WA biosecurity disaster waiting to happen: whistleblower

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

A State Government whistleblower says WA has never been more exposed to a biosecurity disaster after it dropped quarantine safeguards at airports, railways and highway entry points.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA expert said biosecurity was severely compromised by budget cuts that put people and key agricultural industries in jeopardy.

His warning came with the Health Department and DAFWA still unable to determine the cause of a mystery disease causing mouth lesions in humans and horses.

WA grape growers are also stepping up protests against imports from California they claim are a biosecurity threat to vineyards.

The whistleblower said yesterday gaping holes in the biosecurity safety net were showing.

This year a cattle wasting disease prompted movement bans on stations in the Kimberley, another cattle disease, bovine anaemia, was detected in WA for the first time and almost 100 ducks and chickens on two farms outside Perth were slaughtered as a precaution after avian influenza was found.

WA has remained free of a host of plant and animal diseases that have gained a foothold in the Eastern States.

The whistleblower said there was no longer a quarantine presence at Karratha airport, which had direct links with Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Darwin.

"There used to be quarantine services across the Kimberley and North West but now there is no one at Port Hedland or Derby," he said.

Weekend inspections on passenger trains were scaled back and there were no biosecurity checkpoints on four roads that carried an increasing number of vehicles into WA from interstate.

The roads allow traffic from northern Australia to bypass a checkpoint at Kununurra, which plays an important role in slowing the spread of cane toads.

Community and Public Sector Union assistant secretary Rikki Hendon said the latest cut on passenger train inspections and last year's decision for fewer dog handlers on duty at Perth Domestic Airport had increased the risk of diseases and pests entering WA.

Ms Hendon said the Government also scrapped an after-hours inspection service for small animals.

The number of full-time animal biosecurity staff at DAFWA has been cut from 209 in 1989 to 84. The number of entomologists is down from 15 in 2008 to nine.

The cause of the mouth lesions in 12 South West people who came into contact with infected horses remains unclear despite weeks of testing. CSIRO research shows that 70 per cent of new diseases in people originated in animals.

DAFWA risk management executive director John Ruprecht said the State spent almost $7 million a year on quarantine measures but it was not possible to inspect every person and product.

DAFWA focused on high-risk entry points and officers seized about 41,000kg of material last year.

Mr Ruprecht said there were quarantine amnesty bins at regional airports and on roads into the State that did not have checkpoints.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston could not be contacted.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails