WA’s two main farm bodies say they have lost faith in the state’s agriculture minister over comments she made about foot-and-mouth disease, but some farmers fear the issue has become highly politicized.
- Alannah MacTiernan has apologized for her “awkward” comments
- WAFarmers want her to be replaced by a minister who supports them
- The PM has ruled out a reshuffle, urging everyone to move on
WAFarmers President John Hassell published an op-ed in the state’s premier agricultural newspaper, The Countryman, this week saying it was time for veteran Congresswoman Alannah MacTiernan to step down or be sacked.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook said Ms MacTiernan hadn’t had the confidence of the sector for “a very long time”, but stopped short of calling her head.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has been detected on Australia’s doorstep in Indonesia, sparking widespread fears it will soon arrive in WA.
Ms MacTiernan was criticized last week for comments she allegedly made to a reporter about the impact of foot-and-mouth disease, saying it would be ‘expensive and unfortunate’ but she ‘wouldn’t see the whole beef industry decimated” and that she “would not say that it would be catastrophic”.
She reportedly said that if the disease lands in WA it could make domestic milk and meat cheaper.
Ms MacTiernan later apologized for the comments, saying the government was throwing everything it had at the disease.
“I never said foot and mouth disease was anything other than a really serious threat to our state,” she said.
“I very, very sincerely regret that the basic explanation to a reporter was taken the way it was.”
The WA government committed $15 million to fund 22 new biosecurity line items in the state budget this fiscal year and held an information session for farmers on foot and mouth disease in the Deep South region.
MacTiernan must go: WAFarmers
Asked if she believed she would keep the agriculture portfolio until the end of her term, Ms MacTiernan said it was “obviously up to the Prime Minister”.
“We have reshuffles from time to time. And we continue,” she said.
“But what I can say is that I know I’m holding my head high for what I’ve achieved over the past five years.
“I will be proud that we have rebuilt the R&D capacity of the department, that we have invested in biosecurity, that we have programs in place that support farmers who really want to do progressive things on climate change, to really face those headwinds that agriculture will have to face in the future.”
“I sometimes deliver messages that aren’t necessarily popular with some traditional organizations, but I’m convinced that what we’ve done…I’ve added value.”
Prime Minister Mark McGowan yesterday ruled out any cabinet reshuffle and rejected the idea of removing the agriculture portfolio from MacTiernan.
“She used awkward language, she apologized for that. I think people need to move on,” he said.
But Mr Hassell said it was “absolutely vital” for the industry to have a leader they trusted at the helm right now.
“The agriculture minister’s comments kind of show that she’s not really supportive of the agriculture industry and she’s not worried if we get an outbreak,” he said.
“We need someone who supports our industry.
“The minister needs to step aside and let someone do the job who is willing to support us.”
Lack of replacements, say breeders
PGA chairman Tony Seabrook did not ask Ms MacTiernan to leave but said some people felt “very uncomfortable” about her approach to the job.
“She hasn’t had the industry’s trust for a long time, and a lot of that is because she’s brought all her own views and opinions to the job,” he said.
But he said there were no other MPs in the McGowan government he could see filling the agriculture portfolio.
MacTiernan acknowledged that her government’s approach to some issues has created conflict with industry.
“The focus we’ve put on climate change and the work we’ve done to get people to understand the market impact of good animal welfare, it hasn’t always gone down well,” said she declared.
The comments from WA’s peak groups came as Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud used Question Time in Federal Parliament to go on the attack, asking Prime Minister Anthony Albanese if he was agree with Ms. MacTiernan’s remarks.
Mr Albanese said his government took the issue of foot-and-mouth disease very seriously.
Some think foot and mouth disease is being used as ‘political football’
Some farmers who spoke to the ABC were disappointed that Ms MacTiernan’s gaffe was politicized and distracted from strategies to tackle the disease itself.
Michael Rose, who farms in Roelands, said he was “disappointed that foot and mouth disease is being used as political football, when both sides should work together to find a solution”.
Wokelup award-winning dairy farmer Ian Hall said Ms MacTiernan had done a lot for the dairy industry.
“I know Alannah said things that may have been taken out of context, some of them, but the government is working extremely hard to stop this foot and mouth disease from entering Australia,” he said. declared.
“They’re not sitting on their hands, they’re not waiting for it to come, they’re very proactive. And that’s what I think we need right now.”
Mr Hall, whose family has farmed the land since 1890, urged people to realize the seriousness of the threat and help protect the state.
“Throw away your clothes you don’t need, throw away your shoes if you’re from Indonesia and Bali, throw away anything you don’t need. It’s a serious thing,” he said.
Other Angry ‘True Colors’ Revealed
But for Tony Sudlow, who farms sheep and cattle in Northhampton in the Mid West region of WA, Ms MacTiernan’s comments were “incredibly insensitive” to the farming community.
He risks losing generations of work if foot-and-mouth disease affects his herd, a herd that has been selectively bred for decades.
He thought Ms MacTiernan’s latest blunder had revealed “the true colors of the [state] government”.
“To say that foot-and-mouth disease wouldn’t be a disaster is unbelievable,” he said.
“I think they’re city-centric. They are not interested in regions. They just aren’t interested and they don’t need to be.
“They don’t need us, they don’t need our votes.”
Ms MacTiernan, whose parliamentary career spans more than 30 years and includes a stint in Canberra, has held the agriculture portfolio since 2017.
She retained it last year after the last state elections, despite losing the state development, employment, and commerce and ports portfolios.