In conjunction with tonight’s screening on 4 Corners of ‘Outbreak – The quarantine failures putting the Australian economy at risk’ I would like to provide some context regarding the white spot issue which has been a public policy failure on many levels including (1) screening for disease at the border, (2) an import risk assessment process that did not properly take into account the risk of the white spot virus in imported prawn and prawn products form countries that have white spot declared fisheries, (3) a porous border control regime that allowed some importers to game the system and (4) a total denial of responsibility for the impacts on the wild harvest sector from the only level of government that controls the border – the Federal government.
Recently, the QSIA President Keith Harris contacted Ms Michelle Landry, Member for Capricornia regarding assistance for commercial fishers impacted by white spot. The response from the Hon David Littleproud MP, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources asserted that by the association not accepting an offer to enter into an aquatic emergency animal diseases response agreement (Aquatic EADRA) industry was denied access to assistance. This is not the case for the following reasons:
- Commercial fishers have no control of the policy or operational aspects of pre-border and border controls – that responsibility rests with the Federal government.
- Farm based responses to eradicate disease, such as using chlorine on prawn farms to destroy white spot would not be allowed in open waters under State environmental legislation.
- While there was no immediate certainty about how and when the Government would address these failures, the QSIA has arrived at the conclusion that the EADRA is an attempt to shift responsibility to industry.
- There is limited, if any, ability to control what occurs in the marine environment from commercial fishers.
The association could never enter into an agreement on behalf of industry because it is a state-based industry body not a national body. The Federal government has stated on more than one occasion that it let an opportunity slip by. Not so. A deed is the government’s way to minimise its responsibilities in the event of a biosecurity incident. Signatories to a deed are in effect claiming some of the responsibility for the costs of a biosecurity response.
A former QSIA President, wrote to the Federal government making this point some 11 years ago and was ignored: QSIA 2007_Letter to Biosecurity Australia
The association received funding from the Federal government to develop biosecurity materials that, at the time of the white spot incursion did not exist. The association in collaboration with the State government, commercial fishers and Dr Ben Diggles created a suit of information for use by industry. Unfortunately, the development of the material cannot assist commercial fishing businesses financially impacted by white spot.
The reviews, submissions and testimony from government officials, commercial fishers, prawn farmers, biosecurity experts and industry associations paint an exceptionally bad situation with respect to the protection offered to our marine environment and the industries that rely on the ‘border cops’ to secure our borders from diseases like white spot.
A great media release from Seafood Industry Australia – SIA responds to ABC Four Corners episode on white spot virus.
The association hopes that a class action process amongst commercial fishing businesses succeeds and sets a new precedent and holds the Federal government accountable for its failure to protect industry.
The issues raised in the 4 Corners program are a damning indictment on the border cop – their failure has led to business and personal distress amongst my industry as well as prawn farmers – our suffering is real which has never been addressed by the Federal government. Real leadership is admitting to mistakes and correcting them – two years and counting and still no admission of wrong doing or restitution for commercial fishers.
Author: Eric Perez, CEO – Queensland Seafood Industry Association
Image: Biosecurity Plan for the East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery, page 17, photograph Dr Ben Diggles, DigsFish Services
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