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Farmers call for Indonesian travel ban as foot-and-mouth disease fears grow

More than 100 farmers have rallied in Victoria to call for a three-month ban on travel to Indonesia as fears of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak continue to grow.

South-west Victoria’s economy relies heavily on commodities produced by the agriculture sector, with the Colac Otway Shire generating nearly $245 million from livestock in the 2020/21 financial year.

So far the disease has not entered Australia, but the agriculture industry is highly concerned by the Indonesian outbreak.

But the federal government remains committed to keeping the borders open to avoid damaging Australia’s $7.9-billion per year trade relationship with Indonesia.

It has implemented a range of new biosecurity measures to try and keep the disease at bay.

Fourth-generation Alvie dairy farmer Peter Delahunty, who organized the protest, said there was increasing anxiety about an Australian outbreak.

“We think the response has been very reactionary rather than well planned,” he said.

“[The government] started off not wanting foot mats and then they changed their minds and say they will have foot mats, and they are implementing things in a piecemeal way.”

Dairy farmer Peter Delahunty says a closure would allow Australia and Indonesia to strengthen their biosecurity.(Rural ABC: Jane McNaughton)

Mr Delahunty said such a ban ban would only affect recreational visits to Indonesia and would not need to disrupt business trips or trade.

“That would just give some breathing space for both Australia and Indonesia to get all their [biosecurity] systems in place,” he said.

“I know it’s going to inconvenience a few people, but most people in Australia have three meals a day, so they need a farmer three times a day, and most people only have a holiday once a year.”

In addition to a travel ban, Mr Delahunty said the federal government should invest more money to help Indonesia manage the FMD outbreak.

“The government has promised $14 million of help, but when we’re talking about an $80b hit on Australian trade if FMD gets here,” he said.

“That’s not a lot of money — we think they could increase that to something like $100 million of money and in-kind help.

Two men stand on the back of a ute, speaking.
Justin Cashman says the agricultural lobby groups do not represent the views of all farmers.(Rural ABC: Jane McNaughton)

‘Shut this border right now’

Midwest Meats owner Justin Cashman said the entire community in the south-west of the state would be devastated by FMD and that the government and major lobby groups like the National Farmers Federation needed “to get their act together really quick.”

The Nationals Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, the Australian Meat Industry Council, the Cattle Council of Australia and Sheep Producers Australia all oppose closing the border to Indonesia.

“I know there is FMD in other countries, but Indonesia is the immediate threat — the disease needs to be fought there not here,” Mr Cashman said.

“We have to shut this border right now—today.

Mr Cashman said the livestock and related industries had finally become prosperous after years of drought and low commodity prices.

“We’ve finally gotten to a point where everyone is making a good living out of agriculture, from farmers to stock agents, butchers and the local pub,” he said.

“There is money for the first time in a long time and this is something we need to protect because there has been way too many years of hardship.”

Murray Watt holding a press conference, gesticulating with his hands.  He's wearing glasses.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has ruled out ban on Indonesian holidays.(ABC News: Marco Catalano)

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the government was taking this threat seriously and those who chose to travel needed to do the same.

“The Albanese government has introduced the toughest biosecurity measures ever used in Australia, including never-before-used measures like foot mats and biosecurity response zones at airports,” he said.

“We have rolled out layered defenses, including risk assessments on 100 per cent of passengers returning from Indonesia, increased questioning and bag checks at airports, and screening of every piece of mail coming from Indonesia and China through mail centres.

“The advice the government has received is that a border closure is not required and would damage our $7.9ba-year trade relationship with Indonesia and impact farmers’ income.”

The National Farmers’ Federation has been contacted for comment.

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