New measures to stop foot and mouth spread

·2-min read

Biosecurity officers could be given increased powers to screen travellers at Australian airports in a bid to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt says he has directed his department to investigate the additional control options.

Response zones could be established at airports as soon as Friday, where travellers would be directed to comply with measures, including removing shoes or walking over sanitation mats.

It would be the first time the Biosecurity Act powers are used in Australia, Senator Watt said.

"I've directed my department to step up its visibility at the border and step up the number of inquiries of passengers, particularly in baggage halls, and that should be starting to occur right now," he said.

"Our agriculture industry is at stake and it's vital we continue to work together to ensure Australia is foot and mouth disease free."

Viral fragments of foot and mouth were detected in pork products at a Melbourne retailer but Australia remains free of the disease, as the live virus hasn't been detected.

Senator Watt rejected opposition calls to ban flights from Indonesia.

He also dismissed criticism the government wasn't acting fast enough to halt the spread.

"I think we have been bold, we are taking steps that have never been taken before," he said.

"I have consistently said we will continue adding measures as required. We will continue to fix the cracks in the wall, the biosecurity wall that was left by the previous government."

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said new biosecurity measures might receive funding in the upcoming budget.

"When it comes to the budget, we will do what we need to do to protect the industry and protect Australians," he said.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson welcomed the new powers and reaffirmed her support for the screening of arrivals from Indonesia.

Nationals Leader David Littleproud described a briefing he received on the situation as sobering and called on Senator Watt to state what the threshold is for temporary border closures.

"The minister has unfortunately left a vacuum ... in just eight weeks government has created a biosecurity crisis because of indecision," he told Sky news.

Senator Watt urged people to remain calm.

Scaremongering and fanning flames did not support the strong international reputation of the nation's $80 billion agriculture industry, he said.

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