THE aged Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's (DPIRD) headquarters in South Perth is set to be replaced, with the State government investing more than $20 million over the next 12 months to ensure functional laboratories and offices are in place while planning is underway.
The funding will support critical functions which underpin the State's quarantine and biosecurity system that protects Western Australia from pests and diseases, and supports market access for WA agriculture, fisheries and food exports.
New laboratories will also support scientific research that underpins the sustainability and productivity of agricultural industries.
The government is taking immediate steps to retire some of DPIRD's 60-year-old South Perth buildings which face ongoing safety and maintenance issues.
Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the dedicated staff at DPIRD deserve a fit-for-purpose workplace and this is a significant step forward to achieve that.
In the first stage, DPIRD will renovate existing laboratory facilities and install new modular laboratories on the South Perth site, as well as lease temporary off-site laboratory facilities where needed.
About 200 dedicated scientific and specialised technical officers are expected to remain at South Perth in buildings that can be maintained to appropriate standards.
About 500 office-based staff will move to a modern, fit-for-purpose building in the CBD, with negotiations are underway to secure a suitable lease to enable these staff to move by 2021.
The Nationals WA believe the State government has missed a golden opportunity to decentralise the agency that manages State's primary industry and regional development portfolios.
Party leader Mia Davies said it was ironic the Labor government had chosen to spend $20m moving DPIRD about as close to the city as possible.
"This is a significant missed opportunity to shift the department closer to the sector and people it exists to support," Ms Davies said.
"Very little activity in the department's remit occurs in the city, so it beggars belief that its new headquarters accommodating 500 staff will be smack bang in the CBD.
"This is a perfect opportunity to decentralise the department and allow more of its valuable staff to relocate to the regions where the majority of their work is undertaken."
However, a joint statement released by the WA Grain Industry, including WAFarmers, Pastoralists & Graziers Association of WA, WA Grains Group, Grains Industry Association of WA and CBH Group, supported the State government's plans.
"The announcement has come at an opportune time while we are advocating to retain the Australia Export Grain Innovation Centre (AEGIC) and the value generated in market development for Australian grain exports, while also seeking to attract the newly formed Grains Australia to Western Australia to work alongside AEGIC," the statement said.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the Agriculture Minister and the State government as they progress the business case for the full upgrade of new facilities, and on ensuring our grain industry is well placed to operate and compete in an increasingly competitive global environment."
A full business case for the construction of new permanent fit-for-purpose laboratory and research facilities is being developed as part of a broader redevelopment of the South Perth site.
The business case will include the co-location of the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, InterGrain and potentially Grains Australia with DPIRD scientific functions.
Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley said this investment would not only future-proof the scientific and diagnostic services, but also ensure the workforce has the right facilities to do the best job.
"The department's diagnostic and laboratory services provide essential disease diagnostic capability that safeguards Western Australia's fisheries industries," Mr Tinley said.
"The lab's expertise covers investigations of fish kills, plus health examination of major aquaculture species.
"Many of our aquaculture businesses are based on a high health status underpinned by laboratory testing for significant exotic and endemic diseases."