Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

7 September 2022

SUBJECT: Foot and mouth disease

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Well the Australian Government has introduced new restrictions to help stop foot and mouth disease entering Australia. They have banned the importation- importation, I should say, of meat products for personal use from all countries with FMD. Joining me live now is the Emergency Management and Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt. Murray Watt, thanks so much for your time. Is this in place as of this morning, or when does it come in?

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Good morning, Laura, good to be with you. This change actually was implemented overnight, so it took effect from midnight - as in a few hours ago - and it is another important step that we’ve taken to keep ratcheting up our response to the threat of foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease, particularly in Indonesia. As you know, we’ve had a three-pronged approach from the outset; tougher border measures, more support for Indonesia and making sure we’re prepared at home. So, this is one more step that we are taking and it’s important to note that it goes beyond just Indonesia. This ban will apply to any country around the world that has FMD, and there’s about 70 such countries at the moment, so it’s another important step that we’re taking to keep our country free of foot and mouth disease.

LAURA JAYES: Why are you taking this step now? Has something happened that was a close call for Australia?

MURRAY WATT: No particular incident, Laura. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a little while and, again, it’s important to note that this comes back on a range of other measures that we’ve already taken to reduce the risk from animal products. I’ve said before that actually the biggest risk of this disease coming into Australia is from someone bringing in an animal product, whether it be meat or a processed good, that contains viral fragments. That’s why you might remember we cracked down on people bringing in sausage and egg McMuffins and things like that a few weeks back. But when the disease first got to Bali, we increased measures by making sure that we are now checking every mail package that comes in from Indonesia to try to pick up these sorts of things. I asked the Department several weeks ago to conduct a risk assessment to see whether this measure would be worthwhile implementing as well. But I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just covering Indonesia. Indonesia is not the only country in the world with a foot and mouth disease outbreak. There are 70 countries, as I say, that have had outbreaks for years, and what the Department has now reported back is that we should implement this measure, this ban on people bringing in people for their personal consumption for every one of those countries and, as I say, that is now effective.

LAURA JAYES: OK so individuals can’t buy meat- they can’t bring it in, but also I’m assuming that bigger companies can do mass imports, is that right, and can you explain the logic?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, sure. So you’re right, obviously companies do import, commercially, meat products, but there is a much stricter process that applies to the commercial importation of meat products. Anyone who wants to bring in a meat product into Australia from any country needs to have an import certificate to do so. When the disease first reached Indonesia, even before it got to Bali, the Department of Agriculture actually tightened the rules around those who want to import, for commercial reasons, meat and dairy products and a number of products had their certificates actually suspended. So there is a very rigorous process that already applies to people who want to commercially import these types of products and they will have to continue with that. What this is about doing is adding another layer of protection to people who bring it in for personal consumption. Obviously, people need to declare when they’re coming through an airport if they have these kinds of goods, but what’s changing is that they just simply won’t be able to bring them anymore.

LAURA JAYES: OK. Obviously, the FMD threat has not diminished, but has it improved in Bali and, therefore, does the threat risk to Australia also reduce, given the tourism travel between Bali and Australia?

MURRAY WATT: Well, the latest estimate that we have as to the risk of foot and mouth getting to Australia is still just under 12 per cent over the next five years. So as I’ve said before, it’s a relatively low risk but it’s not zero and that’s why we have had to increase these measures to try to keep it out. In fact, the greater risk is actually a different disease called lumpy skin disease, which has a higher risk of coming in here because the most likely way that would happen is by mosquitoes bringing it in if they’re blown over in a cyclone or something like that, and that’s why we’re taking measures to stop that from happening too. But certainly the reports that we’re getting from Indonesia are positive. Obviously, the one million vaccines that we initially announced that we would be providing to Indonesia have now arrived in Indonesia and Indonesia is distributing those and administering those now. They themselves have found more vaccines that they’re starting to administer, and I think that the impression that I’ve got both from when I was in Indonesia and since coming back is that the government there is putting effort into Bali in recognition that there is a lot of trade and travel there. And we’ve been very clear that we are happy to keep supporting Indonesia in any way that we can.

LAURA JAYES: You said you were going to send vets over - can you tell me if that has happened and how many of these one million vaccines have actually been administered?

MURRAY WATT: So in terms of vets, the Australian Chief Vet has already made a number of visits to Indonesia to provide vets and the Indonesian Government with advice about how we can assist and how they can better manage the outbreak. We’ve also had our Deputy Chief Vet over there as well. We’ve got one of the world leading authorities, who is an Australian, around the production of vaccines who’s been in Indonesia working with them about their plans to domestically produce vaccines as well, and that’s in addition to a whole lot of online assistance that has been provided, whether it be by Teams or Zoom or whatever platform they’re using, to provide that kind of training as well. In terms of the vaccines, as I say, the first one million vaccines that we said that we would provide to Indonesia arrived there a couple of weeks ago. The Indonesian Government has assured that us that they are being distributed and administered now, and that’s in addition to the vaccines that Indonesia has procured in their own right. Beyond that, I have announced that we will be providing another $10 million in support for Indonesia and that will include millions more vaccines. There is a worldwide shortage of these vaccines at the moment, but I know that our Department has a procurement process well underway and hopefully it won’t be too long before more vaccines will arrive there too.

LAURA JAYES: OK, but you don’t know how many have actually been administered, are you due for an update on that? Do you suspect-do you have any kind of inkling in percentage terms what that might be?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, I mean, I don’t keep track of every single vaccine that’s administered in another country.

LAURA JAYES: Fair enough.

MURRAY WATT: But, certainly, we’ve been assured by the Indonesian Government that they are distributing and administering those vaccines, and I am getting regular updates to make sure that that is happening. One of the pleasing things that we are seeing also back from Indonesia is that the number of vaccinations that have been administered is well more than the number of infected cattle and livestock.

LAURA JAYES: OK.

MURRAY WATT: The latest report that we’ve had from Indonesia is that they have administered over 2 million vaccines into their livestock population, whereas they’re talking about 600,000 or so infected animals. So, they are making progress. It difficult – you know, Indonesia has more than 10,000 islands, It’s a population of 240 million, but my impression is that they are progressing well.

LAURA JAYES: Just before I let you go then, I asked you about the risk. Is the risk any better or worse than it was a couple of months ago when we were talking about this and potentially shutting borders and all those things?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, look as I say, the expert advice to us based on percentages hasn’t changed since the most recent estimate that we were provided-

LAURA JAYES: So still 12 per cent?

MURRAY WATT: That’s the best estimate that we have. But I think logically you would say that with the additional measures that we have put in place at the borders, the vaccination program that’s happening in Indonesia and other things as well, I think logically you would expect that that risk has come back a bit. But we’re still working on the presumption that it’s around about that 12 per cent mark.

LAURA JAYES: Murray Watt, great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

MURRAY WATT: Thanks Laura.

ENDS