A State Government move to close Cape York Biosecurity Centre will leave Australia exposed to a potentially “catastrophic” risk of disease, AgForce has warned.
The farming organisation has called on the government to urgently reconsider its decision, amid fears it is leaving the country defenceless to attack from disease and pests, including an incursion of foot and mouth disease or lumpy skin disease.
Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will close the facility, north of Coen, on 30 June 2023.
The land on which it’s situated is subject to an ongoing Native Title claim, sparking rumours the government will hand the keys to the Southern Kaantju Traditional Owners.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said removing the physical checkpoint between Papua New Guinea and Far North Queensland was a dangerous move.
“It is simply madness to close this facility,” he said.
“At this point in time, with FMD and LSD biosecurity incidents in Indonesia, African Swine Fever in Papua New Guinea, plus vectors that could come down the Cape from Papua New Guinea, it makes absolutely zero sense.
“Without a solid movement control checkpoint in Cape York, an emergency animal disease outbreak on one of the Torres Strait Islands could have a catastrophic impact on red meat exports from Australia.”
The closure leaves DAF without infrastructure north of Mareeba to mount an emergency disease or pest response, and only two DAF biosecurity officers north of Cairns – one at Bamaga and one on Thursday Island.
“Ultimately, without a solid line of defence up north, the country has lost the ability to prevent a pest or disease from spreading,” Mr Guerin added.
In previous years, the Cape York Biosecurity Centre was involved in the successful eradication of the papaya fruit fly from north Queensland, and has increased biosecurity awareness amongst travellers on the sole road to the Cape.
Mr Guerin said: “There are repeated reports of northbound visitors stopping to get biosecurity information from a DAF officer and the pleasing response of people doing the right thing by surrendering produce to the biosecurity bins on their return journey.
“Those benefits are hard to measure, but they are real, and they will disappear when the Cape York Biosecurity Centre closes and infrastructure is dismantled.
“Unconfirmed reports suggest that the facility is on indigenous land and this is partly the reason why it needs to close, but surely an agreement could be worked out with the local community to retain this essential service and protect Queensland’s biosecurity?”