University option for DAFWA

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The State Government is looking to universities to house what is left of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA after abandoning plans to build a new headquarters.

The Government has stripped about $230 million out of forward estimate funding which had been earmarked for new facilities at South Perth over the next six years.

All that remains is $250,000 for a business case on "affordable accommodation" options for DAFWA.

"This is planning for a new building model which will not be located at the South Perth site, which will be sold," Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said.

"A likely option is co-location with a university or similar organisation, with the location and partnership to be determined through a competitive process."

It is believed Curtin and Murdoch universities have done some preliminary lobbying.

Another option being considered within the Government is leasing office space for DAFWA - biosecurity and other laboratory work would be done off-site under commercial arrangements with universities or other science institutions.

DAFWA is expected to function as little more than a regulatory body from next year. It will have about 700 staff by the end of 2017, with the workforce cut by more than half under the Barnett Government.

Community and Public Sector Union branch secretary Toni Walkington said the cuts would leave farmers without research support and put WA's biosecurity at greater risk.

"The Barnett Government announced another 139 jobs will disappear next financial year, continuing a disastrous trend for an agency that has provided so much research and support for WA's agriculture sector over a long period," she said.

The union is also alarmed by a $10 million cut in DAFWA programs, particularly in a bio-security and regulation division already weakened by 14 redundancies this financial year.

Mr Baston described the headquarters as a disgrace after taking up the portfolio in 2013 - 17 years after DAFWA was first promised new facilities.

Ms Walkington said it was a dismal working environment.

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