Denmark farmer Steve Birkbeck backs MacTiernan after FMD controversy, calls for Federal Government action

Sarah Makse and Kimberley CainesAlbany Advertiser
Denmark cattle producer Steve Birkbeck.
Camera IconDenmark cattle producer Steve Birkbeck. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

Prominent Denmark cattle farmer Steve Birkbeck has come out in defence of WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan after her comments on foot-and-mouth disease caused widespread outrage among the industry last month.

Mr Birkbeck who runs Raintree Farm — a mixed farming enterprise including 450 cattle — said it was up to the Federal Government to protect the industry and has called for a temporary travel ban to Bali and support for Indonesia to stamp out the FMD outbreak.

His comments come after a fortnight of controversy for Ms MacTiernan, following her comments in the West Australian on July 22, hosing down fears of the potential impact of FMD’s arrival in WA, stating it would “not be catastrophic” and could even lead to lower meat and milk prices.

The comments triggered a swift rebuke from the industry, including from WAFarmers president John Hassell and Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook, with calls for her to be sacked by the Federal Member for O’Connor Rick Wilson.

Premier Mark McGowan last Monday agreed Ms MacTiernan “went a bit far and made a mistake” with her FMD commentary but again backed the “very hardworking minister” amid growing calls for her resignation.

Mr Birkbeck said he had spent 35 years building his herd and an outbreak of FMD in WA would be a “disaster” for farmers and his own livelihood, but there would be ways to manage it.

“I think there has got to be perspective on this, I think there has got to be calm,” he said.

Ms Birkbeck said Ms MacTiernan had been a “great ambassador” for the region and he felt her comments had been “distorted”.

“Yes she put her foot in her mouth on this touchy subject, and should not have offered an honest opinion — a rare quality in a politician these days,” he said.

“She was simply expressing an opinion that I have shared with her recently, and happen to agree on.

“I believe the point she was trying to make that has been selectively quoted and distorted was to put a reality check on the fear and anxiety running though our community.

“Due to our State’s biosecurity systems climate and scale we will be able to contain the disease, that was the point, we are not the UK and will not be burning millions of cattle.

“She has been put though the wringer and I say enough is enough.”

Last week Ms MacTiernan said she and her department were “doing absolutely everything” to prevent the threat of FMD and apologised that her comments gave some farmers the impression they were not taking the threat seriously.

“We are doing absolutely everything we can to prevent it coming into WA and making sure we have the best and swiftest response if FMD does enter our State,” she said.

“FMD is a serious threat, and we continue to work closely with the Federal Government and industry on this very serious biosecurity matter.”

Mr Birkbeck called for the Federal Government to pose a six-month temporary ban on travel to Bali and a support package for the country to help stamp out the crisis.

“If we want to express our stress in a productive way, then lets aim our frustration at those who may do us harm by their policies and have control of our State’s borders, the Federal Parliament, an area Minister MacTiernan has no control over,” he said.

“As a large cattle farmer I call for a short pause in our visitation to the Bali hotspot while we support the Balinese to stamp this out.”

Speaking in Federal Parliament last Thursday, Acting Agriculture Minister Catherine King said the Government had installed sanitised foot mats at every international terminal, and spent $14 million to support Indonesia in its FMD fight and boost biosecurity procedures in Australia.

“We are monitoring the situation closely every single hour, every single day,” she said.

“We do know that we need to continue working very closely with our Indonesian counterparts. It is in our national interest that Indonesia gets on top of that.

“The very best way to ensure that FMD does not come to Australia is to assist Indonesia to get that outbreak under control and we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect this important Australian industry.”

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