Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne has confirmed that the Queensland Government continues to shoulder the financial burden of the response to white spot disease while the Turnbull Government refuses to acknowledge its responsibility.
“The Palaszczuk Government has so far spent more than $11 million and expects to have expended at least $17.6 million on the response, surveillance and sampling by the end of this financial year,” the Minister said.
“These costs will continue to mount.
“In addition we have made a total of $30 million available in concessional loans for prawn farmers to help them recover from the devastation caused to their operations. Our priority remains assisting those farms to return to disease-free production at the earliest opportunity.
“Prior to today’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, more than six months after the initial detection, the Commonwealth’s contribution was just $1.74 million.”
The Minister said that while the Commonwealth’s belated contribution was welcome it was nonsense for Mr Joyce to claim that the Queensland Government did not support the prawn farmers.
“Prior to today we have done all the heavy lifting in terms of resources and finance on this outbreak.
“It is extraordinary that the Deputy Prime Minister has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to help these famers after his department’s failings are to blame for the outbreak and the Queensland prawn industry’s predicament,” the Minister said.
“What is worse is that before offering financial assistance with contrition and good grace he chose instead to threaten the Queensland Government with a withdrawal of co-operation for future biosecurity responses and the national agreements for responses to Red Imported Fire Ants and Panama TR4 disease.
“Frankly that is the act of an arrogant bully.
“Today’s announcement is in response to my statement last week calling on Mr Joyce to finally accept liability for the clean-up and on-going costs of the outbreak. It should not fall to the Queensland taxpayers, to enter into a cost sharing agreement with the Commonwealth for their mismanagement.
“I made it clear that the Palaszczuk Government’s position was that by its actions the Commonwealth was responsible and must accept sole responsibility for the outbreak and its impact.
“Queenslanders should know that their government has always been, and remains, a strong supporter of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity and the various cost sharing deeds that have been developed under this agreement.
“In the case of white spot disease I refused to countenance cost-sharing because the Commonwealth engaged in a litany of cover-ups and secrecy on what its agents knew about positive samples of white spot in retail prawns.
“If Mr Joyce’s department had been honest about its intelligence and shared the information with the Queensland Government we would have been able to take action to prevent the impact of white spot disease in this state.
“The key issue here, and the one that makes this situation unique, is that the Commonwealth has publicly admitted it was aware of the presence of white spot disease in imported green prawns nine months before Queensland Government and industry was advised.
“That is inexcusable.
“Mr Joyce clings to the argument that there is no conclusive scientific proof that the Commonwealth was responsible for the outbreak.
“But industry has no doubts where the fault lies and everyone agrees that there were major faults with Biosecurity Australia procedures.
“It is beyond understanding why the Commonwealth chose not to pass on vital information in a timely manner.
“The direct financial impact to date on affected farms is estimated at approximately $22.3 million.
“Commercial fishers have also suffered, and continue to suffer from the restrictions forced on their activity.
“I reject out of hand Mr Joyce’s negative comments about Queensland’s response.
“All response activities have been undertaken under the guidance of the Aquatic Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases (ACCEAD) which involves all jurisdictions and is chaired by the Commonwealth.