10 May 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Coen biosecurity centre facing closure from state government

| Matt Nicholls
Start the conversation

The Cape York Biosecurity Centre, located 22km north of Coen, is facing closure after the state’s agriculture department put it up for review.

GROWERS and graziers are angry their livelihoods could be placed at risk after the state government said it was reviewing the future of the Cape York Biosecurity Centre.

“They should be looking at opening it 24 hours, not shutting it down,” said Merluna Station’s Cameron MacLean.

Lakeland’s Joy Marriott added: “It beggars belief that they would be thinking about closing it.”


Federal MP Warren Entsch said he would fight to keep the Coen facility open.

“It’s absolute insanity if they close it. It would be madness,” the Member for Leichhardt said.

Cape York Weekly understands there are two reasons behind the push to close the centre – issues with land tenure and cost-cutting.

The former was confirmed by the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture on Friday.

“The land the CYBC is located on is included in the Cape York United One Claim and DAF is working with Traditional Owners to work through the claim process,” a spokesperson for Biosecurity Queensland said.

Mr Entsch said if land rights were an issue for the state, they had to fight to find a solution.

“If the state government can’t reach an agreement with the Cape York Land Council they must find another location.”

While DAF says it has yet to form an official view on the future of the centre, it eluded to the cut by spruiking “efficient” alternatives.

“The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries regularly reviews its services to ensure the best use of resources and to keep abreast of contemporary practices,” the spokesperson said.

“The CYBC’s future role is being considered in that context and the review process will involve significant consultation with a broad range of stakeholders.

“The Far Northern Biosecurity Initiative, established in late 2018, has and will continue to increase DAF’s footprint in Far North Queensland.

“This more targeted and efficient way of delivering biosecurity services includes $3.7 million in funding over five years to enhance biosecurity capability in the region, with a strong emphasis on stakeholder empowerment, education, and partnership.”

A retired Biosecurity Queensland officer said the Coen facility had been “super successful” in stopping the spread of disease over the years.

“It’s mostly fruit diseases but a lot of tourists will pick up driftwood from a beach and they don’t realise what kind of biosecurity problems that can cause if they take it home,” he said.

“That driftwood comes from Indonesia and PNG.”

He said the nation’s banana and mango industries would suffer if a disease like black sigatoka spread south, or the red-banded mango caterpillar reached Lakeland or Mareeba.

“They should be spending more, not less,” he said.

Tony Perrett, the state LNP’s spokesperson for agriculture, said it would be “unfathomable” to close the Cape York Biosecurity Centre, located 22km north of Coen.

“Biosecurity matters, now more than ever,” the MP told Cape York Weekly.

“It is unfathomable the state government is even considering closing down biosecurity facilities at such a critical time.

“Locals know how important this facility is in protecting agriculture and our environment against biosecurity threats, many of which can enter in the Cape and travel south.

“Where is the Member for Cook on this? The closure of the Coen facility would be absolutely destructive for the community Cynthia Lui is supposed to represent.

“Ms Lui and the Minister for Agriculture (Mark Furner) must come out today and guarantee the Coen facility will remain open.”

In a letter to DAF, Wolverton Station grazier Neville Jackson called for the Department to show more support for Cape York’s agricultural industry.

“As cattle producers, it’s a lonely world. We fight weeds and pests very much on our own, we maintain our infrastructure (roads and fences), again on our own and we are isolated with healthcare services, local government services and so many more services that people close to town receive,” he wrote with wife Emma.

“Every day we are committed to producing a quality product, bringing in revenue that is invested back into our local landscape so we can continue what we do, making small improvements along the way. All we ask from you is some support.

“Please continue to reassure us that the health and wellbeing of Queensland’s landscapes is your priority.

“The threat of tropical diseases entering this country through northern shores is recognised by the federal government and we are asking you to recognise this.

“Increasing support and services in this region is again, critical to continued industry, community health and broader ecosystem health.

“The region is asking you to please do more, not less.”

Cook Shire’s acting mayor Robyn Holmes said the council had reached out to the Department, asking it to consult widely with stakeholders before making the decision to close the facility.

“The centre has been there for such a long time and we know they’ve had success in reducing the spread of diseases,” she said.

“Having that local knowledge is imperative.”

She said with plans to expand Lakeland into a major food bowl over the coming decades, more had to be invested in the region’s biosecurity measures.


Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.