Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Economic Development
The Honourable Bill Byrne
Friday, April 28, 2017
It’s time for Barnaby to put up on White Spot
The liability for the clean-up and on-going costs of the White Spot Disease outbreak in South East Queensland lies squarely at the feet of Barnaby Joyce and the Commonwealth, says Fisheries Minister Bill Byrne.
“I am calling on Mr Joyce to provide immediate financial support and assistance to all White Spot affected industries in Queensland,” the Minister said.
“The Commonwealth Government’s proposal for sharing the cost of the outbreak with industry and the Queensland Government is simply not good enough in this case.
“The industry has rejected cost sharing on the grounds prawn farmers did nothing wrong and I fully support their position.
“Today I have informed Mr Joyce that he should provide immediate financial support to the Logan River prawn farmers who are struggling to stay solvent and save their businesses because of symptomatic failures of his Department.
“I have also made clear the Palaszczuk Government’s position that the Commonwealth must accept sole responsibility for the outbreak and its impact.
“It was the failings of the Commonwealth Government that caused the outbreak of White Spot which has devastated our prawn farmers and commercial fishers in South East Queensland,” the Minister said.
“It is clear that Mr Joyce’s department deliberately withheld information that might have prevented the outbreak.
“We haven’t heard ‘Boo’ from Barnaby on the failings of the Commonwealth Government and it is time he came clean, took his medicine and finally acknowledges he bears sole responsibility for the outbreak.
“The Palaszczuk Government shares the view of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the financial obligations for the response and assistance and support to affected industries.
“It took a Senate Committee enquiry to reveal the culpability of the Commonwealth in regards to the White Spot outbreak.
“I was appalled to find the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) was in possession of enough evidence, more than 12 months ago, to approve a compliance program into the importation of imported green prawns, operation Cattai, but not concerned enough to let state authorities know what might be happening.
“The litany of cover-ups and secrecy continued unabated when in June 2016, positive samples of White Spot were found in retail prawns.
“By August 2016 the Commonwealth had identified that 25 out of 40 importers were under suspicion and again kept it secret.
“In September, DAWR became aware its officers were not following clear work instructions on the testing of random samples of imported prawns and even worse in some cases importers were deliberately passing off Australian caught green prawns as imported to evade detection.
“So on 1 December when White Spot was confirmed at a farm in South East Queensland, you would think they would have had an epiphany and said ‘I suppose we should tell the states about this now’. Well you would be wrong.
“It took the Commonwealth until 6 January 2017, more than a month after the outbreak of White Spot in Queensland and more than nine months after first suspecting issues around the importation of green prawns, for Barnaby Joyce to place a ban on the importation of green prawns,” the Minister said.
The Queensland Government has shouldered the financial burden of the response so far, spending in excess of $11 million.
This includes over half a million dollars to affected farms has part of its White Spot Disease Early Response Assistance package.
Those costs are expected to rise to $17 million by the end of the current financial year.
The Queensland Government has also made $10 million in concessional loans available to prawn farmers with a further $20 million available going forward.
“In contrast the Commonwealth as only committed to providing $1.74 million in emergency funding and frankly this is simply not good enough,” the Minister said.
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