AUTHORITIES failed for nine months to pass on warnings that humans could contract the Hendra virus from horses with no symptoms.
In a damning assessment of the state government's handling of the bat-borne disease, which has killed four of seven people infected since 1994, Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke found the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries acted unreasonably when it failed to warn the public of the risk, The Australian reports.
The report into the government's handling of six clusters of the disease between 2006 and 2009, when two veterinarians died -- ahead of this year's 18 outbreaks across Queensland and NSW -- found systemic failures in the response.
Premier Anna Bligh said there had been a "significant shift" in the government's handling of outbreaks since the study period, but echoed the Ombudsman's call for more to be done before the next Hendra outbreak.
The report says Queensland Health advised Primary Industries of the risk of Hendra virus infection from horses without symptoms on July 28, 2008.
Updated guidelines were issued to veterinarians in August and November 2008, but did not mention the risk until April 2009.
"In hindsight, (the department) acknowledges that as a precaution, the information should have been made more widely available with the necessary caveats," the department said in response to the report.
Mr Clarke said the lack of compensation for owners of Hendra-positive horses was "unreasonable".
Ex gratia payments totalling $220,000 were made through a trust to two veterinary clinics without adequate records or a thorough assessment of how and why the funds were sought, he said.
Confidentiality clauses were "designed to reduce the risk" of setting a precedent for compensation.
Among 74 recommendations, the Ombudsman calls for a review of the department's policy of euthanasing Hendra-positive horses, consideration of a framework for discretionary payments and a review of communication practices.
The government has until mid-December to respond.
Agriculture Minister Tim Mulherin said the government had successfully responded to this year's 10 outbreaks.
"Biosecurity Queensland has successfully managed all of these cases without any spread of infection from the primary location," he said.
New legislation addressing many issues raised in the report was introduced into parliament late last month.
Queensland Horse Council president Debbie Dekker said the government "really started taking it seriously in the last few years" and it was unfortunate the report focused on earlier events.
"There certainly were shortcomings in the way the government handled the Hendra virus," she said. "I think they'd got a little bit slack because nothing much had happened for three years, and the human infection part of it had sort of been dismissed."
Liberal National Party agriculture spokesman Andrew Cripps called on Mr Mulherin to detail the government response to the recommendations.
Read more at The Australian.