WA shadow treasurer Steve Thomas has blasted the McGowan Government for slashing biosecurity spending by $3.6 million in the State Budget, with declared pest control activities set to cop the full force of the cut. According to Budget papers — which incorrectly stated the amount as $8.2m — the cut was approved to match a reduction in rates levied from property holders to fund declared pest control activities undertaken by Recognised Biosecurity Groups. However, Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan denied cutting spending on RBGs, telling Countryman two of the groups had effectively disbanded. “There has been no reduction in expenditure for RBGs,” she said. “The previous Budget included a funding provision for the Carnarvon Growers Association RBG that no longer exists, and the Warren Biosecurity Group that has decided not to seek recognition as an RBG. “This reduction reflects the removal of the funding provision for the Carnarvon Growers Association RBG and the Warren Biosecurity Group.” The State Government matches all funding collected by RBGs under the Declared Pest Rate dollar for dollar. Ms MacTiernan said funding for each of the 14 existing RBGs had “not changed significantly” in the 2022-23 Budget, and was in fact forecast to increase over the forward estimates. But she conceded there had been an “unfortunate error” in the Budget papers, which incorrectly outlined an $8.2m reduction in expenditure on declared pest control activities, rather than the correct figure of $3.6m. Dr Thomas accused the Government of “abandoning ship on biosecurity”, saying the Warren Biosecurity Group — which was in the process of seeking RBG status — had thrown in the towel because local landholders were increasingly unhappy with the levy system. “They didn’t proceed because of the backlash from the community, and the anger and outrage, and so the Government’s response to that is to cut the biosecurity budget,” he said. “What the Government should be doing is recognising the anger, dealing with the problem, and increasing the funding and making it possible for those good volunteer groups, the RBGs, to get the job done.” Dr Thomas said the $3.6m “cut” was just the latest step in a 20-year long tradition of successive governments increasing the onus on landholders to manage pests. He said RBG’s were “chronically underfunded” and had too much on their plate to deal with the overwhelming numbers of pest plant and animal species endemic in WA. “They struggle to get the job done because they’re a volunteer board with a few measly employees trying to do the work, and that stinginess is the problem,” Dr Thomas said. “There’s a long history of government abandoning biosecurity around the State. “In the old days we used to have the Agricultural Protection Board, and it was focused on biosecurity, but successive governments reduced it and eventually got rid of it. “In theory the Ag Department was going to take over a large degree of that role, but that’s not what happened.” Dr Thomas said landholders were fed up with paying levies for a job that was “ultimately the Government’s responsibility”. He described the $3.6m cut as a “disaster for biosecurity” and the management of pest species already endemic in WA, adding that “furious” landowners would be “left to pick up the problem”. According to a recent post on the Warren Biosecurity Group’s Facebook page, its responsibilities have been taken over by Southern Forests Community Landcare. Ms MacTiernan said the Budget included additional funding to Rangelands RBGs for wild dog management. “The 2021-22 State Budget included an additional $15.1 million boost for biosecurity which is funding 22 new permanent full-time equivalent biosecurity jobs at DPIRD,” she added. The 2022-23 Budget also included an additional $3.3m to be spent over the next four years on “a range of biosecurity and emergency response initiatives”, though further details are not outlined. A State Government spokesperson said the funding related to current biosecurity incident responses including African black sugar ant, Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer, Red Imported Fire Ant and Ehrlichia Canis. The funding comes as State and Federal authorities work to prevent potentially devastating incursions of foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease, both of which are spreading rapidly across Indonesia. At a State level, the spokesperson said the work was being supported by a $15.1m provision in the 2021-22 budget. The $15.1m was allocated over four years to “increase DPIRD’s capability and capacity in emergency preparedness for biosecurity threats, boost our early detection surveillance capacity, and enable us to respond to biosecurity incidents and incursions”, the spokesperson said.