Community and Public Sector Union Victoria (CPSU)

  • BioSecurity Cuts Threaten Disease Response
    Updated 2 years ago

    The Auditor General has found the state's capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to emergency livestock disease outbreaks has been compromised by funding cuts; something CPSU warned against in 2013 when the previous Government cut jobs and slashed resources to the program exposing Victoria's farming communities. 

    The Auditor General has found the state's capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to emergency livestock disease outbreaks has been compromised by funding cuts something CPSU warned against in 2013 when the previous Government cut jobs and slashed resources to the program exposing Victoria's farming communities.  In March 2013, thirteen (13) scientists in the Biosciences Research Division of the then DPI (link is external), based in Metropolitan and Regional sites, and in roles diverse as Technical Officer to Principal Research Scientist, were informed that their positions were surplus to requirement.   The employees are employed in Weed Sciences, Plant Pathology, Molecular Plant Breeding, Invertebrate Sciences, and Microbiology.   The positions cut are focused on Bio-Protection; protecting Victoria from pest, diseases and weeds through critical research and testing.  Patersons curse, ragwort, blackberry gorse, bridal creeper, St. John's wort, broom, Chilean needle grass, serrated tussock, thistles are just some of the threats facing land holders.  

    The Plant pathology research staff conduct research into controlling endemic and exotic diseases of crop and forest plants with specialised scientific knowledge and experience in crop disease identification, epidemiology and control.   The plant Pathology team was called upon during the chestnut blight incursion, myrtle rust incursion,  citrus canker incursion.   All the employees were told was that their positions were associated with funding that has ceased.  Employees are based in Rutherglen, Tatura, Mildura, and La Trobe University.   Affected employees responded, setting out a case to protect these jobs in BRD.   Professor Benjamin G. Cocks, Research Director, Biosciences Research Division announced late last Friday (24 May 2013) that all staff responses were rejected and employees were now redundant.  These scientists participate in leading research which protects Victoria’s economic and bio-security interests.  One has had his research cited by the UN.  These jobs save thousands of hectares of otherwise un-arable land.  Bio-control is estimated to save $24 for every $1 invested.  Weeds cost Australia more than $4 billion annually in control costs and lost agricultural production.  The loss of further positions from an already depleted weed sciences research team will jeopardise Victoria’s ability to respond to new weed threats. 

    Victorians can only hope that the Government genuinely consider their importance and are prepared to admit where they have been wrong. These jobs are worth saving.  The Government intends to only continue disease R&D in grains and limited perennial horticulture crops like almonds, stone and pome fruit but no longer in other horticulture and viticulture crops despite these industries being economically important to Victoria.  Without applied disease research across all crops, Victoria’s ability to detect and respond to disease incursions is seriously hampered.  Importantly, our R&D is independent and investigates ways to manage diseases using cultural methods while reducing reliance upon pesticides, preventing build-up of pesticide resistance and minimising off-target impacts.  Without this research, growers become reliant on advice provided by providers with interests in selling chemicals and a secondary concern for adverse environmental impacts.  The former Primary Industries Department has suffered harsh cuts over successive State budgets and are culling these vital research positions using dubious criteria contending that these positions are without funding.