Damning indictment of Australian government over costly EI outbreak; BLOODSTOCK WORLD.
JUSTICE Ian Callinan has issued a damning indictment of the Australian government's quarantine department, whose systemic failures, he found, led to the outbreak of equine influenza that had devastating effects on the breeding and racing industries last year.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and its subsidiary, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), came in for sharp criticism in a 383-page document, issued yesterday, that sums up the findings of the government-generated inquiry which began last September and was concluded in April. Its mission was to investigate the cause of the escape of the virus from quarantine.
"Fundamental bio-security measures were not being implemented in the largest government-operated animal quarantine station in Australia," the report stated baldly. "This constituted a serious failure by those within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and AQIS who were, and had been, responsible for the management of quarantine risks and, in particular, the management of post-entry quarantine arrangements."
Callinan's report concluded that the virus was carried into quarantine facilities at Eastern Creek and Spotswood by horses imported from Japan, where an EI outbreak last summer briefly shut down racing, and that it escaped from the Eastern Creek station. It found that Snitzel, a shuttle stallion who was returning to Arrowfield Stud, was infected with the virus on arrival at Eastern Creek.
The first horse to contract EI at Eastern Creek was Coolmore's reverse shuttler Encosta De Lago, currently the leading sire in Australia, who was returning from his first trip to Ireland. None of the horses from Britain, Ireland or the US at Eastern Creek was found to have been infected before entering quarantine.
Seven horses arriving from Japan at Spotswood were also found to have been carrying the disease on arrival.
The report says that fundamental hygiene was ignored at Eastern Creek, which was operated by AQIS. On numerous occasions clothes were not changed, showers were not taken, and equipment was not disinfected.
Grooms, at least two farriers and at least four vets were found to have violated one or more of these protocols during the time the disease spread from Eastern Creek.
While Callinan said these people carried a shared responsibility, he laid the weight of the blame on AQIS.
The officers at Eastern Creek in charge of quarantined horses "were aware of the existence" of two sets of work instructions regarding clearance and quarantine, "but none of them understood that either of the documents set out instructions or procedures with which they were obliged to comply", said Callinan.
"What I describe bespeaks an organisation that lacked clear lines of communication between those responsible for formulating procedures and work instructions, and those responsible for implementing them; one in which there was insufficient training and education in relation to the procedures and instructions to be followed; one in which there was no checking to ensure that those procedures and instructions were being implemented; and one in which any business plan or other reporting system did not alert senior management to these failures."
Callinan also said the quarantine station suffered from insufficient funding, understaffing, and facilities that were "not conducive to the effective implementation of bio-security measures".
The report issued 38 recommendations on how to improve Australia's biosecurity, including the appointment of an inspector general of horse importation, improvement of pre-and post-export quarantine facilities and procedures, the upgrading of airport transport facilities, the undertaking of an import risk assessment by Biosecurity Australia, and a review of the Quarantine Act.
The recommendations were welcomed by Thoroughbred Breeders' Australia.
Chairman John Messara, also head of Arrowfield Stud, said: "We totally endorse the recommendations as necessary to repair a dangerously inadequate quarantine system, and strongly support the federal government's decisive and resolute response to the report."
On Wednesday the government announced it would not impose a levy on the industry to recover the AEUR108 million (pounds 51.8m, EUR65.4m) spent on eradicating EI.
The Australian Racing Board responded positively to this development, its chief executive Andrew Harding saying: "Our argument was that the issue should be boiled down to a question of what was fair. Fairness demanded that we shouldn't be made to pay for somebody else's failures."
The decision was made by Tony Burke, minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, to whom Callinan submitted his report. It means the government is liable for about AEUR350m, including eradication costs and financial assistance packages for those damaged by the outbreak.
Justice Ian Callinan: report issued 38 recommendations on how to improve Australia's biosecurity