Cr Danita Potter, Cr Kathy Duff, Mayor Brett Otto, Cr Jane Erkens, Cr Scott Henschen and cattle producer Tom Wilson at Thursday’s media conference in Kingaroy

July 14, 2022

The South Burnett Regional Council has called on the Federal Government to “act quickly and decisively” to ban travel to and from Bali to protect the national economy from foot and mouth disease (FMD).

Mayor Brett Otto and councillors called a media conference on Thursday afternoon to emphasise the danger FMD posed to the South Burnett economy if it arrived in Australia.

He said locally a thousand people at Swickers could be out of work.

“That won’t be a ripple through our region, it will be a tsunami through our economy,” he said.

But there would be flow-on effects to all businesses in the South Burnett, and nationally.

“It won’t just be the rural people who are affected, it will be everybody in Australia,” Mayor Otto said.

“Including the people in the coastal centres and the cities. There will be massive job losses right across Australia. ”

He called on the Premier to “step up and force” the Federal Government “to do what they should have done in the first place”.

“That is suspend all travel between Indonesia and Australia. There is no other solution.”

South Burnett councillor – and cattle producer – Scott Henschen said FMD was the “most dangerous catastrophe” the country had faced in a century but said the Federal Government had done very little to stop it.

“They’ve been talking about implementing foot baths, they’re talking about sniffer dogs, they’re talking of an officer on planes, (It’s) absolutely ridiculous,” Cr Henschen said.

Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by a viral infection.

Sydney University veterinary public health expert Professor Michael Ward said what made the FMD virus so remarkable was its environmental resistance.

“It can persist on many inanimate objects, such as equipment used with livestock, people’s clothing and shoes, on the tyres of vehicles and in livestock transport,” he said.

“It can also persist in livestock feed and livestock products, such as meat and hides. It can even remain infectious on the hands and within noses of those in contact with infected livestock.

“It can cripple the livestock sector, cause immense animal suffering, destroy farmer businesses, create food insecurity and has massive trade impacts for Australia.”

The FMD virus affects cattle, pigs, goats and sheep.

“Those industries would disappear within 48 hours,” Cr Henschen said.

“There’s no real fix for it. They shoot them and burn them, simple as that.”

Cattle producer Tom Wilson said if FMD came to Australia, he would be “done”.

“Cattle will be decimated. The market will drop. (It will affect) follow-on markets like cereal crops, anything to do with pigs,” he said.

“(For) towns like Kingaroy, that will be it.

“Senator Murray Watt, the Minister for Agriculture, can either be a hero now and do something about it or be known as the next Joe Ludwig … who can’t even go to Mt Isa any more without police protection.”

(Mr Ludwig was the Agriculture Minister in the Gillard Labor Government who was reviled in rural Queensland in 2011 after he suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia for six weeks in the wake of an ABC Four Corners exposé of animal cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs).

Cr Henschen said there was a simple fix: “Suspend all travel in and out of Bali.”

The government had stopped flights, shut borders and put mandates in place “overnight” for COVID-19.

“What’s the cost of FMD in Australia? In 48 hours it would be an $80 billion industry shattered,” he said.

“The flow-on effects from there … you won’t get a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich.

“There’ll be no ham, there’ll be no cheese. The dairy industry will be gone. The beef industry will be gone. The sheep industry will be gone and the pork industry will be gone.

“That’s how serious this is.”

Cr Henschen said the measures that had been implemented so far were “disgraceful”.

“There is nothing being done … sniffer dogs, a footbath and and an officer on a plane. There are 16 flights today coming into Australia from Bali, Indonesia,” he said.

“Last month, 128,000 Australians visited Bali; 6.5 million people visit Bali per annum.

“If it comes here, it’s too late. It’s got to be stopped out there.”

Mayor Otto said the whole South Burnett Regional Council stood behind Cr Henschen.

“We know the government reacted very quickly to COVID. The economic impact (of FMD) will dwarf COVID because it will decimate the Australian economy,” he said.

The inconvenience for Australian travellers would be “a very small price to pay for what could decimate our national economy, and our local economy”.

Cr Kathy Duff, another cattle producer, said she was concerned for all businesses in the region.

“When the farmers are doing it tough, our businesses are doing it tough,” she said.

But she said there were also mental health issues to be considered.

“We have got a property … with 800 cattle. If it gets in, we’d have to shoot all our cattle. Can you imagine having to do that? Even just the thought of it, the worry. We have to stand strong as a Council just to support the mental health of our farmers,” she said.

“Is the government going to step up and try to stop this, for the sake of our farmers, for the sake of our region, and for the sake of our country?”

And, she emphasised, if it got into Australia’s feral pig population, it would go everywhere.

Cr Henschen said the potential to turn Australia into a Third World country was “absolutely real”.

There would be “no food on the shelves, no pubs, clubs or restaurants … that’s the fact … there’ll be no jobs. That’s the brink of a Third World country. ”

“The public needs to be aware how serious this is … it is the most critical thing, potentially the most dangerous thing, I have ever seen in my life,” he said.

Council plans to erect signs at all entry points to the South Burnett to raise public awareness about the issue.

Mayor Otto also urged people to rethink travelling abroad until the risk was extinguished and Cr Henschen urged producers not to let anyone on to their properties, if they had any doubts.

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Speaking on SKY News, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the Federal Government had no plans to introduce a travel ban.

However, he did not want to accuse anyone of over-reacting to the threat.

“If FMD were to get into our country, it would shut down our livestock export industry overnight, and that would be a crippling blow not just to farmers in rural communities but to our national economy,” he said.

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