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Biosecurity tight as Melbourne Cup nears

November 5, 2007

by Robin Marshall in Melbourne

Equine flu is not about to spoil Victoria's party, with biosecurity security ramped up even further as Melbourne Cup Day nears.

The fate of the great race was far from certain in the weeks following the outbreak of equine influenza in Australia, as authorities initially struggled to contain the highly contagious in New South Wales and Queensland.

Victoria shut its borders to horses and approval to use vaccine on horses destined to compete in the lucrative spring carnival provided further insurance.

The state has manned border crossings since the outbreak to ensure horses have not crossed from New South Wales - the worst-affected state.

However, Victoria still has a large population that has never been exposed to the virus, and authorities are taking no chances as Tuesday's race nears.

State Premier John Brumby was joined by Racing Minister Rob Hulls and Agriculture Minister Joe Helper to inspect the biosecurity measures at Flemington Racecourse before the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival began on Saturday.

Mr Brumby confirmed measures were in place to ensure that, even if an outbreak did occur elsewhere in the state, racehorses set to run in the Cup would be protected.

"The majority of horses involved in the Spring Racing Carnival events are stabled at Caulfield and Flemington," he said.

"In the extremely unlikely event of an outbreak of equine influenza elsewhere in the state, Caulfield and Flemington can be locked-down and kept in an exclusion zone, allowing racing to continue. Both Caulfield and Flemington have their own stringent biosecurity arrangements."

International horses being stabled at Sandown, and horses at other stables, are also in carefully controlled environments with strict protocols governing their operation and race day movements.

"In short, Victorians can have confidence the Carnival is fully guarded and will proceed," he said.

Melbourne Cup day is expected to attract about 120,000 people to the course tomorrow, and measures are in place at Flemington to ensure all necessary human-horse contact occurs within strictly controlled exclusion zones.

"But I can assure racegoers to the Melbourne Cup Carnival," Mr Brumby said, "that they should not be significantly inconvenienced by the operation of the exclusion zones."

The Premier praised all those involved in Victoria's response to the outbreak of flu in NSW and Queensland for their professionalism and commitment during such a challenging time.

"Through the sheer hard work and determination of the thoroughbred racing industry, stakeholders and the broader community, the Spring Racing Carnival has been able to go ahead."

Racing Minister Hulls, who is also the state's deputy premier, took a swipe at the federal government for "ignoring" Victoria in its multimillion-dollar flu assistance package. He expressed his "profound disappointment".

"The Victorian thoroughbred and harness racing industries have effectively kept racing industries in NSW and Queensland afloat during the past two months, by continuing to supply a first class programme of racing on which these states continued to derive wagering income," he said.

"Yet not one cent of the $A227 million federal government compensation funding will be directed to the Victorian racing industry or the many community-based horse organisations, all of which have been devastated by the current situation.

"Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, a fellow Victorian, should acknowledge the efforts of the Victorian racing industry and other Victorian horse organisations by providing a fair and equitable assistance package."

Helper, the state's Agriculture Minister, acknowledged the sacrifices made by horse associations, which voluntarily cancelled events to help ensure that flu did not come to Victoria.

"We are hopeful they can begin holding events again in January, provided there are no outbreaks of equine influenza in Victoria," he said.

"The fight is not over. Border security controls continue to operate 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week at all crossing points between NSW and Victoria."

The state is also making arrangements for the use of high-resolution security cameras to help border surveillance at the busiest crossing points.

Mr Helper said the Department of Primiary Industries had received more than 250 reports from members of the public of possible breaches of border security. Most, he said, had turned out to be false alarms, but all are investigated.

In other news, Victoria has confirmed that a quarantine site had been established at the Werribee Equestrian Centre, expected to be able to stable up to 50 horses at a time.

Under nationally agreed quarantine rules, horses from non-equine-influenza zones being moved interstate must spend at least two weeks in quarantine before coming to Victoria, followed by a further two weeks in quarantine in Victoria.

"Victorian horses stranded in NSW by the equine influenza outbreak will be given priority at the Werribee quarantine site, with interstate horses wanting to compete in Victorian races to follow," Premier Brumby said.



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