Federal government warned of loopholes in biosecurity controls weeks before Ruby Princess debacle

Marine workers have told the federal government of “significant concerns” about the coronavirus threat posed by ships arriving weeks before the Ruby Princess disaster.

7.30 this week revealed a report which revealed Commonwealth failures likely contributed to last year’s debacle.

Twenty-eight travelers have died and more than 600 passengers and crew later tested positive for coronavirus after people were allowed to disembark the ship in Sydney last March.

The report of the Inspector General of Biosafety found that there had been errors during the inspection of the ships of the Ministry of Agriculture, inadequate preparations in early 2020 and years of deficiencies within the ‘agency.

The ABC got warnings sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie in January 2020 – six weeks before the Ruby Princess docked at Circular Quay.

Letters from the Maritime Union of Australia were sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Bridget McKenzie, then Minister of Agriculture.(

ABC News: Ian Cutmore

)

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) wrote that he had “significant concerns about the current gaps that exist in the biosafety net”.

“With the global spread of the coronavirus expanding daily, the MUA is urging the federal government to implement strict biosecurity controls at Australian seaports,” the union’s Paddy Crumlin wrote in his letter.

“Resources must be made immediately available to Australian biosafety agencies.

“Agencies that protect our communities from the spread of deadly viruses must have adequate, robust and dynamic resources to ensure that they can respond appropriately to these types of viral threats. “

‘Too little, too late’

Agriculture officials are responsible for stopping human disease at the border and formally authorizing passengers to disembark.

The Biosafety Inspector General’s Ruby Princess report said it was “puzzled” the Agriculture Department was not better prepared after seeing COVID-19 spread aboard the Diamond Princess ship in Japan .

“Agriculture was ‘too little and too late’ to prepare to deal with potential biosecurity issues… for many cruise ships to Australian ports shortly after the Prime Minister announced the border closures Australian, ”the report said.

“[The Agriculture department] seems to have largely ignored the need to increase the number of experienced frontline staff and management / technical support to ensure that the peak cruise ship risk can be dealt with safely. “

“Agriculture was not sufficiently alert to the emerging threat of COVID-19. “

The shipping union said the independent watchdog’s findings were not surprising.

“The federal government needs to learn from past mistakes in managing the COVID crisis and ensure that best practices in biosecurity measures are put in place,” said Mr. Crumlin.

Senator McKenzie left Cabinet in early February 2020 amid the so-called sports offenses case. She was replaced by David Littleproud.

In a statement, Littleproud said more than $ 400 million was committed for biosafety in the last budget.

“This includes $ 28.7 million to upgrade and expand the maritime arrivals reporting system to make our borders and those who work there more secure,” he said.

“This has been identified as an area of ​​need by the department, state governments and maritime authorities.

“The recommendations resulting from the examination of the Inspector General and the [NSW Bret] The Walker investigation is being treated as a priority. “

Ruby Princess, a “failure at the border”

Kristina Keneally of Federal Labor said yesterday that the Prime Minister had “failed to stop the only boat that matters, the Ruby Princess”.

The New South Wales Special Commissioner who investigated the Ruby Princess incident last year found that the mistakes of state health officials were the main cause of the disaster.

Attorney Bret Walker SC stands by his conclusion, but said the inspector general’s report showed it was “very likely” that the debacle could have been avoided if the federal government had done better.

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