The Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) acknowledges the findings of the Performance Audit: Management of Declared Plants and Animals and appreciates recognition of past performance in this area and recognition of current improvement. DAFWA is committed to processes of continuous improvement in performance, and cost-effective regulation of declared pests.
The primary responsibility for DAFWA in the management of declared plants and animals in Western Australia is in administration of the Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Act 2007 (BAM Act); it is mainly an education and regulatory role, not an operational control responsibility. Control of plants and animals declared under the BAM Act is the responsibility of land managers, both private and public.
The fundamental principle of land manager responsibility for control of declared pests has been established in statute since at least 1976. The Audit Conclusion implies that it is DAFWA’s responsibility to control pests by stating that ‘….DAFWA cannot effectively manage all pests state-wide on its own, and need the cooperation and collaboration of landholders and other government agencies’. DAFWA has an important education and regulatory role to work with land managers to ensure weeds and pest animals are eradicated or controlled by the land manager.
One of the main roles for DAFWA is for regulation under the BAM Act. The Audit findings identify a reduction in the number of inspections and pest notices issued over the past decade. This reflects a significant reduction in staff capacity over this period. The Audit findings recognise the reduction in financial resources available to DAFWA. The impact of reduced finance on DAFWA’s capacity has occurred since the 1990’s. Information about DAFWA’s finances is readily available in Annual Reports and is well documented in the 2008 Business Case to State Government (Investing in Western Australia’s Biosecurity).
DAFWA does not have operational responsibility for the control of pest animals, with the single exception of a program for Starling eradication. Other operational programs undertaken by DAFWA are funded by industry (such as skeleton weed). DAFWA has additional roles in surveillance and early response to new incursions (e.g. detection of alien species at ports) in support of its comprehensive interstate quarantine measures. The extremely low level of new pest incursions to Western Australia in recent times provides an effective but little recognised performance measure of these roles.
The BAM Act provides a framework for holistic biosecurity regulation, however the funding required for pest control across the vast and diverse Western Australian landscape is not available. Other government departments, as relevant, may seek pest declaration and respond to biosecurity incursions. Cane Toads are currently a declared pest and the Department of Parks and Wildlife coordinate a control program. The option to declare feral cats, an environmental pest rather than a pest of agriculture, under the BAM Act can be initiated by any department. Such declaration, in the absence of substantial new resources for control measures, and ready tools for routine control by landholders, is unlikely to significantly change the level of control for this well-established and widespread pest species.
DAFWA acknowledges the recommendations of the Audit and within its resource capacity will work with landholders, industry, community groups, and other government departments to improve declared pest outcomes.