Thursday, March 13, 2008Contact: Andrew Harding
0417 043 233
Australia declared free of equine influenza

The Australian Racing Board is pleased to confirm that from tomorrow Australia will be once again declared provisionally free of equine influenza when the last amber zone in Queensland is reclassified to green. The National Management Group which is responsible for the government response to the EI outbreak has approved this reclassification in Queensland, enabling Australia to make this declaration. Andrew Harding is the industry’s member of the National Management Group.

“When we were told on August 25th 2007 that EI had escaped from Eastern Creek Quarantine Station it was the day an atom bomb was dropped on Australian racing. The next 6 months was a nightmare, but this is a truly sweet moment.” Andrew Harding, Chief Executive, Australian Racing Board.

The significance of this development is that Australia has avoided the substantial deficits that face those countries where EI is endemic.

“For those countries that accept equine influenza as an endemic disease the annual costs of living with the disease are very high. These include cancelled race meetings and other equestrian events, lost performance days, treatment costs for sick horses, and restrictions on the movement of horses to other countries. The fact that Australia is once again free of this disease is a very important achievement.” The industry is now concentrating on what it does best, namely staging some of the finest racing in the world.

“Last week’s “Super Saturday” at Flemington, this Saturday’s Golden Rose meeting at Rosehill, the Magic Millions events at the Gold Coast in Easter – there is a smorgasbord of high-octane entertainment on the menu.”

The return to normal life for Australian racing will be boosted by the declaration of freedom from EI, but the road to recovery is not finished yet.

“This declaration means that we can all breathe a bit easier, and things certainly are looking up in terms of racing resuming its normal tempo. But, this said, the road to recovery isn’t finished yet. The Federal Government’s financial assistance, which the Minister Tony Burke went into bat for and got extended for us, has been of material help to retaining skilled workers, but labour shortages are a real issue for us .”

“We are also yet to see New Zealand lift its ban on imports of Australian horses, remembering that NZ previously accounted for 30% of our exports. Our efforts to try to pick up where we were before August 2007 are continuing at full pace.”

The issue of ongoing vaccination is also being pursued.

“We are very happy with the declaration of provisional freedom from EI and have total confidence in the exhaustive surveillance that supports this declaration. However, so far as the future is concerned we are highly ‘risk averse’. We believe that the Australian industry needs the ‘belts and braces’ protection of both tight quarantine and ongoing vaccination.”

Notes to Editors:

The impact of the Equine Influenza outbreak on Australian racing is estimated at approximately $1 billion. This has included:

  • A week-long Australia-wide shutdown of all race meetings.
  • Extended paralysis of racing in NSW and Queensland, including loss of the Sydney Spring Carnival and the Queensland Summer Carnival.
  • Substantial disruption to the breeding sector, including a 10% fall in the number of coverings.
  • Loss of export Australia’s sales. Trade with Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong is only now being restored. NZ is still maintaining a ban on imports of Australian horses.
  • Delays in transport overseas to Hong Kong and elsewhere of horses sold pre-August 2007.
  • Devastation of racehorse careers (with each infected horse taking approximately 3 months to return to work), and horses movement restrictions preventing champion horses competing interstate.
  • Loss of industry wagering income, both immediate (an Australia-wide downturn in wagering attributable to the absence of NSW and Queensland races), and potentially medium term.
  • Substantial losses to States that were able to continue racing, but still saw revenues decline because of the forced vacuum of metropolitan racing in Sydney and Brisbane. (In Victoria alone the losses attributed to EI have been calculated at $15 million.)
  • Workforce dislocation, with the prospect of some former workforce participants having been permanently lost to other industries.