Bugs and balls-ups!

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Three years ago, in July 2009, the Public Service Association issued this prescient media release to the country,

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Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009, 9:44 am
Press Release: Public Service Association

Significant risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

The Public Service Association is concerned about the significant risks involved in cutting jobs at MAF Biosecurity, whose staff work on our borders protecting New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar agriculture sector from pests and diseases.

MAF Biosecurity has today announced that’s its disestablishing around 60 jobs by cutting 30 filled positions and disestablishing 30 vacant positions. MAF Biosecurity says the job cuts are in response to falling trade and passenger volumes.

“But the government is also responsible for these job losses as it cut the baseline funding for MAF Biosecurity by $1.9 million in the Budget delivered in May,” says PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff.

“Our concern is that the New Zealand’s economy depends on our farming and horticulture industries that could be decimated if diseases like foot and mouth and fruit fly got into the country.”

“MAF Biosecurity staff work to prevent these diseases and pests from crossing our borders so it’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area,” says Richard Wagstaff.

MAF Biosecurity says if foot and mouth reached New Zealand virtually all exports of meat, animal by-products and dairy products would stop. They would not resume until at least three months after the slaughter of the last infected animal. The country’s trade reputation would be damaged, unemployment would rise by about 20,000 and Gross Domestic Product would be cut by $10 billion over a two year period.

“We are not opposed to public service staffing being linked to demand for public services,” says Richard Wagstaff.

“But this should work both ways and staff numbers should be increased when demand for public services rises,” says Richard Wagstaff.

The PSA has been consulted about the proposed job cuts at MAF Biosecurity.

“As well as being concerned about the risk to our biosecurity we’re concerned the job cuts could actually push up MAF Biosecurity costs if staff have to do extra overtime or staff who are cut have to be brought back as the workload increases,” says Richard Wagstaff.

Source

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Being the clever folk that we New Zealanders generally are, we undertook  the usual response when confronted with a warning about an  imprudent government policy.

New Zealanders ignored it.

We were too busy. It was someone else’s problem. And that nice, smiling  man,  John Key,  had just been elected  promising us lots of lovely money  by way of tax cuts.

Of course, being such trusting sheep people, we ignored warnings that the recession was biting hard into our economy and tax cuts could only be sustained by massive borrowings from overseas… and cuts to government services. We didn’t seem to care. We just wanted tax cuts. It didn’t seem to matter to most folk that John Key’s government was sacking state sector workers and cutting back on essential services.

Services like… bio-security.

Even as government was instructing MAF’s Biosecurity New Zealand to sack sixty of it’s staff,  container traffic was increasing into the country,

Port Taranaki CEO Roy Weaver said it had been a record year for containers at the port.

Mr Weaver said more than 65,100 containers had gone through the port to the year ended June 30, up from 60,000 the previous year.

Port Taranaki was primarily an export port. Mr Weaver said containers arriving at the port from high-risk countries were targeted by MAF staff.”

Source

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It seems inconceivable that MAF’s 700 staff could inspect 65,100 containers just at Port Taranaki alone – never mind ports at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Plus international airports at Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Plus dozens of cruise ships every summer.

But government was determined. They wanted 60 staff sacked.

All to save $1.9 million dollars. That’s right, folks; one point nine million dollars.

Richard Wagstaff from the PSA pointed out,  that the farming and horticulture industries could be ruined if diseases such as foot and mouth and pests such a fruitfly got into the country. (Daily News, 9 July 2009)

It’s vital that these job cuts don’t weaken our defences in this area.  A foot-and-mouth incursion could cut 20,000 jobs and reduce gross domestic product by $10 billion over a two-year period.”

In September 2009, as the Biosecurity Amendment Bill was being debated in Parliament, Labour’s Brendon Burns (MP, Christchurch Central) had this warning to make,

I am very pleased to take a short call on the Biosecurity Amendment Bill, and, yes, Labour supports this bill going to the Primary Production Committee, of which I am a member. We welcome the proposal to increase the fines available for those who breach our biosecurity regulations.

As has been mentioned, however, there are some very real fears in that the Government is giving, if you like, some stiffening to the biosecurity regulations, but it is taking with the other arm, in the sense that we are losing 54 biosecurity staff. Those staff are the thin green line that protects and preserves our $20 billion – plus agricultural production export base. It is a very thin line. I have spoken to Christchurch biosecurity staff; they tell me it is already very hard to do their job properly, and this is before we see the loss of staff that is currently taking place. If those staff are not able to do their job properly, then goodness help this nation, because everything we have and hold dear is reliant upon their being able to do their best to protect and preserve our borders….”

Source

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As Burns also stated,

“...the varroa mite is estimated to have cost this nation between $273 million and $486 million in lost production, jobs, and exports.”

By May of this year, Richard Wagstaff reported that 500 jobs had been cut in the biosecurity service since his organisation first issued that dire, prophetic warning three years ago.

All done to “save” a few million bucks.

Now, we have the prospect of  having entire suburbs in Auckland being contained in some kind of loose “quarantine”, after a Queensland fruit fly was caught in a pest surveillance trap,

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NOT WANTED: Queensland Fruit Fly

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Considering that the Queensland fruit fly costs the Australian economy approximately  $160 million a year, this is a very real threat  to New Zealand’s own $5 billion annual horticultural industry.

Five billion dollars, per year, every year. All under threat because this government wanted to save a few million bucks by employing fewer biosecurity staff.

As if the discovery of a  painted apple moth in 1999; the varroa mite infestation of our honey hives in 2000; and other isolated instances of pests found in this country did not serve as a warning to us – National  proceeded to cut back on biosecurity staffing.

This blogger wonders sometimes (actually, all the time) what goes through the minds of our esteemed Honourable Ministers of Her Majesty’s Government. These are supposedly well-educated men and women, with support from thousands of University-educated advisors – and yet they still manage to accomplish the most incredibly moronic decisions conceivable.

National has put at risk this country’s  $5 billion industry – simply to save a few million dollars.

They have risked horticulturalist’s businesses; workers their jobs; and all the down-stream economic activity – to save a small percentage of billions.

This blogger has three pieces of advice for all concerned,

  1. John Key must  accept the resignation of  David Carter, Minister for Bio-security immediatly.
  2. National must reinstate biosecurity services to pre-2009 levels.
  3. Horticulturalists (and others who own farms and other agricultural businesses) should carefully consider whether National is working on their behalf – or for the sake of implementing false economies. What is the point of an orchardist voting for National – if National is going to screw his/her business by cutting back on essential government services such as biosecurity?!?!

Hopefully, this  fruit fly is a lone bug; perhaps a stowaway in someone’s bag or in a container offloaded at Ports of Auckland.

If so, once again we’ve been lucky.

But how long will our  luck hold out?

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Addendum

A quote from a poster on another blog,

Attack building regulations and get a leaky homes disaster.

Attack banking regulations and get a global financial crisis.

Attack mine safety regulations and get 29 dead men at Pike River.

Attack bio-security regulations and get a fruit fly disaster.” – ‘vto’, The Standard, 12 May 2012

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References

Scoop:  Risks involved in cutting MAF Biosecurity jobs

Daily News:  Farming at risk if biosecurity jobs cut, PSA warns

TVNZ:  Minister warned about biosecurity concerns

Fairfax News:  Fruit restrictions in place

Dominion Post:  Biosecurity savings ‘false economy’

Biosecurity NZ webpage

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