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In a recent media release from the Department of Agriculture, Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie is urging those in regional communities to prioritise personal safety as the bushfire crisis worsens and the loss of livestock becomes a reality.

Minister McKenzie commented; “The devastating loss of life to date underscores a critical need for cooperation and support in regional and urban communities alike.”

“Property damage is widespread and the task of rebuilding lives, communities and economies will be long-term.

“The outstanding work by first responders and volunteers, alongside state and federal agencies, is the first step in what will be a long path to recovery.

“I have been in contact with state Agriculture Ministers and state farming organisations to ensure we continue to work together to meet the needs of our ag sector during this emergency phase.

“That goes right through to the recovery phase which is likely to be long and hard as people, livestock and properties continue to be affected by smoke, charred surrounds and lack of feed.

“The Australian Government will stand by these communities over the long haul. We will ensure that our activities are coordinated through the National Crisis Coordination Centre, so that all states are supported in the right way at the right time.

“While the primary concern is for the well-being of people, there is also growing concern for the welfare of livestock in affected areas.

“The NSW Rural Fire Service has today asked farmers to assess the possibility of relocating livestock from affected areas. Agriculture Victoria vets are on the ground in bushfire zones ready to help farmers assess livestock right now and that will continue.

“There have been reports of stock losses in the thousands across South Australia and this figure is growing due to smoke and heat following the fires in South Australia.

“Animal welfare is the top priority under these conditions, as is disposing of dead stock and containing spread of disease as we move into the recovery phase.

“While the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS)—which requires that movement of stock be tracked — still applies, getting animals to safety needs to be the focus.

“NLIS reporting can be undertaken when the animals are safely relocated. If in any doubt, contact the local department of primary industries in your state. Regardless, relocating stock during a bushfire is an enormous logistical challenge that in many cases may simply not be possible.

“That’s driving a second challenge: feeding flocks and herds in country that is often isolated from supply chains. This challenge, along with re-establishing infrastructure like fencing and safe water supplies, is likely to take months rather than weeks.

“Fodder requests and donations are managed at the state level and responsible organisations differ between jurisdictions—I encourage farmers to access these services as early as possible and thank those who have shown such generosity, with donations of fodder already on the ground across fire zones.

“My department has also offered to make veterinarians available to all states and territories to assist with stock assessments on individual farms.

“Unfortunately we know some stock has already perished and to curtail any suffering for injured stock, we expect some farmers will need to make the difficult decision to euthanize.

“I urge farmers to photograph injured and dead stock to help with insurance claims.

“In most cases state government officials have not yet been able to get onto the fire grounds to assess livestock—however several jurisdictions have indicated that they will be seeking assistance.

“We stand ready to provide that assistance as soon as it’s required.

“At the national level, we recognise that farming businesses have far more pressing priorities than levy payments.

“I have asked my department to cease any debt recovery action for levies, fees and charges for the moment in affected areas. If you have an invoice or levy notice put it aside and focus on your immediate concerns.

“And, of course, the Rural Financial Counselling Service in each state will continue playing a vital role assisting farmers during the recovery phase.

“Our farmers and their communities are resilient, but they can’t do this alone. Recovery will be an exercise in national cooperation and compassion.

“The Australian Government stands ready to assist.”

Media release from Minister McKenzie, Australian Government Department of Agriculture. View the full media release here.