Probe into cow hide quarantine breakdown


Quarantine officials have been asked how they allowed a shipment of cow hides from Colombia into the country, when several tonnes of cocaine hidden in similar skins had been smuggled into Spain earlier this year.

Department of Agriculture officials told a senate hearing on Tuesday that an internal review was underway into how untanned cow hides, which had been imported from the South American nation since May, were cleared for entry.

The alleged quarantine breakdown has been described by senators as one of the most serious they've seen.

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan asked why "alarm bells" hadn't gone off when the freight arrived, given 4.5 tonnes of cocaine was brought into Spain this year hidden in cow hides.

"Even I know that the freight on the cow hides is more than the worth of the cow hides," he told a Senate estimates committee.

"It's as plain as the nose on your face that something is going on."

He said it was a serious biosecurity breach involving "many, many containers", and he wanted to know why the man who received them was told by officials he could dispose of the "rotting" hides.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry deputy secretary Rona Mellor said the interim inspector-general of biosecurity would report to the minister responsible once the investigation was complete in February.