Wimmera biosecurity under threat: State Opposition

STANDING FIRM: Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh, left, has hit back at claims biosecurity in the Wimmera is under threat due to cuts at the Department of Environment and Primary Industry. Picture: EDDIE JIM

STANDING FIRM: Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh, left, has hit back at claims biosecurity in the Wimmera is under threat due to cuts at the Department of Environment and Primary Industry. Picture: EDDIE JIM

THE State Opposition believes biosecurity in the Wimmera is under threat due to cuts at the Department of Environment and Primary Industry.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Jacinta Allan said a 25 per cent drop in property inspections since last year had put Victoria's food production and livestock at risk.

"After mass sackings and cuts to the department responsible for regional Victoria, our food production and livestock are at risk," she said.

"Denis Napthine must acknowledge this crisis and ensure our communities remain free from pests and diseases."

But Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has hit back at the claims, arguing Ms Allan had misread the budget papers.

"Victoria's biosecurity capacity is absolutely adequate and for Jacinta Allan and Labor to play stupid political games suggesting otherwise is downright irresponsible," he said.

"These latest misleading claims come from the same person who recently made the embarrassing gaffe that there was no money in the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund."

In 2012-13 DEPI inspected 164 properties. In 2013-14 DEPI is on track to inspect 120 properties and in 2014-15 DEPI is aiming to to inspect 140 properties in the Wimmera.

A DEPI spokeswoman said the number of properties and the area inspected in any one year was influenced by many factors, such as emergency response requirements and the target landscape, species and demographic.

"Fluctuating inspection numbers might also reflect DEPI's schedule of enforcement programs in which particular areas and specific pest species are targeted," she said.

"These areas and species of focus change over time and this can have an impact on the number of inspections conducted in any one region in a particular year."

Mr Walsh accused Ms Allan of playing silly political games.

Ms Allan also claimed 50 jobs were set to be scrapped from the department this year.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said he was unaware of further job losses.

"We'd be concerned if there were job cuts around biosecurity, particularly because there's a fairly strong push by this State Government in that area and it's been strong on it," he said.

"I'd be very surprised if it was true."

He said he would be concerned if there was a reduction in property inspections.

"We've been fairly strong in the push that we need more of this stuff and not less," he said.

The statewide inspection target in 2012-13 was 4800, which was higher than the targets for 2013-14 and 2014-15, both 3800, because of a peak in three-year inspection cycle for State Prohibited Weed monitoring.

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