A Darwin woman opposed to a program to eradicate banana freckle in the Northern Territory has declared she is willing to go to jail to save her plants.
Diana Rickard told 105.7 ABC Darwin she was mounting a «Ghandian civil disobedience campaign» by locking her gates to inspectors.
Under a $26 million plan announced in October, over the next two years all banana plants in the Northern Territory will be cut down and buried or burned to eradicate the fungal disease banana freckle.
Authorities fear the pest, which has only been found in the NT, could spread to Queensland and threaten the country’s wider banana industry.
Eradication has proved controversial with the NT’s few commercial banana growers, who are eligible for compensation, as well as homeowners, who are not.
Agriculture Minister Willem Westra van Holthe came under fire last week from Chief Minister Adam Giles, who said he had «dropped the ball» with the issue.
You have to go out beyond the bushfire and remove the fuel. By taking out the plants the freckle can’t survive.Kevin Cooper, eradication co-ordiantor
«He could have handled the banana freckle stuff quite differently, and some of the problems with the melon issue,» he said.
«I mean, yes, he has dropped the ball in those areas.»
Ms Rickard from Tumbling Waters, south of Darwin near Berry Springs, said her «resistance» group numbered «a couple hundred members and supporters».
«I just cross my arms in front of me,» she said.
«Stand behind my gate and say, ‘No, you can’t enter my property’.
«The response is quite measured, so far it’s measured.
«In fact in one case he was just rolling his own cigarette outside the gate looking me up and down, and I stood and looked straight forwardly back at him.»
According to Ms Rickard, she co-operated when inspectors visited her property last year and pronounced her plants healthy.
«We thought that was enough,» she said.
Then in October, the NT Department of Primary Industry indicated it would implement the plan recommended by a national biosecurity group and set about destroying all banana plants in the NT, including healthy ones.
It was after this announcement that Ms Rickard locked her gates.
«We trusted them,» she said.
«It’s mistrust and the lies and misinformation that has caused this.
«This is what the Ghandian thing is – it’s our right to peaceful protest. It’s civil disobedience to prevent them further trespassing.
«There’s no way I would pay a fine. I’d go to jail.
«That would be the first time in my life.»
We do not use police: Eradication co-ordinator
Under the eradication program, more than 34,000 properties have been inspected and all but 100 co-operated with authorities, according to the program’s co-ordinator, Kevin Cooper.
Eradication of banana palms in the Darwin area, one of six eradication zones in the NT, is now 84 per cent completed, he said.
He said inspectors would try to negotiate access to the properties where they had been refused access.
I just cross my arms in front of me. Stand behind my gate and say, ‘No, you can’t enter my property’.Diana Rickard
«We certainly don’t use police,» he said.
It was not clear, however, what action authorities would take if the protesters continued to refuse access after negotiations.
Mr Cooper compared banana freckle eradication to controlling a bushfire.
«The initial response phase most of last year was like dealing with a small bushfire,» he said.
«You get in close and deal with the actual fire and deal with infected plants.
«As that work went on they found freckle was widespread.
«Now you’re looking at a large fire. You have to go out beyond the bushfire and remove the fuel.
«By taking out the plants the freckle can’t survive.»
He said he was «very confident» by April 2015 all banana plants in the Darwin zone would have been eradicated.
After a 12-month «fallow» period, in April 2016 authorities will plant new banana plants as «sentinels».
«The plants become sentinels to check if the freckle has gone,» he said.
If these plants remained uninfected, widespread re-planting would commence after April 2017.