The East Kimberley pastoral industry’s only veterinarian says Western Australia has taken “the sledgehammer approach” to border restrictions which are compromising animal welfare outcomes across the region.
- Anyone entering WA from the NT is required to hold a current G2G Pass and quarantine for 14 days
- The East Kimberley pastoral industry’s only vet says border restrictions should not be at the expense of animal welfare
- The cattle industry is urging the state government to take a “commonsense” approach to travel exemptions
The comments came after Kununurra-based vet Peter Letchford was unable to secure a travel exemption in time to carry out pregnancy testing at Legune Station before a consignment of cattle was trucked to Darwin in the Northern Territory.
The station, about 120 kilometres north east of the WA/NT border, is only accessible by road via Kununurra and relies on the nearby Kimberley town for essential services.
Dr Letchford said he understood the WA government’s decision to impose 14-day quarantine measures on visitors from the Territory in response to the latest COVID outbreak in Katherine.
But he said the policy should not come at the expense of animal welfare.
“I’m the only vet for 500 kilometres to the east and there are other vets able to provide the same services 1,000 kilometres to the west,” Dr Letchford said.
“So we’re a little bit thin on the ground and under the current border restrictions, I can’t go over the border without quarantining for 14 days on return.
Vet says animal welfare is at risk
Dr Letchford was eventually granted permission to travel to Legune Station late on Tuesday morning after speaking with the ABC, but the approval came after arrangements had already been made for the cattle to head to Darwin.
He said he wanted greater clarity on cross-border travel.
After 30 years of servicing the northern pastoral industry, Dr Letchford said the prospect of leaving animals untreated was distressing.
“If I had a station ring me now and say we’ve had a horse go through a fence, which has been severely injured and needs stitching or treatment … I’m not able to go without 14 days quarantine,” he said.
Under the state government’s health directions anyone wishing to enter WA from the Northern Territory is required to hold a current G2G Pass and quarantine for 14 days.
A spokesperson from WA Police said a designated team was working with industry representatives to ensure essential business continuity.
Only transport, freight and logistics drivers are permitted to travel across borders under strict protocols including mask-wearing and regular testing for COVID-19.
‘Commonsense must prevail’
The ABC understands a small number of exemptions have been granted on a case-by-case basis for residents and workers situated on the border to travel into Kununurra for essential services.
Dr Letchford said local police had been sympathetic but overall it had been a “roller-coaster ride” trying to navigate the changing rules during the pandemic.
“There is no reason why someone in a professional capacity with providing essential services as a veterinary surgeon cannot go there and abide by a COVID management plan,” he said.
“With all the precaution taking with social distancing and disinfecting, protecting animal welfare concerns and return without jeopardising Western Australia’s status at all.
Industry left frustrated
The Kimberley Pilbara Cattleman’s Association (KPCA) chief executive Mick Sheehy said bureaucratic processes needed to move more swiftly when animal welfare was at stake.
“I’ve been making quite a few phone calls trying to work within government to see how we can get this resolved.”
Mr Sheehy said uncertainty around border controls was a concern for the pastoral industry as it started recruitment for the 2022 season, with many specialist muster contractors located in the Top End and in the East.
On Monday, the Northern Territory government extended the lockout in Katherine after one new COVID-19 case was recorded.
The case brought the NT outbreak total to 61. The NT recorded no new local cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
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