Premier yanked Mr Delane out of the top job at DAFWA and parachuted him into a new role in the Department of State Development.

“The sackings will exacerbate problems for the directionless department, already unprepared for its ‘brave new world’ following news the critical review to guide its future under massive funding cuts will be delivered six months late,” Mr Murray said.

“The Liberal-National Government is looking for a fresh start here because of the scale of the changes to the department and the minister will follow the director-general as the next scapegoat.

“DAFWA has moved from having world-class biosecurity and research resources befitting of the value of our agriculture and food industries to nothing more than a regulatory body — and there’s worse to come.

“The department will be utterly unrecognisable when the Barnett Government is finished with it so it is in their interests to strip out any trace of its former self.

“There are many more job losses and funding cuts to come for the department so I am not surprised the new director-general has been appointed in an acting capacity — I suspect DAFWA will look very different again in 12 months time.”

Mr Delane was hired by former agriculture minister Terry Redman six years ago and has presided over hundreds of job losses under the Barnett Government.

DAFWA has shed more than 450 jobs since 2009-10 with more to come as it makes an historic transition out of agricultural research and development to little more than a regulatory authority.

Mr Baston ordered a review of the department by a panel of experts last June after Mr Delane denied claims it was in crisis.

Late last year Mr Baston revealed the promised review had stalled and would take another six months to complete. It is understood Mr Delane had wanted to chair the review.

Liberal backbencher Nigel Hallett said he would raise the lack of progress in Parliament next week.

Mr Delane said he was proud of the way DAFWA staff had performed during his time as director-general.

He said the new role within DSD would give him the opportunity to expand agricultural exports and attract foreign investment to WA.

Mr Delane will move to DSD on his existing salary package of more than $370,000 a year.

Botanic Parks and Garden Authority chief executive Mark Webb has been appointed acting DAFWA director-general until at least the end of this year.

Mr Webb is expected to take charge on March 14 when Mr Delane returns from a trade mission to China.

Mr Barnett said he had asked Mr Delane to set up the new unit within DSD to help expand agribusiness in WA.

“This unit will enhance the Government’s efforts in export market development and foreign investment attraction, as well as offering support to major agriculture and associated infrastructure projects,” he said.

Mr Barnett said the move had been discussed with Mr Baston and Mr Redman.

It is unclear what resources will be allocated to the new unit and whether or not other public servants will be transferred from DAFWA to DSD.

Mr Murray said the new DSD unit borrowed heavily from WA Labor’s Asian Engagement consultation paper and call for greater marketing of WA’s international investment opportunities.

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