Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Reports that federal, state and territory authorities across Australia have signalled their intention to increase buffel grass control efforts through greater regulation and expenditure of many millions of taxpayer dollars, should prompt the agriculture sector and regional communities to question the priorities of our biosecurity agencies.

Yes, buffel grass is an introduced species.  It is maligned as an invasive weed, which creates fire-hazards, out-competes native flora, reduces habitat for native fauna and degrades ecosystems.  However, as a forage pasture that does well in dry conditions, it is seen as a crucial asset of the pastoral industry, particularly in Northern Australia.

No, I’m not trying to deny the impact of introduced species on our natural environment.  On the contrary.  I am in fact a staunch advocate for much, much more to be done to reduce the impact of invasive pest weeds and feral animals that are already here and to step up our efforts to prevent more problems being imported into Australia.

From buffel grass in the 1920s and cane toads in the 1930s, to our current fights against yellow crazy ants, fire ants, panama disease and varroa mite, it’s true we don’t have a good track record on biosecurity.  For the sake of our environment, our agriculture sector and regional communities that depend on it, we must do better.

In my view, our existing biosecurity and quarantine arrangements at both a federal and state level are not adequately resourced and our capability to respond to incursions are unsatisfactory. For example, in 2022, I made my views very clear concerning the risk of foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease reaching Australia from Indonesia.

However, given the scarce resources allocated to Australia’s biosecurity and quarantine arrangements at both state and federal level, I don’t believe the agencies responsible can mount a credible argument that buffel grass is a priority for greater regulation or increased control programs.  The relative risk just doesn’t stack up.

There are dozens of pest weeds and feral animals, exotic plant and animal diseases, that pose a more serious environmental and economic risk than buffel grass.

This begs the question, why is so much of these scarce resources being spent on stamping out what many graziers refer to as “the King of pastures”?

As for buffel grass increasing the risk of bushfires, perhaps our state governments should consider providing some sensible vegetation management arrangements concerning thinning, the control of woody weeds, fence lines and indeed, firebreaks?  Or is this far too practical for Labor Governments beholden to the Greens?

Moreover, if Labor’s city-based Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, spent less time on political manoeuvres trying to centralise the Australian Pesticides And Veterinary Medicines Authority in Canberra and more time properly establishing the new biosecurity levy without hitting farmers with a new tax, Australia may have more resources available to fight these serious biosecurity threats.

For the life of me, I just can’t see how picking a fight with buffel grass is a priority.