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Agriculture cuts to hurt pests control

Former Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon.

Former Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon. Photo: Damian White

Australia's frontline defence against invasive plant and animal diseases is the latest operation to be hit by federal government cutbacks, with 220 jobs in the Agriculture department to be axed.

Workers in the department were told on Friday that jobs in the vital Border Compliance Division would be first to go, but Agriculture bosses insist they can protect the nation's biosecurity despite the cuts.

The axe will fall first at the division's passenger, mail and cargo units, monitoring programs in regional Australia, as well as head office in Canberra.

The federal opposition said on Sunday the move would strike at the heart of Australia's image as a ''clean, green'' food-producing nation.

Departmental secretary Paul Grimes told 5200 workers on Friday that attempts to reduce staff numbers at Agriculture through ''natural attrition'' had failed, and the department wanted up to 220 of its workers to take redundancy payouts.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was $48.2 million in the red at the end of the 2012-13 financial year and new boss Mr Grimes warned staff to expect another deficit, the third in a row, this financial year.

Agriculture is the latest in a string of agencies and departments to try voluntary redundancies in an effort to reduce their workforces because the Abbott government's natural-attrition strategy has failed to deliver reductions since September's election. ''Natural attrition alone has not been sufficient to achieve the necessary staff reductions,'' Mr Grimes told staff.

''We will need to continue reducing staff across the department.

''We anticipate that in the order of 220 VRs [voluntary redundancies] will be required in coming months.

''In the first instance, offers will be made in Border Compliance Division in Canberra and the passengers, mail and cargo programs in the regions,'' he said.

The Border Compliance Division works with other federal agencies, and state and territory authorities, and industry to manage Australia's bio-security system to combat the threat posed by exotic pests and disease.

But Mr Grimes insisted the department would be able to safeguard the nation's bio-security.

''The analysis we've done and continue to do, including through the transition committees, will allow us to manage bio-security risk effectively,'' he said.

But opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the job losses within the department would strike at Australia's frontline defences against introduced plants and diseases.

''They're basically cutting frontline services,'' he said.

''This is the worst possible place to be cutting.

''Our clean, green, safe image as a provider of food to the world is of critical importance and these cuts, of course, will put that reputation at risk.''

Mr Fitzgibbon said the Border Compliance Division was vital to protect the security of Australia's food supply as well as its exports.

''This is a threat to our own food that we consume ourselves and it's an enormous threat to our export income,'' he said.

''We export two-thirds of what we grow in this country and if we are to maximise the benefits presented by what I call the dining boom in Asia, we need to maintain that safe, clean and green image.

''It's critical to our success.''

28 comments

  • Is there any part of Australian society that will not be effected by this government. CUT CUT CUT!!! They were negative in opposition and are going to be negative in government.

    Commenter
    Dozy
    Location
    Fraser
    Date and time
    November 11, 2013, 8:12AM
    • In about a year, when the nation's bio-security is a mess and failing, they'll no doubt reverse this idea and start re-hiring the staff needed to properly protect the country's agriculture. All those Nationals voting farmers must be scratching their heads wondering what they've let themselves in for.

      What a disastrous, reckless government.

      Commenter
      yumq
      Location
      cbr
      Date and time
      November 11, 2013, 10:36AM
      • Well, seeing as how farmers out this way have to chip burrs for years now without government aid, it seems only right that extra special holden should get the chop.

        bye-bye entitled lefties.

        Commenter
        Alex
        Location
        Finley
        Date and time
        November 11, 2013, 2:33PM
    • I'm waiting to hear the the Finance Dept positions that review Pollies Wedding, Bike Ride, Carins, and Library Perks will be cut . . . .

      Commenter
      MST
      Date and time
      November 11, 2013, 10:52AM
      • Joel Fitzgibbon: ''They're basically cutting frontline services"
        ''This is the worst possible place to be cutting."

        Someone ought to tell Joel that, if frontline services are cut, it'll be the Department that makes that decision, not the Ministers.

        Commenter
        RobP
        Date and time
        November 11, 2013, 11:10AM
        • Australia has already been taken over by an unstoppable ( for 3 years) introduced species - the Abbott. Wish we had an Abbott proof fence some of us could be safe behind.

          Commenter
          Snaddle
          Date and time
          November 11, 2013, 11:21AM
          • The whole "Abbott Proof" thing is a bit old now don't you think? Got anything else?

            Commenter
            WotTha?????
            Date and time
            November 11, 2013, 12:56PM
          • He'd no doubt attempt to hurdle it on one of his rorting triathlons.

            Commenter
            A country gal
            Date and time
            November 11, 2013, 2:02PM
        • Correcting sins of the previous government. Over expenditures and waste.

          Commenter
          Tony
          Date and time
          November 11, 2013, 11:51AM
          • Can you explain how monitoring for invasive plant and animal diseases at our border is waste?

            Commenter
            Mike
            Date and time
            November 11, 2013, 12:33PM

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