OVINE JOHNE’S DISEASE
(Burrinjuck) [5.10 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the effects of ovine Johne’s disease [OJD] in the Burrinjuck electorate. Particular difficulties focus on the Southern Tablelands, of which Burrinjuck electorate makes up the larger part. Testing for ovine Johne’s disease has been concentrated in the area. Burrinjuck is home to the production of some of the most prominent fine wool and fine stud breeding in the world. It is also the focus of deep anger over the way ovine Johne’s disease is being handled by the New South Wales Government. On 6 August approximately 160 producers crammed into the Yass Soldiers Club to protest the administration of ovine Johne’s disease in this State. I spoke at that meeting before a large delegation. The meeting was a classic example of wool producers uniting to form a group firm in its opinion that this Government has got it very wrong in relation to OJD.
On Friday 17 September a further meeting will be held at the Yass Soldiers Club. The organisers, the Yass and District Ovine Johne’s Action Group, which was formed in response to a motion from the OJD information evening of 6 August, predict a much bigger attendance. The meeting on 6 August was organised by the Yass Rural Lands Protection Board in response to community outrage. The group organised the meeting this Friday as a matter of urgency to provide a forum for the increasing community concern.
I know that the Minister for Agriculture also has been invited to this meeting. I would urge him to consider this very carefully. He may wish to attend on Friday. It certainly would be in his best interests to listen to what the growers have to say about this terrible disease. I believe the Government will be called to account at the meeting because producers are ready for straight answers. I emphasise that absolutely no-one wants to see the spread of any livestock disease, but the problem with ovine Johne’s disease [OJD] is how little our authorities know about it. In fact, at the meeting of 6 August producers asked the Department of Agriculture or the Minister for a signed copy of the ovine Johne’s policy.
A senior bureaucrat from the department was unable to provide a signed copy of the policy. He took 10 minutes to explain that the policy is so changeable that he could not be confident that any copy of a policy he provided would be accurate. With such answers serious consideration needs to be given to the policy that is enforced. I wonder whether the Minister can produce a copy of the policy. If the Minister were to attend the meeting on Friday perhaps he could produce a signed copy of the policy or provide me with a copy to take to the meeting. I would like to quote a section of an article from today’s Yass Tribune
, which quotes Mr Ken Henderson, the Chairman of the Yass and District Ovine Johne’s Action Group:
"Policy being devised for OJD is not based on fact" said Ken Henderson, Chairman of Yass and District Ovine Johne’s Action Group. "OJD is in every sheep producing country in the world, and as for trying to control it here in Australia, ‘the horse has bolted’".
That quote is an example of the feeling in my electorate. Tests to establish the presence of OJD are totally unreliable. Senior bureaucrats from the Department of Agriculture advise that faecal tests can be at best 60 per cent accurate and blood tests can be at best 30 per cent accurate. Under the current New South Wales rules if a property is suspected of having one positive test out of more than 400 the property will be locked up. Neighbours are deemed to be under surveillance. The policy is setting friend against friend. It is turning life-long co-operation between farmers and neighbours into confrontation.
I have had best mates in my office shouting down each other, their faces white with anger. I have had husbands and wives in tears in my office because of this policy. The approach seems to be guilty until proven innocent. It is a denial of the fundamental natural justice we all take for granted. There is also extreme anger over the duration of some of the declarations. Threats have been made that some properties will be locked up for five years. Compensation is a central issue, which I will raise at a later time. The OJD problem is vital to my electorate of Burrinjuck.
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [5.15 pm]: I would like to respond to comments made by the honourable member for Burrinjuck and acknowledge that although she might represent the views of some of her constituents, particularly those in the town of Yass, her views on ovine Johne’s disease are not representative of the sheep or wool industry in general.
It is still important.
The matter raised by the honourable member for Burrinjuck, and referred to in the interjection by the honourable member for Southern Highlands, is not simply a State Government program as indicated to the House by the honourable member for Burrinjuck. In fact, OJD is a national problem. This Government put it on the agenda of the Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand [ARMCANZ] so that it became a national program. The honourable member for Burrinjuck referred to Sydney bureaucrats. The bureaucrats in New South Wales Agriculture are situated in Orange, as a result of our policy of decentralisation. The program is funded by a $40.1 million national fund, to which New South Wales contributes $7.24 million. We are also providing an extra $2.25 million over three years for specific relief measures. New South Wales Agriculture is recognised as a world leader in its approach to OJD.
New South Wales Agriculture is assisting to develop a new pooled faecal culture test, a series of OJD business health workshops, and an OJD video developed jointly with the Goulburn Rural Lands Protection Board. I will give an assurance that we will take a deputation, with the department, from Mr Ken Henderson to discuss these matters. Although it may be true that farmers affected by OJD are hurting, our program is co-ordinated and endorsed every step of the way by the national sheep industry. The views put by the honourable member for Burrinjuck in this House this afternoon are not supported by the general sheep and wool industry.