The senators grilled growers, State Government organisations, industry groups and local government employees at a public hearing on February 3.
Most witnesses felt the Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) population had grown beyond the possibility of eradication, with control the best they could hope for.
Senators asked repeatedly for opinions on the best way forward, asking each witness which part of industry or tier of government should spearhead an attack on the pest.
The senators suggested too much government intervention might not be desirable, but none of the witnesses felt the groups they represented were equipped to lead the fight.
The only solution suggested was Area Wide Management (AWM), incorporating baiting, trapping, sterile fly release and orchard hygiene across large areas, both commercial and residential.
The State Government said it was trialling parts of AWM in Roleystone and Jarrahdale, but lacked the resources to do much more.
The estimated cost of a broad-scale AWM campaign, calculated in 2001, was $70 to $100 million.
Senator Anne Ruston said this was minimal compared with how much Australia already spent fighting fruit fly.
‘Don’t give up, don’t be discouraged,’ she said.
‘We can get rid of this pest.’
In 2012, a national pesticides authority restricted Medfly killer fenthion, over concerns about health risks.
With no proven alternative available, the fly has ruined crop after crop.
The Hills is one of the top three WA areas growing pome fruit (apples, pears, nashis) and stone fruit, an industry worth more than $90 million that forms a large part of Australian fruit production.
Fruit has traditionally come from family farms, and many Hills orchard owners the Community Newspaper Group has profiled over the past year are third-generation growers.
They say they cannot sustain the losses to Medfly, and their calls for help reached the Federal Government, which ordered the Senate inquiry into how the pesticide restriction is affecting Australian horticulture.
The senators must report on June 25.
When questioned about who should lead the attack on fruit fly, there was a common thread to the answers from industry, grower, local government and State Government representatives.
‘We will continue to focus on a transition for our industry from fenthion. We are funding programs ‘ment of Agriculture and Food WA Plant Biosecurity director John van Schagen
‘The crop losses to fruit fly under the current permit regime to this point have been devastating and the outcome will be that whole orchards of peaches and apricots will be ripped out.
‘We have proposed that, should fenthion be banned or further restricted, a transition or phase-out period be allowed for the industry to develop and test other effective tools.
‘Area Wide Management is not in place and is not funded ‘