THE Office of the Auditor General (OAG) has found that the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) has failed to fully implement and evaluate the State's pest management program according to a report handed down this week.
The Auditor General's report, Managing the Impact of Plant and Animal Pests: Follow-up, was tabled in Parliament on Monday, and highlights that there were "gaps" remaining in the government's management of plant and animal pests.
The report assessed whether DPIRD and the DBCA effectively addressed findings from the Auditor General's 2013 report on pest management.
Auditor General Caroline Spencer said it was "disappointing to find entities had not addressed all of our 2013 audit findings however, they had made progress on five of the eight recommendations".
"WA contributes nearly one fifth of the nation's agricultural production by dollar value and is recognised internationally for its biodiversity, including being home to around 3000 plant species found nowhere else in the world," Ms Spencer said.
"It is vital that entities work together to effectively manage pests to protect WA's natural heritage and agricultural viability."
Ms Spencer said the audit found entities had established a framework for collaborating on pest management and released a Statewide plan that defines stakeholders' roles and responsibilities; however, the plan had not been fully implemented or evaluated.
In addition, information on the spread, abundance and impact of high priority pests is still not comprehensive or shared among stakeholders.
Ms Spencer said DPIRD and DBCA needed to enhance the completeness, accuracy and sharing of their pest data in order to achieve a more collaborative and effective approach to pest management.
The report also includes recommendations for improvements to emergency pest response planning, the process to declare pests and reporting from recognised biosecurity groups.
Liberal spokesperson for Agriculture Dr Steve Thomas was quick to respond, saying "the report highlights the inadequacy of the system put in place to manage pests and weeds, a failure that I have repeatedly pointed out".
"It is a damning indictment of the management of weeds and pests in this State, and the lack of priority that this has been given by governments over many years," Dr Thomas said.
"This failure has been decades in the making, and those landowners who are doing the right thing have had enough.
"The timing of this report is telling in light of various campaigns against the State government's biosecurity levy.
"Landowners are furious that they are being charged to make up for the State government's lack of action, and this report highlighting the State's indifference to the outcome will only make them angrier."
Dr Thomas said the OAG report found that although DPIRD had established a framework for the collaborative management of pests across WA, only 13 of its 38 actions had been completed.
"It also said that while there has been an increase in the number of and funding for Registered Biosecurity Groups, which has increased their capacity to assist landholders to manage established pests, DPIRD does not know if they are effective substitutes for enforcement by entities," he said.
"This line alone highlights the government's avoidance of its responsibilities and lack of commitment.
"The report also said that DPIRD cannot demonstrate that information on the spread, abundance and impact of high priority pests is accurate and current."
Dr Thomas said the report underlined a government failure on biosecurity, especially its failure to manage weeds and pests on its own lands.
"It has failed to act on the land they manage, and failed to enforce on the land they don't," he said.
"Any way you look at it, biosecurity in this State is failing the people and communities it is meant to protect."
State Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said "the findings from the audit report will play an important role in assisting the government prioritise resources towards the management of pests in the State".
However, since coming to government in 2017, Ms MacTiernan said Labor had taken firm action to boost WA's biosecurity system to protect the State's agricultural industries.
"The 2013 Auditor-General report made a number of valid recommendations, and as recognised by the Auditor-General, we have progressed five of the eight recommendations," Ms MacTiernan said.
"But we have also taken a number of critically important steps to strengthen our biosecurity system not referenced in the 2013 recommendations."
These include "restructuring the department's biosecurity efforts, including developing an Office of the Chief Plant Biosecurity Officer and appointing to key positions, including the chief plant biosecurity officer, to protect our State's grains and horticulture industries from pests and diseases; establishing a dedicated team to support emergency response; tripling of RBGs across the State from five groups in 2015 to 15 groups in 2020, with 95 per cent of the State now covered by an RBG; development of the MyPestGuide Reporter family of apps to drive community engagement in biosecurity and facilitate surveillance reporting by industries and communities; development and implementation of the WA Wild Dog Action Plan, and repair and extension of the ageing State Barrier Fence; development of the Large Feral Herbivore Strategy 2020-2025 and the WA Feral Pig Strategy 2020-2025; successful responses to establishing pest populations including Californian quail, red eared slider turtles, house sparrows, sulphur crested cockatoos, Indian ringneck parrots and starlings".
"This is on top of managing several significant emergency pest responses, including citrus canker, red imported fire ant, brown marmorated stink bug, tomato potato psyllid and Queensland fruit fly," Ms MacTiernan said.
"The report also did not take into consideration other key biosecurity priorities, such as surveillance and controls for pests and diseases that are not established in the State that impact international trade and risk our multi-billion dollar export of agrifood products.
"In undertaking its follow-up audit, the OAG has made recommendations across seven areas.
"DPIRD will address these within its resource capacity."
Ms MacTiernan said that progress was already underway towards many elements raised in the follow-up audit including: availability of RBG annual reports on DPIRD's website to improve transparency; improved support and administration of the RBGs including an Office of RBGs, improved declared pest rate processes, a dedicated call centre to answer landholder questions, and improved landholder data to reach more than 22,000 landholders; five additional staff to support RBGs and develop a monitoring and evaluation framework for the management of established pests; development of exemplar emergency response plans as a more efficient way to prepare for potential biosecurity incursion responses rather than developing plans for each and every pest species.