11 Jun 2012

Government and Labour at odds over biosecurity cuts

6:46 am on 11 June 2012

The Labour Party says farmers and orchardists will be shocked by new figures showing the Government has cut biosecurity jobs.

Labour's primary industries spokesperson Damien O'Connor says the jobs of 91 biosecurity officers have been axed since 2008.

He says in the same period the number of international visitors increased by 140,000.

Mr O'Connor says the figures, obtained through a written parliamentary question, contradict a claim by the Minister that there had not been a reduction in biosecurity over the last four years.

The Government last week announced it would employ 40 more biosecurity staff which Mr O'Connor says is an admission that the systems have not been in place to guarantee that New Zealand has good biosecurity and protection from unwanted pests and organisms.

However, Minister for Primary Industries David Carter says most of the job cuts were made when the 2008 global economic crises brought trade to a near stand-still.

He says there was a significant reduction of 54 staff at the start of the global financial crisis, when not a lot of goods were coming across Auckland wharves.

Since then, he says, with a major restructuring occurring across three government departments to form the Ministry for Primary Industries, there have been no job cuts, but equally there has been no attempt to fill positions left vacant through attrition.

He says the Ministry for Primary Industries is now starting to advertise again.

Mr Carter does not accept that reduced staff numbers would have brought any problems to New Zealand's biosecurity forces.

Damien O'Connor's figures also show the number of sniffer dogs on duty at Auckland Airport has fallen from 20 to 13 since 2008, and that one dog graduated from the National Training Centre last year compared to 15 in 2008.

Mr Carter says a number of dogs have recently retired and they will be replaced.