> PM backs ‘strongest ever’ biosecurity measures as farmers, business say keep Indonesia border open

PM backs ‘strongest ever’ biosecurity measures as farmers, business say keep Indonesia border open

“I don’t think we should shut the borders, ramping up biosecurity layers of protection on our own borders is the best way to go.”

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said Australia should “absolutely not shut the border” to Indonesia and that “cooler heads have to prevail”.

“The key thing I say to people who want a ban is when was the last outbreak globally caused by poo on the boot [of travellers returning from Bali]?” he said.

“Remember it has to enter into the livestock food chain and then be consumed by a cloven-hooved animal. What would be high-risk and high probability is illegally smuggled meat products containing the FMD virus. That is where we have to be concentrating, with sniffer dogs and more surveillance of meat products coming in, not just from Indonesia but anywhere [the disease] is endemic.”

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said closing the border to Indonesia wouldn’t lower the risk of the disease from one of the many other countries it was present, while hurting farmers who relied on trade with Indonesia.

“Shutting the borders would not remove the risk entirely and damage the trading relationship to an extent where it would potentially do way more harm than good,” Simson said.

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Simson said mandatory shoe cleaning at airports should have been implemented when the outbreak was identified in early May, but was pleased it was now in place and pleaded with holidaymakers returning from Bali to clean all the dirt off their shoes and offer them up for chemical treatment.

The new airport biosecurity measures introduced on Friday require travellers to clean their shoes and walk over sanitation mats when they return to Australia from Indonesia.

Those measures were not yet in place at Melbourne airport on Sunday. A Department of Agriculture spokesman said the shoe mats were “undergoing testing” at major airports, and that the department “will need the support of airports to put them in place”.

“Our biosecurity controls rely on a multi-layered approach to mitigate the risk of FMD, including passenger declaration, 100 per cent profiling of all passengers entering from Indonesia, real-time risk assessments, questioning and shoe cleaning.”

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By screening all passengers arriving from Indonesia, almost 3700 travellers were “more intensively” assessed at Melbourne Airport alone on Saturday, according to the department.

Rates of undeclared risk items were “drastically down” from last week, a spokesman for Agriculture minister Murray Watt said.

Australia’s longest-serving ambassador to Indonesia, Bill Farmer said it was crucial the Australian government worked closely with the Indonesian government, building on Agriculture Minister Murray Watt’s recent visit.

“We made a fundamental mistake in 2011 of cutting off the export of live cattle without proper consultation with Indonesia. Their foreign minister at the time [Marty Natalegawa] made clear a few hours was not proper consultation. We have a long-term interest in Indonesia,” he said.

The Australia-Indonesia Business Council president Jennifer Mathews, who also served as an Australian diplomat in Indonesia, warned that “if the government was to close the border it would put at risk those exports of live cattle, which make up a significant contribution to our bilateral trade relationships with Indonesia”.

“This is a significant issue and one that does present risks, but we are calling for a measured and sensible approach to the situation,” she said, praising the Albanese government’s response to date.

“We do need to learn from what we have done in the past. We have seen a big package of support going up to Indonesia in terms of capacity building and vaccines. They will remember this.”

A $14 million assistance package has been put in place to stop foot and mouth disease from entering Australia from Bali or other parts of Indonesia.

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