The Australian vegetable industry has 'slammed' the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Daff) for 'the grossly inadequate' consultation period it has provided horticulture industries in its rush to review its new biosecurity legislation.
"Australian industry is being kept in the dark about Daff's new legislation to amend current biosecurity laws, and is trickling out chapters at a snail's pace," said Ausveg public affairs manager, William Churchill. "There's no explanation as to why Daff is behaving this way, but this feels like policy on the run."
Daff is seeking to reform Australia's current biosecurity system, which will include overhauling the Quarantine Act 1908.
"Updates to old legislation are important, but it's reckless and irresponsible to rush industry consultation when it will be industry that bears the brunt of any mistakes that happen," said Churchill.
Beginning 4 July 2012, Daff has progressively released sections of its new biosecurity legislation for feedback, with final submissions on the proposed laws due by 10 August 2012. With just days remaining to comment, industry still hasn't received three key chapters of the legislation.
"25% of the Bill hasn't been released yet," said Churchill. "The Department of Agriculture seems to run its own race. Its bureaucrats have displayed absolute contempt for industry and the community, the very people they are there to serve.
"A significant shakeup of DAFF is required and they need to be brought back into line. Bureaucrats who believe that treating industry in this manner have no place within the public sector."
Struggling with accountability
Daff biosecurity has been developing its new draft biosecurity legislation with state and territory governments since 2008. However, industry input in this process has been minimal or relatively restricted.
"Given the deplorable level of consultation on biosecurity reforms, and Daff's dismissive attitude towards importing potatoes from New Zealand, one can only assume that this is a department that struggles with accountability," said Churchill.
"We're very fortunate in Australia to be free from many of the devastating pests and crop diseases found in other countries, so we must be absolutely sure that any changes made to existing Biosecurity laws are given proper consideration by the industries that these changes will affect the most," he added.
UPDATE Ausveg has welcomed the decision by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to extend the consultation period on the current biosecurity legislation review. The department has not yet set a new closing date for this stage of consultation and will announce one upon the release of the remaining chapters of the legislation.
Ausveg is the National Peak Industry Body representing Australia's 9,000 vegetable and potato growers.