Disease task force welcomed

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson and Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt agree a biosecurity task force is the way forward. AAP Image/Russell Freeman Photo by RUSSELL FREEMAN

The National Farmers’ Federation says setting up an expert biosecurity task force is the “right idea”.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced on August 4 that an exotic animal disease preparedness task force would be created with officials from the Australian Defence Force, Australian Border Force and Animal Health Australia.

It will provide a report to the minister by September 5.

“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,” Senator Watt said.

"It will work closely with states, territories and industry to ensure that we are all fully prepared if an outbreak were to occur.”

He said the task force would get to work immediately, conducting a series of scenario-based exercises within the next month.

The task force is in addition to sanitation foot mats rolled out at every international Australian airport and bolstered powers for biosecurity officers screening arriving travellers, following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia.

Australia is currently free of the disease, which affects livestock.

NFF president Fiona Simson said industry had been planning for an FMD incursion for decades.

“We have a world-class biosecurity system, and we have detailed and effective plans in place to manage an incursion, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent,” she said.

“If a serious disease such as FMD hits Australia, it won’t just be an industry problem.

“It’s appropriate to have a broad cross section of emergency management agencies come together to support the ongoing review and enhancement of our preparedness and response plans.

“It’s critical that this new task force establish a strong working partnership with industry, including our established structures and formalised response frameworks.

“Now is the time to check and re-check our preparedness, while ensuring every step is taken to keep these diseases off our shores.”

Ms Simson said the NFF continued to call for 100 per cent screening of inbound passengers from high-risk areas such as Indonesia.

“In addition, we are seeking a long-term, sustainable funding pipeline for our world-class biosecurity systems and personnel.”