Ovine Johne's Disease
OVINE JOHNE'S DISEASE
Mr SCHULTZ (Burrinjuck) [6.34]: Tonight I bring to the attention of the House a matter to which I have referred on previous occasions. I am pleased to see the Minister for Agriculture in the Chamber tonight as the story I am about to relate is one of the most heart-wrenching I have heard since I was elected to this Parliament in 1988. Going back briefly in history, in 1993 I referred in a private member's statement to ovine Johne's disease on behalf of Mr Allan McCormack of Walwa merino stud at Gunning. Things have not got better for Mr McCormack; they have got worse. Nobody at the Federal or State level wants to know about his problem. Those who do continually tell him that there is nothing they can do about it. Let me run through the problems that have been experienced by Mr McCormack and his wife Jane. Ovine Johne's disease was diagnosed in their sheep in 1993. To date the losses they have incurred have totalled $282,400, which represents an amount of $81,600 in 1993, $99,500 in 1994 and $101,300 in 1995. Likely future losses have been estimated at approximately $100,000 per year.
The bank is questioning the future viability of his property because of ovine Johne's disease - the worst affected property in Australia - yet no assistance has been received from anyone. In 1994-95 Mr McCormack's property was subjected to drought. Direct costs for fodder, transport and agistment were $262,699 and indirect wage costs and the loss of income from wool and beef amounted to $187,000. To date the only assistance that has been received is in the form of a freight subsidy amounting to $19,291. As if that were not enough, Mr McCormack, because of a tragic accident on the property, is permanently disabled. He has spinal cord damage to his back which is compounded by arthritis. He had a negative income for the years 1994-95 and 1995-96 because of the ovine Johne's disease and drought.
Mr McCormack applied for a disability pension which was refused on the grounds of assets. He then applied for Austudy which was refused on the grounds of asset value. The prognosis is that Mr McCormack will be in a wheelchair in two years time. He has approached a number of departments, including the Rural Assistance Authority, but all the assistance he is getting is a basic family and parenting allowance which equates to a total income of $109.50 per fortnight. Financially, Mr McCormack is pretty stable, but because of the problems I have highlighted he has reached the point where his confidence in human nature is disappearing. This unique case is heart-rending. Mr McCormack has nowhere to go. He and his wife are worried sick because of his possible permanent disability in two years time. His wife does not know how she will be able to look after him. He cannot sell his property, which is valued at $4 million, because it has ovine Johne's disease on it. Nobody will buy it. It is quarantined and he has lost his good stud name because of this disease. He simply has nowhere to go. I ask the Minister to do all he can to help this man financially to continue to operate until such time as he is able to get out of his dilemma.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [6.39]: In the two minutes available to me it would be impossible to respond adequately to this tragic story that has been presented to the House by the honourable member for Burrinjuck about Mr Alan McCormack. I commend the honourable member for notifying me that he would raise this matter today. I will ensure that my
department contacts the honourable member for Burrinjuck to see whether anything can be done by the department, or by other relevant authorities, in relation to this case. This is the worst case I have heard presented to this place. I acknowledge that the honourable member for Burrinjuck raised this matter about three years ago and has pursued governments of both persuasions for some action.
I announced that an active surveillance program is being put in place by New South Wales Agriculture on behalf of the Johne's Disease Sheep Industry Standing Committee. This will include a number of surveillance procedures, such as a request for all field veterinarians to consider Johne's disease in the differential diagnosis of causes of ill thrift and wasting in adult sheep. It also includes the tracing of movements of sheep to and from infected properties by district veterinarians from Rural Lands Protection Boards and investigation of the disease status. In addition New South Wales Agriculture has taken steps to fill two vacant veterinary positions at the Centre of Excellence for Sheep Disease Investigation at Orange to handle the increased workload expected from this active surveillance program and investigations into other sheep health problems.
There are a number of issues about Johne's disease I would like to talk about but, of course, time would not permit me to do that. The New South Wales Stud Merino Breeders Association is having discussions with my department to develop a Johne's disease market assurance program for their members. Hopefully, this may help in some small way with this gentleman's problems. Any stud breeder who has encountered Johne's disease should be commended because obviously the facts raised by the honourable member have had a devastating effect on the gentleman concerned. [Time expired.]