THE federal Agriculture Minister has defended his department's role in allowing a live-export ship with COVID-19 positive crew to dock in Fremantle, saying it followed the protocol set out by WA Health.
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan hit out at the Ag Department for not notifying his government soon enough, after six crew members of the Al Kuwait tested positive to the virus.
However, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the moment the department was made aware crew members were displaying symptoms, WA Heath was notified - which was three days before its health officials arrived to test the crew.
Department emails show on May 20, the ship's captain advised that three crew members were feeling ill but did not have a temperature or display other COVID-19 symptoms, which was logged but not passed on.
"Having sick people on boats is pretty part of the course," Mr Littleproud said.
Then on May 22 as the ship arrived to dock, it notified the department a crew member was showing symptoms.
"At that point the protocol is the Department of Agriculture immediately notifies the Western Australian Department of Health, which it did," Mr Littleproud said.
"Because there was no advice to the contrary, this ship was allowed to dock some two or three hours later in Perth.
"Again, no-one left the ship. Anyone that went on the ship was in protective clothing."
On May 24, the Australian Border Force also raised concerns with WA Health.
"It wasn't until the Monday (May 25) in which health officials from WA boarded the boat and started to test," Mr Littleproud said.
"I have emails to ensure my department acted within the protocols set out by the states."
When questioned why his department did not notify WA Health when the ship first reported sick crew member without symptoms, Mr Littleproud replied "it is not for the Department of Agriculture to make medical assessments".
"We look after plants and animals," he said.
"We do not make determinations on health, we allow [WA Health] to to undertake that. We simply provide the information that's provided to my personnel on the ground."
Despite the strong words from the WA Premier, Mr Littleproud refused to return the serve and said the WA government had handled the situation "magnificently".
"What the nation expects of us as political leaders is to lead and I think we can do that constructively," Mr Littleproud said.
"This is not a time to raise anxieties, but to come together, not to tear one another down.
"If there are learnings from this, we must work through it calmly and in a mature way that ensures that if there has been a gap, that we can understand that together."