Doubts dog biosecurity taxpayers
Anger is growing among landholders that the biosecurity tax is merely serving as a government revenue-raising tool, with funds being diverted to purposes not related to biosecurity.
The Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Act 2007 was introduced to replace 16 existing Acts and to ensure every aspect of biosecurity and agriculture management is regulated consistently.
The BAM Act is intended to prevent new animal and plant pests or limit the spread of those already present in State, and to manage the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and ensure agricultural products are not contaminated with chemical residues.
Five Recognised Biosecurity Groups were formed under the BAM Act in the rangelands, transitioning from the former Zone Control Authorities.
A prospective RBG can apply to the minister for "recognition" under the BAM Act (s169). The minister will base a decision on advice about suitability of the group to control declared pests and their ability to manage public funds.
An RBG, once formed, may request the minister to raise a rate on landholders in their area. The State Government will match funds received by the payment of the rate from landholdings within the area.
The matched funding is made available to the RBG for expenditure on the control of declared pests.
But Central Wheatbelt Declared Species Group executive officer Bev Logue said landholders in the area had been suspicious about contributing to an RBG after group investigation revealed DAFWA could spend money raised by an RBG on projects outside where the funds were collected.
The group was created in 2012 to tackle the growing instances of wild dog attacks in the Central Wheatbelt and was required to transition to the RGB model under the Act to secure ongoing government funding.
The Act stipulates money not only may be debited to the Declared Pest Account to carry out measures to control declared pests on and in relation to areas for which the rates were collected, but it was also revealed it can be used to promote Statewide public awareness of the measures being taken or required to be taken to control declared pests, or to purchase capital assets required in connection with the aforementioned purposes.
Ms Logue said the group has battled for two years to transition to RBG but has been unsuccessful because of mistrust of the current funding model.
"To become an RBG, the shires of Dalwallinu, Koorda and Perenjori must be recognised by the minister of Agriculture who will, 'with the consent of an existing body of persons, recognise the body as a biosecurity group for the purposes of this section'," she said.
"This is given to mean that the 'existing body of persons' i.e. landholders must have more than 50 per cent support to show 'consent'.
"In its current form the legislation is not acceptable to landholders because the director-general of DAFWA has the right to spend the monies raised by the Declared Pest Rate and matched by the State Government in all areas of the Act, whereas the RBG is restricted to its own area."
Meanwhile, in a letter obtained by _Countryman _, Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said he had full confidence that the director-general would consult closely with the RBG(s).
He also said the Minister and director-general would be measured regarding the decision to allocate RBG funds for other purposes set out in the Act.
East Maya sheep farmer Peter Waterhouse said he worried about RBG money not being used effectively to tackle critical dog attack issues.
He said he had lost about 35 sheep since Christmas but the number would have been far greater if effective dog control measure were not already in place.
"At the moment we have a really good dogger whose services are paid for by the shires and Royalties for Regions money," he said. "I am told he has killed 36 dogs in the last couple of months."
Mr Waterhouse said there was hope for his sheep business using current measures.
"My worry is when people in the area lose control over where the money is spent, a fair proportion of those funds may end up spent on administration and other activities rather than directly addressing the problem at hand," he said.
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