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Blackwood Biosecurity has been left without staff following the retirement of its executive officer and the resignation of its biosecurity officer in a situation that one Bridgetown-Greenbushes shire councillor has described as “chaos”.

Biosecurity issues are currently being dealt with by visiting biosecurity officers from Leschenault Biosecurity while the Blackwood group “restructures our team”.

At the time of writing the position of executive officer was being advertised online.

Funding for Blackwood Biosecurity through a compulsory levy on landholders and farmers is controversial, with many landholders objecting to it and to the threat of legal action from the government for people not paying it.

A petition against the levy has been circulating in Bridgetown shops, where it has gained pages of signatures. Similarly, a post on the Bridgeton Community Noticeboard Facebook page in June 2020 attracted over 230 comments, most of them negative.

There’s a common misconception that Blackwood Biosecurity, and the compulsory levy, is connected in some way to the Shire of Bridgetown Greenbushes. However, Shire President John Nicholas points out that it is a State Government responsibility, and that the government relies on the Shire’s rate list to send out the bill for the levy.

There are a number of recognised biosecurity groups throughout the state doing the sort of weed and feral animal control that used to be carried out by the Agricultural Protection Board until the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act was introduced in 2007. There has been opposition to the $40-50 levy ever since.

The State Government matches landholders’ compulsory contributions effectively doubling the funds available for pest management. Not all local governments have a Biosecurity Group in their area and landholders in those areas aren’t charged the levy.

Public consultation

Member for Warren-Blackwood, Terry Redman, thinks a lot of the hostility to the biosecurity scheme stems from poor public consultation when local biosecurity groups are first established.

But he thinks resentment also stems from people like pensioners living on quarter acre blocks in town who are asked to pay $40 towards the scheme but who don’t have a biosecurity problem, like weeds or rabbits, on their property.

On top of that is the threat of legal action for failing to pay the levy and the perception of inequality, where the owner of a quarter acre block has to pay $40, but a farmer with thousands of acres pays just $50.

But he also thinks there’s resentment in the farming community because farmers are already spending a lot on biosecurity on their own properties.

Despite those reservations he said the system works well when there’s good public consultation and when the vital contribution of volunteers is acknowledged and supported. He thinks good public consultation is sometimes lacking.

“The biggest issue I have is the level of consultation that the minister is prepared to sign off on,” Mr Redman said.

He added that the best way to spend money on biosecurity was to spend it on borders and preventing problems from entering the state in the first place.  

The Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Act and the role of the Recognised Biosecurity Groups is up for parliamentary review this year.