Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (14:25): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Can the minister inform the house how the state government is strengthening our protection against fruit fly and any threats against our biosecurity?
The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE (Chaffey—Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development) (14:25): I thank the member for Hammond for his very important question. It is a very important question, particularly for South Australia's reputation not only to be fruit fly free but to have the area of freedom status internationally into our export markets. It gives South Australia the market advantage that no other mainland state has in the country.
In December 2018, there were seven male flies detected in the Loxton area in the Riverland, and that triggered a Queensland fruit fly outbreak. That meant that we had to despatch 50 biosecurity staff to the Loxton Research Centre, to the control centre, and deploy people on the ground to undertake a hygiene exercise, as well as administering the organic baits.
What we had seen previously, under the former government, was a status quo. The quarantine stations and the biosecurity staff were being used as human rubbish bins. What that meant was that people would declare their fruit at the border, inside the quarantine area, and it was putting the region at risk. We have seen now an outbreak and so this government has actually taken a hard-line approach to it. What we are seeing now is that we have a zero tolerance approach.
The Hon. L.W.K. Bignell interjecting:
The SPEAKER: The member for Mawson is warned.
The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE: We have turned the trucks around at the borders. If those trucks are noncompliant, carrying loose pieces of fruit in empty bins, they will be turned around. The zero tolerance approach has also meant that we are now handing out on-the-spot fines. We will not have our biosecurity officers used as human rubbish bins. Now people are being fined for bringing fruit into the quarantine area. The policy that has been initiated since 4 January is working.
On 22 and 23 December, 285 vehicles were found to be carrying fruit—over half a tonne of fruit. They were fined. In the first week of February, there were 36 fines. To compare, that is 285 down to 36. If we look at the current week, we are now down to 25 fines. What it's showing is that this government is getting on with protecting the horticultural sector in South Australia. By way of example, we are the first state to sign up to the federal fruit fly initiative program. It's about a national approach. It's about every state working together to deal with the Queensland fruit fly.
The Queensland fruit fly is one of the most insidious insects on the planet. It is putting a huge amount of pressure on the South Australian borders. We have just announced the sterile insect technology. Those flies are bred at the Port Augusta facility. We are now implementing the land release of those sterile insects.
That means that every week we are releasing two million flies into the exclusion zone and they are being released by land. Initially, it was going to be release by plane, but we are customising where those flies are to be released. It is also important to note that the program will run for nine weeks, so two million flies a week over nine weeks. Those sterile flies will be both male and female. The males will fire blanks and the females will be non-conceptive. What it's showing is that we are doing everything we can as a government to make sure that we can actually address the outbreak of Queensland fruit fly. It is of national importance that South Australia be the leader in dealing with Queensland fruit fly—hashtag #RegionsMatter.