NW QLD Left Exposed by Biosecurity Office Closures: Katter

Apr 14, 2023

The loss of Cloncurry’s last remaining Biosecurity Queensland officer – which has shut down the local Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) office – could not have come at a more delicate time, Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter has warned.

Mr Katter said he’d been made aware by concerned community members that the only biosecurity officer who remained on staff had left their post recently, and that Brisbane currently had no plans regarding a replacement.

It’s understood the office, located on the corner of Sheaffe and Daintree Street, is now closed to public as a result of the officer and another staffer having left their posts.

Mr Katter said the fact that the North West has lost its only biosecurity staffer ahead of this week’s Australian Campdrafting Association National Finals, being held at the Cloncurry Equestrian Centre, was a potential disaster.

He said the region was without a major line of defence in the event of a biosecurity breach, and that there would be no local capacity at the event to issue cross border permits, conduct tick inspections or ensure surveillance and control programs were in place.

“The closest biosecurity officers are now located in Longreach and the Hughenden/Charters Towers region, where there is only one in each location,” Mr Katter said.

“The chronic haemorrhaging of officers in the regions, and the intellectual property and professional expertise many of them hold, is inexcusable.

“There must be a dogged commitment to replace them at all costs.”

Last year, DAF announced it had recruited 10 new biosecurity officers.

DAF Minister Mark Furner promised the new employees would be based in rural and regional Queensland and would “support an ‘all hazards’ approach across plant and animal pests and diseases”.

Mr Katter has said since learned that none of the new positions had been posted to the west, and only half were based in North Queensland despite the region being highly vulnerable to the threat of animal disease spread from south-east Asia.

The new officers have been posted to Toowoomba, Mareeba, Cairns (2), Moresby, Townsville, Bundaberg, Dalby, Charleville, and Gatton.

Last year Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Mark Furner admitted there had been a significant decline in the number of biosecurity officers posted in the regions throughout the last decade.

In 2013 Biosecurity Queensland boasted 240 full-time staff based outside of the south-east corner but by 2022, that number has dropped to 199.

Mr Katter said the 30-staff decline had been inadequately addressed by last year’s 10-officer increase, and that high portion of vacancies across regional Queensland was inexcusable.

He has called on Minister Furner to immediately address the Cloncurry office closure, and consider innovative approaches to enhancing the State’s protections, which could include funding a flying veterinary/biosecurity control service, funding laboratory equipment to be deployed across the state; and funding for local councils to build veterinary facilities for services and staging areas for Emerging Animal Diseases (EADs).