Doorstop in Brisbane, QLD


SUBJECTS: Upcoming Disaster Season, National Action Plan, Varroa Mite Outbreak.

MURRAY WATT: Okay, well, thanks very much for coming along today. We've just had a very successful meeting of the National Emergency Ministers across Australia. And I'm joined here by all state and territory emergency management ministers, as well as a representative of local government, who, of course, have a very important role to play when it comes to emergency management as well.

Some of the things that we've talked about today are the outlook for this coming disaster season, and I'll say a little bit more about that in a moment. But also, today we are releasing the second National Action Plan on disaster risk reduction, which is the work of all jurisdictions over quite some period of time to make sure that we are all on the same page in terms of what we're trying to achieve by reducing risk and the things that we need to do to make that happen.

But we've also had some very useful discussions today about some of the key issues that are affecting Australian communities through natural disasters. Things like access to housing, insurance premium rises, mental health support for emergency services workers. So, I want to thank all of my colleagues for making the trip to Brisbane so that we could have this meeting face-to-face. We do know this year, and it's been reported already, that we do face a much more significant fire risk across the country than we have in recent years. Obviously, we are moving to warmer and drier conditions compared to what we've seen over the last couple of years. But I want to assure people that today's meeting has demonstrated again that I'm confident that we are well prepared as a country for the fire risks that we face this season.

I think it's also important to not be too alarmed about what is occurring. We all recognise that, particularly with the scenes that we're seeing on our TV screens from Greece, from Canada, from Maui, that we've seen some very extreme fire seasons in the Northern Hemisphere in their summer. But while we are looking at a more significant risk of fire this year than we've seen in recent years, in many parts of Australia, what that really means is returning to normal fire risk, and emerging from those La Niña wet conditions that we've been through over the last couple of years.

So, today was a good opportunity to bring together all of the states and territories and local government to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to preparing for this year. I'm more confident than I was even heading into this meeting that that's the case. We've all been working hard on it in recent months, getting the aircraft we need, getting the hazard reduction burns that we need, getting the volunteers in place that we need, and I'm confident that we're ready for what summer might bring this year. Happy to take questions, as are my colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Yeah fantastic. I've just got a few questions for you Minister. What can you tell us about Operation Decker? And whether the illegal import of live bees caused the Varroa outbreak?

MURRAY WATT: Well, that's - obviously, that's in my agriculture role and that's something that we are working on with NSW and Victoria at the moment. Varroa mite has been a pretty dangerous and devastating blow for the bee industry, across NSW particularly, over the last twelve months or so. And we unfortunately have seen continued infestations in different parts of NSW, and I'm aware that now we are facing something much closer to the NSW Victorian border. I'm happy to get some further information to you from the Department of Agriculture about what is happening to manage that risk. But it shows that, unfortunately, Varroa mite is something that's not in the past, and it continues to be a threat for the honey industry, the bee industry and for our pollination industries as well.

JOURNALIST: So, NSW has obviously got a current eradication plan for those southern regions that have been hit by it. Should we be looking to accept that the Varroa mite is something that we're going to have to live with in the future, or is it something you think we can successfully eradicate?

MURRAY WATT: We're still committed to working with the NSW government and, indeed, all state and territory governments to eradicate Varroa mite. We don't want to give up on the eradication plan because it is a very devastating biosecurity outbreak for those industries. So, we don't take recent developments as a sign that eradication has failed or is not worth pursuing. That still remains the aim, but at the same time, we obviously do need to adjust to the fact that it is spreading. But every effort will continue to be made by both the Federal Government and the NSW government in particular, to eradicate Varroa mite once and for all.

JOURNALIST: Fantastic. And lastly, if the Varroa mite has arrived due to illegal importation of bees, what does that say about our current biosecurity arrangements at the border?

MURRAY WATT: Well, unfortunately, even though we have the benefit in Australia of being protected by ocean all around us from many exotic plant and animal diseases that we see around the world, it doesn't mean that we stop everything getting in the country. We've obviously put in a huge amount of effort over the last twelve months to prevent things like foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease getting into the country and affecting our livestock industries. But the fact that we do have Varroa mite here demonstrates that it's not a foolproof system. It's also though why our government has invested over $1 billion more in biosecurity operations in our most recent budget, and that money will be spread over the next four years. Because we do need to be vigilant for every possible threat to our country, our agriculture industry currently is worth over $90 billion to this country. It's a really important export earner, a really important source of jobs, particularly in rural Australia. So, we want to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to keep these plant and animal diseases out of the country.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

MURRAY WATT: No worries. All good. Thanks, everyone.