BARNABY Joyce has become embroiled in a war of words with his WA agricultural ministerial colleague and political foe Alannah MacTiernan over cuts to funding for wild dog eradication measures.
But farmers say the only victim of a public spat between the two ministers would be the pastoralists and producers relying on both governments to work effectively together to help cull expanding wild dog populations, to protect farm viability.
Ms MacTiernan retired in 2010 after 17 years but returned to state politics at the WA election in March this year after a one-term stint in federal parliament as the member for Perth and is now the state’s Agriculture and Food Minister.
But she has repeatedly called the Nationals leader “Bro” - in reference to the dual NZ citizenship status scandal that’s currently clouding his political future - during their public dispute over funding for WA’s wild dog control program.
“Today we have seen a rather incomprehensible media release from “Bro” Barnaby,” Ms MacTiernan said in response to a question posed in the WA parliament last week by the WA Nationals, asking her to explain a $4 million loss from the WA Wild Dog Action Plan.
It’s understood she also repeatedly called Mr Joyce “Bro” igniting laughter during a wild dog forum held in Perth last Friday, which was attended by about 100 industry members including farm lobby group representatives, agriculture department officials, media and state and federal politicians.
“It was a Labor love-in and Alannah was playing to the crowd but it was in pretty poor taste,” said a source who attended the meeting, but asked not to be named.
Pastoral and Graziers Association of WA President Tony Seabook said the WA minister was “very insulting” about Mr Joyce during her forum speech, which was potentially leading to a negative outcome for graziers and farmers.
Mr Seabrook said if the two ministers had a public “fight” over wild dog funding and controls - that was non-productive - the livestock producers, who need the issue “sorted-out”, would be the “one casualty”.
But he said Ms MacTiernan had demonstrated she would “fight hard” for WA on wild dog controls, but the amount of funding from both levels of government was still insufficient.
“It’s a bit cute for the federal government to sit back and say this is just a state issue because it’s not - this is a huge issue,” he said.
“Wild dogs aren’t static - they’re on the move and heading further south and if they’re not properly controlled there will be move carnage for producers and their livestock.”
In responding to the question time query about the $4m cut, Ms MacTiernan urged the WA Nationals to support WA by “going into bat and asking why we are getting around $3m from the federal government when Queensland has got $9m”.
“In fact, some argue that Queensland got even more for its wild dog control,” she said.
“’Bro” can no longer complain that he is uncertain about the level of our commitment.
“In the budget is a commitment of $18.6m alone for royalties for regions.
“We believe that we deserve a bit better.”
But Ms MacTiernan was cautioned over her response to the question with the President of the WA Upper House saying other members of parliament should be referred to by their full name or title, rather than ‘Bro’.
In a media release, Ms MacTiernan said WA had received just $2m in federal drought funding for wild dog action, compared to Queensland's $12 million.
However, Mr Joyce said WA had received $4.1m in Commonwealth funding and another $3.8m which could have been spent on wild dogs, if prioritised by the WA government.
He said he welcomed the opportunity to work with WA farmers to construct wild dog control fences - but the McGowan Labor government must first clarify the $4m “hole” in the Wild Dog Action Plan’s budget.
“The WA Labor Budget, handed down last week, allocated a total of $18.25m for wild dog control, which raises questions over the use of Commonwealth funds and leaves a $4m hole in the total budget of the plan,” he said.
“What we know is, in November 2016, the former state government announced a $19.94m package to deliver the state’s Action Plan, which included a $1.03m commitment from the Coalition Government’s natural resource management funds.
“The then Minister requested $2.5m from the Commonwealth to ‘fill the funding gap’ to enable the state to complete its Action Plan.
“Earlier this year the Coalition Government announced an additional $3.1m commitment towards WA’s Action Plan - including a $600,000 component for Indigenous Rangers - that took the total WA Wild Dog Action Plan budget to $23m as of February this year.
“Commonwealth officials have not been able to obtain answers to explain this funding shortfall.”
Mr Joyce said despite wild dog management being a state responsibility, the Coalition government was willing to consider further ways to support farmers open up rangeland for livestock production and tackle wild dogs.
“But we will not be putting in more money to replace funds taken out of the wild dog control bucket by the state government, if that is what has happened,” he said.
Mr Joyce said Ms MacTiernan’s comments about WA’s wild dog funding compared to Queensland’s, and that WA had only received $2m for wild dog activities, were “misleading and need clarification”.
In a statement, Ms MacTiernan said the McGowan government had “already locked in” $2.36m to employ an additional eight doggers (licensed control operators) to work with biosecurity groups across the rangelands to control wild dogs over the next three years.
She said another $90,000 would be invested in a veterinary graduate program to sterilise dogs in remote communities to control wild dog populations, with the program’s expansion under consideration.
Wild dogs are estimated to cause losses of $25m per year to rangelands sheep and goat production, limiting employment opportunities in the Murchison and other pastoral regions, she said.
"Now that our government has locked in this funding, there is absolutely no excuse for Barnaby Joyce to continue to discriminate against WA in federal funding,” she said.
WA federal MP for Durack Melissa Price said Ms MacTiernan asking the federal government for more money to support wild dog programs, whilst cutting funding to the Wild Dog Action Plan, was “a bit facetious”.
The promotional material for the wild dog forum in Perth last week, featuring Ms MacTiernan’s comments, said “Without doubt, wild dogs are challenging the viability of our sheep, and even cattle, industries in parts of WA”.
“Much money and effort has been expended over many years – but the problem is deepening,” she said.
“As a new government, and one committed to evidence-based decision making, we want to make sure we don’t keep doing things that may not be working and which are not supported by science.”