I'VE been a farmer for most of my life and nothing can prepare you for the emotions that come with having to shoot your own livestock.
Whatever the reason, be it drought or disease, it is the worst decision any farming family has to make.
I know this first-hand, and I still remember where they're buried.
So, when I woke up on Friday morning and read the outlandish comments made by Alannah MacTiernan, I was left speechless.
The Agriculture and Food Minister who is in charge of defending, protecting and advocating for our $11 billion ag sector, claimed the introduction of foot and mouth disease (FMD) into WA would make food cheaper.
The minister's comments were down-right offensive to farmers and producers.
They were out-of-touch with regional Western Australians.
They showed a shocking lack of judgement and proved the government is disconnected from regional communities.
As a senior minister of the government, Ms MacTiernan and her comments represent Premier Mark McGowan, who has been missing in action on this important issue.
For the past two years, we have seen the importance of clear and direct communication but up until now, there has only been radio silence from the government on FMD.
This is only increasing the anxiety being felt right across WA.
I've spent the week meeting with the ag industry to listen to their concerns first-hand and all I have heard is that they have received little or no communication from the government on what preventative measures are being taken now and what actual practical steps will be enacted by them should the worst-case scenario occur.
Farmers, producers, livestock agents and transport workers - just to name a few in the sector who would be impacted by FMD - deserve to know how the government plans to control the spread of the disease if it arrives in WA, and what compensation would be available if livestock must be euthanised.
Cattle, sheep, and pigs are the backbone of many regional businesses - if there are losses, there must be appropriate financial support for families who could face the ruin of their livelihoods.
Western Australian livestock producers' fear levels have been elevated by the outbreak in Indonesia and the FMD detection in Victoria and South Australia.
Now, more than ever, they deserve clear communication from the State government.
The Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development claims it has written to key stakeholder groups and every registered individual owner of livestock, but the information provided has been very limited and essentially contains nothing beyond what primary producers already know when it comes to managing biosecurity on their farms.
What Western Australians want to know is how the government will support them if FMD were to spread into our State.
Make no mistake, if this disease is not managed effectively, it will decimate our livestock industry, it will ruin businesses, and it will destroy the livelihoods of farmers and their families.
It has the potential to be the biggest existential threat the livestock industry has ever faced.
As a minimum, we should be seeing emergency response drills run now so the public can witness the skills and capacity of the network, ahead of the pending threat potentially reaching WA.
Frankly, this threat of FMD has brought to sharp focus the inadequacies of the McGowan government and the Agriculture and Food Minister when it comes to defending the agricultural sector.
The government talked up its biosecurity investments, but action has yet to be seen.
I have been pursuing biosecurity resourcing and funding with the minister since she was appointed in 2017.
As a consequence of the government's underinvestment in biosecurity, there is now a reliance on private veterinarians to take up the slack.
In areas such as Esperance, there is no government veterinary capability or resources on the ground who have expertise in animal disease or early detection and management of FMD - the entire region relies solely on private veterinarians.
This is the biggest threat to the agriculture industry in recent memory, and farmers across the State feel like they're being left out in the cold.
We need to know the minister and her department are taking FMD seriously and are on the front foot.
They also need to lift their game when it comes to communicating with producers and the public on this issue.
The government has proven time and time again that they do not care for regional WA but now they need to show they are up to the job of protecting our ag industry.
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