JOINT MEDIA - Call For Public Inquiry Into Blueberry Rust

20 July 2017

Key representatives of the blueberry growing industry in Tasmania have called for a public inquiry into the handling of the blueberry rust incursions in Tasmania.

The Primary Industry Biosecurity Action Alliance (PIBAA), the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, and individual blueberry grower representative Tony O’Connell have called upon the Minister for Agriculture Jeremy Rockliff to immediately instruct DPIPWE and Biosecurity Tasmania to commence the eradication of the Blueberry Rust that has been discovered on three north-west properties.

The incursion of this disease poses a significant threat to the on-going viability and expansion of the Tasmanian blueberry industry due to the impact on yields and market access restrictions.

Growers believe that the Minister and the department have been lack lustre in their response to these incursions and that the industry is far too important for this type of approach. The agriculture sector more generally is closely monitoring how the Minister and Biosecurity Tasmania are dealing with this issue. Any failure to maintain the highest biosecurity standards for this State will be met with broad condemnation from the wider agricultural sector.

In recent Estimates Committee questioning it became clear that key questions regarding these incursions, and a previous incursion in 2014, remain unanswered. The failure the adequately respond to questions from Legislative Council members, coupled with the poor response to the current incursion, has led the blueberry industry to demand a public and transparent inquiry into the handling of these events by the Minister, the department and by Biosecurity Tasmania.

As it currently stands the sector has little faith in Tasmania’s biosecurity system, or those who are charged with overseeing it. In order for both the blueberry sector, and the broader agricultural community, to regain faith in this critical element of our State’s branding and agricultural integrity a light needs to be shined on the whole saga – highlighting the decision-making process, and the influences that led to the apparent contradictory outcomes between the 2014 and 2016 incursions.