The Guardian November 8, 2000


Quarantine services next for privatisation

by Andrew Jackson

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has slammed a Federal 
Government decision to privatise Australia's Quarantine and Inspection 
Service, saying it would "undermine Australia's ability to protect itself 
from imported plant and animal diseases." It poses serious risks for the 
health and safety of Auatralians as well as for the future of one of our 
key industries.

Also at risk are the jobs of the 1800 employees of the AQIS, who work in 
positions from meatworks inspectors, to animal attendants at quarantine 
farms and dog handlers at mail exchanges and the international airports.

Some aspects of the service have already been partially privatised through 
self-regulation and self-inspection, such as in the meat processing 
industry where it has already resulted in the death of a child.

Any slip-up in standards has the potential to put at risk exports or to 
endanger crops or animals in Australia.

The proposal has also come under criticism from sections of Australia's 
agricultural industry, as well as from the union.

Mr Justin Toohey, excutive director of the Cattle Council of Australia said 
the industry would react with "great nervousness" if the AQIS lost its role 
in protecting Australia's cattle industry from foot and mouth disease and 
other serious diseases and pests.

The attack on AQIS is in line with the Federal Government's policy of 
forcing all departments to "market test" (privatise) services, as private 
enterprise, according to government claims, will provide the same quality 
of service more cheaply.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (AFFA) which 
administers AQIS has already copped a $7 million penalty for failing to 
meet privatisation deadlines.

Matthew Reynolds, CPSU National President said "Agencies have a gun at 
their head  outsource or face budget cuts. Either way, services suffer 
and the Australian community is worse off."

The false economy of this "cost-saving" policy was recently illustrated 
after Finance Minister John Fahey, against advice from his own department, 
forced all government departments to outsource their Information Technology 
services.

A damning Auditor Generals's report showed that the $1 billion in promised 
savings never appeared, and that in fact the program was $25 million in the 
red.

Departments were left with a loss of experienced staff, huge redundancy 
pay-outs, and massive work disruptions due to chaotic service delivery.

"We have seen the results of John Fahey's information technology 
outsourcing program", said Mr Reynolds.

"Now we are seeing Australia's agricultural and livestock industries 
threatened by his ideological infatuation with market testing and 
outsourcing.

"The last thing Australia needs is the same fiasco being forced on our 
world class quarantine functions."

He believed that the AQIS motto of "Protecting Our Way Of Life" could soon 
read "Privatising Your Way Of Life" if the government ideologues are left 
unchecked.

Mr Reynolds added, "Protecting our borders is a job of national 
responsibility that should be undertaken by the governments of this 
country."

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