Shadow minister for primary industries, Steve Whan, says the O’Farrell government’s decision to amalgamate livestock health and pest authorities (LHPA), catchment management authorities (CMA) and agricultural extension services is about massive job cuts in rural NSW, office closures and, in the longer term, the likely removal of vital agricultural extension services.
The LHPA, which has come under fire from local landowners for lacking accountability and imposing unreasonable fees, currently operates an office in Lismore that would most likely be closed under the proposed changes.
In what he described as ‘a confused performance’ on ABC’s Country Hour yesterday, Mr Whan said the minister ‘was completely unable to hide the fact that these changes are all about cutting jobs and funding to rural NSW’.
Mr Whan added that ‘hundreds of jobs and dozens of offices’ were threatened.
‘This is in direct breach of the promise made before the election that there would be no jobs cut from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and no offices closed. The promised decade of decentralisation now lies in tatters with, the Nationals embarking on the biggest centralisation in DPI history.
‘It is a real concern that the minister, after 18 months planning these changes and several previous reports, has been unable to provide any detail on the new structures, jobs or delivery models.
‘In another cowardly attempt to further distance herself from cuts, the minister shifted off to yet another committee the decisions on even fundamental issues like the boundaries of the new bodies.
‘Local representation is another key issue. Who will elect board members, who will pay rates? The agenda of LHPA ratepayers is not necessarily the same as for CMAs or more broadly for DPI.
‘I am not opposed to considered change to the LHPA model, but it has to be based on better service, not no service. I am greatly concerned about the idea of rolling extension officers into these new agencies. Will they go from being permanent government employees to contractors? Will they be expected to source funds from industry bodies to continue their vital work? All unanswered questions.
‘The minister says ratepayers will not have to pay unnecessary fees and she quoted locust levies. Does this mean leaving farmers in locust-affected areas with an unmanageable burden or is she committing to give the sort of extra funding provided by Labor in the last plague?
‘Critically for our whole state, there is nothing in these plans that talks about how we respond to major animal and plant emergencies. The minister is breaking down the network that responded to the equine influenza outbreak and which would be the first line of defence against devastating threats like foot and mouth disease.
‘There are many questions left unanswered and we can have little confidence that this minister will get the answers right.’