Legislative Council: Thursday, March 09, 2023



Emergency Animal Diseases

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:15): I move:

That this council—

1. Recognises that emergency animal diseases can often have significant impacts on animal health, welfare and production, as well as on human health and the economy;

2. Acknowledges the importance of the livestock industry, government, farmers and veterinarians working together to tackle the prevention and mitigation of emergency animal diseases;

3. Notes that agriculture ministers have committed to introduce a national mandatory individual electronic identification (eID) system for sheep and goats by 1 January 2025; and

4. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to publicly commit funds to the sheep and goat eID system and to work more closely with industry, to ensure that an optimal regulatory framework is reached that balances risks, impacts and costs to producers.

Emergency animal diseases are highly contagious often serious diseases that can have significant impacts on animal health, welfare and production, as well as on human health and the economy. Emergency animal diseases can spread rapidly through animal populations. In primary industries, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, emergency animal diseases can have devastating consequences. They can cause significant losses in animal productivity, lead to animal deaths and result in reduced trade opportunities and economic impacts.

For example, outbreaks of diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, lumpy skin and African swine fever have had significant impacts on the primary industries and economies of affected countries around the globe. If there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Australia, it has been estimated that it would have an $80 billion direct impact on our economy. Because of the potential for emergency animal diseases to cause significant harm, many countries have developed emergency preparedness plans and response strategies to manage outbreaks of these diseases.

These plans involve measures such as surveillance, rapid diagnosis, quarantine, culling of infected animals and vaccination. They also include greater animal traceability systems and standards. The aim is to control the spread of the disease and minimise its impact on animal health, welfare and production, as well as of course on human health and the economy.

Being a veterinarian for 15 years I experienced firsthand the benefits of traceability systems, development of these preparedness plans and the impact that disease can have on a mob, a farm, a producer and the surrounding community. We were always taught in veterinary school to be vigilant with disease diagnosis, in the event of a suspicion of emergency animal disease to always err on the side of caution and to follow strict protocols in terms of notifications. We absolutely understood the importance of robust traceability systems.

We know that livestock traceability systems are critical to ensure that incursions of exotic diseases can be rapidly detected, contained and eradicated. We, the opposition, absolutely support efforts to improve traceability. The idea of South Australia moving into the space of electronic identification started as an industry-led initiative that was 100 per cent backed by the former Liberal government. In fact, a number of South Australian producers today are already using electronic identification for farm management purposes.

The benefits of introducing livestock traceability systems include the ability to be in the best recovery position if there is an emergency animal disease or food safety incident. The recovery will be shorter if we strengthen our biosecurity systems with improved traceability, and the chance of disease getting into flocks in the first place will be lessened if we can individually trace sheep and goats.

It is also important for the maintenance of market access. A loss of reputation and confidence caused by a livestock disease outbreak or a chemical contamination incident would incur large and long-lasting costs for Australia's export markets. An effective tracing system can enable an efficient, effective and targeted response.

Evidence both locally and abroad demonstrates that in some situations the current visual mob-based system is not as quick or as accurate as tracing the individual movement of sheep and goats. On the surface, a well-developed sheep and goat electronic identification system will help achieve these outcomes. However, as with any regulatory framework, it must balance risks, impacts and costs to producers. It must also be developed with the livestock industry, government, farmers and veterinarians all working together.

What was originally an industry-led initiative has now become government driven due to the announcement by federal agricultural minister Murray Watts in September 2022, ratified by all state agricultural ministers, to mandate sheep and goat electronic identification nationally by January 2025. There is absolutely no problem with this, and we absolutely support this, but given the government are mandating this outcome they need to step up to the plate. They need to publicly commit funding to the rollout, and they need to listen to the industry and producers to ensure the optimal regulatory framework is reached that balances risks, impacts and cost to producers.

On multiple occasions, the South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development has stated that the sheep and goat electronic identification process has been industry led and continues to be industry led. She is correct in the first instance. It was industry led, but because her and her federal colleagues moved to mandate the process, setting the agenda and vocalising the need for national harmonisation, it is no longer industry led in South Australia, and the minister must acknowledge this.

The industry, which was originally looking at the merits or otherwise of a rollout of state-based electronic identification, have been told that the decision has been made and it has been taken out of the industry's hands. There has been an absolute lack of transparency and clarity from the Minister for Primary Industries and the Malinauskas government around the details surrounding the rollout of the program. What will be the end date of the rollout? What funding will be provided by her government and, indeed, the federal government into South Australia? Will exemptions be considered?

It is absolutely critical that the industry has certainty around this reform and is provided with this certainty in a timely fashion. The business model for producers will be impacted by this change, with the concurrent rising costs of doing business. Farmers need to be able to plan their future, and they cannot do that at the moment because of the lack of transparency by this government and because of a minister who refuses to answer any questions on the subject.

We are calling on the Malinauskas Labor government to commit adequate funding to and to work more closely with industry with respect to the sheep and goat eID system to ensure that an optimal regulatory framework is reached that balances risks, impacts and costs to producers. The sheep industry alone generates $2 billion in annual gross state revenue, with an estimated 5,200 farm businesses in South Australia. Those businesses support close to 11 million sheep, with farmgate production valued at $780 million. This type of economic turnover fuelled by primary producers is the bread and butter of South Australia and must be invested in and protected.

The Malinauskas Labor government must do better when it comes to regional South Australia and our primary producers.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. R.P. Wortley.