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15th June 2008

Government releases Equine Influenza Inquiry report

Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke has released the report of the inquiry into last year’s equine influenza outbreak, conducted by the Hon. Ian Callinan AC, along with the Federal Government’s response.

The Government has agreed to all 38 of Commissioner Callinan’s recommendations.

Commissioner Callinan concluded that the virus ‘probably’ came into Australia in August 2007, via horses from Japan.

He was unable to make a precise finding as to how the virus entered the general horse population, or of direct liability or culpability, but found the virus was most likely carried on a contaminated person or equipment leaving Eastern Creek Quarantine Station.

The Commission made no findings on legal liability. His report identified a number of matters involving the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and the horse industry which may have contributed to the outbreak.

The Commissioner accepted that private vets, grooms, farriers and their employers must take some responsibility for the failure in quarantine.

“This comprehensive report is a disturbing commentary on Australia’s quarantine and biosecurity arrangements for horse imports before August last year,” Mr Burke said.

“While changes have been made to horse import systems since the outbreak, the Commissioner has highlighted serious and systemic failures in the system and the Government is acting urgently to fix these failures.

“Our most important action was to establish a comprehensive review of our quarantine and biosecurity systems – led by Roger Beale AO – which is well underway.”

Commissioner Callinan also raised serious questions about the operations of AQIS and Australia’s broader biosecurity arrangements.

Mr Burke has written to Mr Roger Beale asking him to address these issues as part of his review.

A number of the Commissioner’s recommendations will be implemented immediately, including:

· Appoint a new Inspector General of Horse Importation, reporting to the Minister, to inspect and audit quarantine facilities for horses to be exported to Australia (both international and domestic);

· Make a senior officer of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry responsible for the importation of horses into Australia; and

· Improve operating procedures for the clearance and quarantine of horses.

Other recommendations to be implemented after further investigation include:

· Horses to be tested for equine influenza both before travelling to Australia and while still in quarantine after arrival;

· Review biosecurity policies for horses and carry out an import risk analysis;

· Reassess importation conditions for horses applied by AQIS;

· Review pre-export, airport and quarantine station facilities;

· Review fees charged for the export of horses to Australia, looking at the cost of quarantine, auditing and risk factors.

To ensure that the Government’s response is implemented in full, and without delay, the Government has appointed Professor Peter Shergold AC – former Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department – to oversee the process. He will report regularly to the Minister over the next two years.

According to preliminary estimates, it will cost around $1.3 million to implement those recommendations requiring immediate action.

The Government will consult with industry sectors in implementing the recommendations.

Mr Burke noted that the Callinan Inquiry report finds AQIS’ shortcomings were due to acts and omissions over many years, with ultimate responsibility resting with several key positions held by various people in recent years.

“I have considered this issue carefully and the Secretary of the Department retains my confidence,” Mr Burke said.

“Other staffing issues in the Department are being addressed by the Secretary.”

The Government will continue to consult with a range of industry sectors, including the racing, breeding and recreational sectors.

“The outbreak of equine influenza had serious economic and social effects,” Mr Burke said.

“So far, the Government has spent more than $342 million in eradicating the virus and in financial assistance to individuals, organisations and businesses.

“We raised grave concerns about Australia’s biosecurity and quarantine arrangements while in Opposition and the Commissioner’s report shows our concerns were well-founded.

“We must drive cultural change in our quarantine and biosecurity systems so that Australians have confidence in those systems.”

The Federal Government has responded to each of the Commissioner’s recommendations in detail.

The full report is available at www.equineinfluenzainquiry.gov.au and the Government’s response is available at www.daff.gov.au/about/publications/eiinquiry