Disease fears as inspector jobs cut

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA farmers have hit out at moves to slash biosecurity checks across Australia, warning that the country's reputation as a clean and green producer of food had never been more at risk.

The Federal Department of Agriculture is cutting 220 jobs and has stated that biosecurity staff are first in the firing line.

The moves come a month after a major Commonwealth study showed an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would cost Australia $50 billion over a decade.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said it was foolish to cut frontline staff directly involved in keeping the industry free from destructive pests and diseases.

"They are taking dangerous risks with our industry and as the foot and mouth study highlighted the cost of vigilance is far, far lower than the potential cost losing markets and our ability to produce clean and green food," Mr Park said.

"We live off those qualities and if the department needs to cut jobs they couldn't have found a worse place to start."

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is offering voluntary redundancies to staff in its border compliance division in Canberra and the passenger, mail and cargo programs in the regions.

DAFF secretary Paul Grimes informed staff of the redundancy offers on Friday in one of his first major announcements since replacing Andrew Metcalfe, who was sacked when the Abbott Government took power in September.

Mr Grimes said attempts to cut staff through natural attrition had failed and about 220 voluntary redundancies were needed in the next few months.

“In the first instance, offers will be made in border compliance division in Canberra and the passengers, mail and cargo programs in the regions,” he said. “The analysis we’re done and continue to do will allow us to manage biosecurity risk effectively.”

The compliance division plays a key role in managing biosecurity protection across Federal departments and with State and Territory authorities.

The Federal plan follows warnings from WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and unions over big biosecurity job cuts within the WA Department of Agriculture.

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