A formal inquiry will be held into the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard has announced.
The announcement came at a press conference as two further areas in Queensland were identified and having the disease, and a horse showing symptoms in Australian Capital Territories was undergoing testing.
Howard's announcement was welcomed by racing industry leaders.
The Prime Minister appointed recently retired High Court judge Ian Callinan to conduct the inquiry into how the flu got across Australian borders.
"The inquiry will have full powers to subpoena witnesses and, if thought appropriate, conduct public inquiries; and any legislation required to invest the inquiry with that power will be introduced into Federal Parliament when it reconvenes the week after next.
"We are determined to find out what happened, how this disease was introduced, whether there's been a breach of quarantine procedures and protocols. Quarantine is critical to an island nation such as Australia and we're therefore not going to leave any stone unturned. Ian Callinan is a person of impeccable reputation in the legal profession. He'll conduct a very forensic and searching inquiry.
"He'll take whatever time is appropriate, he will be able to investigate every aspect of it. There'll be no road blocks, he'll be able to require people to give evidence, produce documents and he'll conduct public hearings if he regards that as being necessary.
"We want to find out what happened and we want the racing industry and people generally to be assured that if there has been a lapse of quarantine protocols, it won't happen again."
"The Government is very concerned at the impact of this outbreak on the racing industry. The racing industry is of huge significance to this country. It employs directly and indirectly tens of thousands of people and we are very conscious that what has happened over the past few weeks has had a very adverse affect on many people."
The Prime Minister promised more assistance to people in the racing industry, in addition to the $A4 million relief fund already announced. "We are examining a number of areas of assistance including that of a wage subsidy not unlike the one that was introduced in the wake of Cyclone Larry in north Queensland last year.
"We will be in a position in a few days to announce further assistance measures for the industry."
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