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."