Backdown over cuts to airport dog handlers

Fears over Western Australia's biosecurity have been allayed, with the government backing down on a move to halve the number of quarantine dog handlers at Perth Domestic Airport.

The WA Agriculture Department had planned to cut the number of sniffer dog handlers from eight to four this month, despite record numbers of airport arrivals.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) had warned the move would leave the state's farming and honey industries vulnerable to disease.

Western Australia has the toughest domestic quarantine regulations in Australia, as its isolation makes it one of the most disease-free areas in the world.

Dogs are used at the airport and state borders to sniff out potentially disease-carrying plant and other bio materials.

It was reported last month the Agriculture Department planned to reassign three handlers and leave one empty position vacant.

The CPSU said the department had since told the WA Industrial Relations Commission the positions would remain until at least January 31, 2013.

However, the union said there were other security concerns as the dog handlers had been told to limit the number of suspect samples sent off for internal testing.

CPSU secretary Toni Walkington said it was another example of government cutbacks hitting frontline services.

"In April, then treasurer Christian Porter said the latest round of (Premier Colin) Barnett government cutbacks to essential public services would not impact on frontline service delivery," Ms Walkington said.

A record 12.6 million passengers travelled through Perth's domestic and international airport terminals in 2011-12, up 10.3 per cent from 2010-11.

In the same period, quarantine staff seized 1993 kilograms of prohibited material, with another 9330kg collected in amnesty bins for a total of 11,323kg.

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