Kimberley vet warns of WA border restrictions affecting animal welfare


East Kimberley’s only pastoral industry vet says Western Australia has taken the ‘hammer approach’ to border restrictions which are undermining animal welfare outcomes in the region.

The comments came after Kununurra-based vet Peter Letchford was unable to secure a travel exemption in time to carry out pregnancy tests at Legune Station before a consignment of cattle was transported by truck to Darwin in the Northern Territory.

The resort, about 120 kilometers northeast of the WA/NT border, is only accessible by road via Kununurra and depends on the nearby town of Kimberley for essential services.

Dr Letchford said he understood the WA government’s decision to impose 14-day quarantine measures on visitors to the territory in response to the latest COVID outbreak in Katherine.

But he said the policy should not come at the expense of animal welfare.

“I am the only vet 500 kilometers east and there are other vets who can provide the same services 1,000 kilometers west,” Dr Letchford said.

“So we are a little thin on the ground and under the current border restrictions I cannot cross the border without being quarantined for 14 days on return.

Vet says animal welfare is at risk

Dr Letchford was finally cleared to travel to Legune Station late Tuesday morning after speaking with the ABC, but approval came after arrangements had already been made for the cattle to head to Darwin.

He said he wanted more clarity on cross-border travel.

After 30 years of service to the northern pastoral industry, Dr Letchford said the prospect of leaving animals untreated was distressing.

“If I had a station calling me now and saying a horse has come through a fence, has been badly injured and needs stitches or treatment… I can’t do without 14 days of quarantine,” he said. .

Legune railway station is about 120 kilometers northeast of Kununurra.(Provided: Legune Station Facebook)

According to state government health guidelines, anyone wishing to enter WA from the Northern Territory must hold a current G2G pass and quarantine for 14 days.

A WA Police spokesman said a designated team was working with industry representatives to ensure essential business continuity.

Only transport, freight and logistics drivers are allowed to cross borders under strict protocols, including wearing masks and regular testing for COVID-19.

“Common sense must prevail”

The ABC understands that a small number of exemptions have been granted on a case-by-case basis for residents and workers at the border to travel to Kununurra for essential services.

Dr Letchford said local police had been friendly but overall it had been a “roller coaster ride” trying to navigate the changing rules during the pandemic.

Keep sign River Plains Road.
The Keep River Plains Road crosses the WA/NT border leading to two aboriginal communities and Legune Station.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)

“There is no reason why someone in a professional capacity providing essential services as a veterinarian cannot go there and follow a COVID management plan,” he said.

“With every precaution taken with social distancing and disinfection, to protect animal welfare concerns and return without jeopardizing the status of Western Australia.

The industry is frustrated

Kimberley Pilbara Cattleman’s Association (KPCA) chief executive Mick Sheehy said bureaucratic processes had to be faster when animal welfare was at stake.

“I’ve been making quite a few phone calls trying to work within government to see how we can solve this problem.”

People ride horses on a farm.
Legune station employees are granted an exemption to travel to Kununurra for essential services, with certain strict conditions.(Provided: Legune Station Facebook)

Mr Sheehy said uncertainty around border controls was a concern for the pastoral industry as it began recruitment for the 2022 season, with many specialist muster contractors located in the Top End and the East.

On Monday, the Northern Territory government extended the lockdown in Katherine after a new case of COVID-19 was recorded.

The case brought the NT outbreak total to 61. The NT recorded no new local cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.


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