Minister rules out ban on Indonesian flights amid foot-and-mouth outbreak

Australia’s Agriculture Minister has ruled out a ban on flights from Indonesia as a way to prevent a devastating livestock disease from entering the country. 

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, was detected in Indonesia in May and could cause an $80 billion wipe-out if detected in Australian livestock.

Opposition Senator Susan McDonald and some farm groups have called for an end to travel between Australia in Bali for fear tourists could carry the disease back into the country on their clothing and shoes.

But speaking with SKY, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the government had no plans to introduce a travel ban.

“I’ve received no advice from biosecurity experts in Australia that that’s the kind of thing that we should do,” Mr Watt said.

“I can understand why people are calling for really drastic measures like that because this is a big threat, but I’ve even had farm leaders say to me that they don’t support that kind of move because of the damage that would do to our trading relationship with Indonesia.”

Australian aid to Indonesia

Australia’s chief vet has estimated there is an 11 per cent risk of an FMD outbreak in Australia over the next five years.

Mr Watt met with Indonesian ministers in Jakarta today to commit Australian support for Indonesian authorities to manage the spread of FMD.

He announced a $1.5 million package to fund at least 1 million FMD vaccines for Indonesian livestock.

The Australian government said it was making the support available at the request of the Indonesian government.

The commitment is in addition to more than 400,000 Lumpy Skin Disease vaccines already offered to Indonesia.

Murray Watt holding a press conference, gesticulating with his hands. He's wearing glasses.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is meeting with his Indonesian counterparts to discuss the outbreak.(ABC News: Marco Catalano)

The funding package also included $500,000 for Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to work with Indonesian feedlots, providing expertise.

“We’ll be providing money to MLA to assist those feedlots, make sure that all of their staff know what to do in terms of biosecurity procedures, how they can keep cattle that might be infected separate from other ones, fairly basic things, but things that can really make a difference,” Mr Watt said.

Mr Watt said Australia would implement any “sensible practical measure” that would help maintain Australia’s biosecurity.

“While there is all this attention, understandably, on people travelling back from Bali, probably the biggest risk and the biggest threat in terms of how this disease would enter Australia would more be through meat products.

No foot baths at airports

Mr Watt said he had asked the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for advice about implementing foot baths for travellers entering Australia.

“The advice that I’ve received is that it’s not an effective measure because the chemicals that need to be used — if they are going to be effective — are very dangerous to human skin,” he said.

“The reality is a lot of people come back from Bali not wearing the kind of work boots that you wear on a farm, so we don’t want to put people in danger from that.

“But we are examining options around footwear because it is something that we want to crack down on and reduce any risk whatsoever.

Last month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese offered Indonesian President Joko Widodo vaccines and technical support for Indonesian authorities to combat outbreaks of both FMD and Lumpy Skin Disease.

Australia does not manufacture the FMD vaccine.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has told the ABC that Australia’s FMD vaccine bank is held offshore and vaccines can be manufactured in seven days.