Foot and mouth: Agriculture Minister Murray Watt sets up task force to monitor disease

Headshot of Kimberley Caines
Kimberley CainesThe West Australian
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.
Camera IconAgriculture Minister Murray Watt. Credit: News Corp Australia

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has announced a new task force to monitor Australia’s preparedness for foot and mouth disease.

Senator Watt said the task force has been set up for an initial four-week period to give “urgent advice” on the nation’s current level of preparedness for exotic animal diseases, including lumpy skin disease, and any improvements that could be made.

He said the task force would be co-led by the Agriculture Department and the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia, and include officials from the Australian Defence Force, Australian Border Force and Animal Health Australia.

“We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that we are ready, should an outbreak occur here,” Senator Watt said.

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“By bringing together the best expertise from across Government, we can ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities if there were to be an outbreak and that there are no gaps in our response.

“We have learned the lessons from the outbreak of COVID-19 and the former government’s lack of preparedness to respond to it.

“We are determined to not make the same mistakes that they made.”

Senator Watt said the risk of FMD reaching Australia within the next five years had been assessed as 11.6 per cent, compared to 28 per cent for lumpy skin disease.

“The risk of foot and mouth disease or lumpy skin disease entering Australia is low but it is not zero,” he said.

“We cannot assume that it will stay that way. We need to be fully prepared.”

It is the third biosecurity measure put in place by Labor in the past month after foot and mouth disease spread to Bali — the most popular holiday destination for West Australians.

Sanitation foot mats have been installed in all international airports in the country, including Perth, and returning travellers from Indonesia are 100 per cent risk profiled.

Senator Watt said last week that the prospect of involving the ADF if the disease reached Australian shores was “very unlikely”, after British MP and vet Neil Hudson warned Australia should have the army on standby.

On Thursday, he backflipped and said they would be involved in a planning role and “in some cases in the deployment of troops”.

“The main thing we’re looking for from the ADF at this point in time with the taskforce is to draw on their planning expertise,” Senator Watt said.

“Our ADF have some of the best planning and logistics expertise that we have anywhere in the country and we would want to draw on that expertise.”

FMD is a highly contagious disease that affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

It is predicted to cause an $80 billion wipe-out of the Australian meat, wool, dairy and live export trades if it gets into the country.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the number of cases in Indonesia was “going down”, and he had discussed the government’s task force plans with State and Territory leaders during a National Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The task force will provide a report to Senator Watt by September 5.

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