Australia’s biosecurity measures and response to diseases like foot and mouth and varroa mite will go under the Senate microscope.

The upper house has referred the adequacy of biosecurity measures with a focus on foot and mouth, which has made its way to popular holiday destination Bali, to the rural and regional affairs reference committee for an inquiry.

Labor originally wanted to send the matter to a government-chaired legislation committee, instead of more typically to the references committee chaired by the opposition, but amended the motion at the last minute.

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Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie welcomed the referral but was disappointed at the narrowed terms of reference compared to those put forward by her colleague, Senator Matt Canavan.

“The opposition and crossbench senators … realised it wasn’t good enough for the Labor Party to be marking their own homework on their response to the foot and mouth incursion into Indonesia,” Senator McKenzie said.

“The biosecurity officers (Agriculture Minister Murray Watt) promised and said were there are not deployed. They’re not even employed yet.”

Australia has ordered one million vaccines to be delivered to Indonesia in August and rolled out disinfectant foot mats at international airports.

But the Nationals have repeatedly attacked the government for not acting fast enough to roll out sanitation mats and ban food products brought by travellers from Indonesia.

“This mob has been too late,” party leader David Littleproud said.

“Murray Watt position himself in Lismore when the floods came and asked every day when the money was hitting.

“We’re sitting there every day asking when he’s going to put a mat in, when he’s going to put these officers in, when he’s going to put a vaccine in a beast in Indonesia.”

The committee will report back by October 10.

The referral comes after the coalition used the first Senate question time on Tuesday to attack Senator Watt over the government’s response to the foot and mouth outbreak in Indonesia.

The government’s priority is on bringing Indonesia’s outbreak under control, Senator Watt said.

“That’s not only in their national interest, it’s in our national interest.”

He said 23,600 travellers entered Australia from Indonesia last week, 90 per cent from Bali, and all were going through the foot mats.

The government accused Mr Littleproud of not acting fast enough when he was the agriculture minister ahead of the election, with the prime minister saying no action was taken after the Nationals leader tweeted out he’d been briefed on the issue on May 9.

But Mr Littleproud hit back, saying the advice from the biosecurity officer came during the election campaign when caretaker conventions were in place and Labor’s then agriculture spokeswoman Julie Collins was also briefed.

“We took the advice of the biosecurity officer in charge and … made sure that the decisions the biosecurity officers made were agreed to by us and the opposition,” he said.

“But what happened is when it hit Bali, the risk profile changes, because you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people coming back and forth between Bali and Australia.

“It was only a small number of cases in Indonesia when it first hit (on May 9). The measures needed to be ramped up when it got to Bali.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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