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Key activities: Biosecurity

Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030

In May 2021 the Australian Government released Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030. This is our roadmap to build a stronger, smarter biosecurity system. The roadmap will focus on 5 enablers:

  • Governance: a strong, ongoing commitment by governments, industry and the community to carry out their evolving roles and responsibilities as part of the biosecurity system.
  • Technology: an integrated, secure, data-driven and technology-enabled biosecurity system overseas, at our border and within Australia.
  • People: a workforce that has the capacity, skills and flexibility to prepare for and respond to emerging biosecurity risks, challenges and opportunities.
  • Regulation: a regulatory environment that supports us to respond to current and future biosecurity challenges and opportunities.
  • Funding: a funding and investment model that is sustainable for the long term.

In 2021–22 we will start engaging stakeholders to develop annual action plans towards delivering our roadmap and implementing the government’s $400 million biosecurity investment.

Biosecurity innovation – working smarter

As part of our 5-year innovation roadmap, we launched The Seed. This innovation hub will embed a strong innovation culture.

This year we funded 24 projects under the Biosecurity Innovation Program. Projects included diagnostic tests for emerging plant viruses, modelling post-border spread and control of African swine fever, and developing environmental DNA technology to enhance the identification of ornamental fish.

We created the world’s first auto-detection algorithms for biosecurity risk material. This won the Digital and Data category at the 2020 Public Sector Innovation Awards. We also worked with industries to improve regulation practice. This included:

  • piloting remote visual inspection to confirm biosecurity compliance with imported foods visual label requirements
  • expanding our pilot of smart glasses to remotely monitor tailgate container cargo verification and country action list container inspections
  • trialling 3D X-ray and auto-detection technologies to identify biosecurity risk material in the traveller and mail import pathways
  • implementing a workforce management system that aligns scheduling and deployment with workload demand
  • introducing document assessment automation to reduce manual and resource-intensive work.

These changes reduce departmental interventions and increase our capacity to meet increasing workload demands. They also save time and money for industry.

Biosecurity grants

We are implementing biosecurity business grants under the Indigenous Ranger Biosecurity Program. These grants will build the biosecurity capability of First Nations rangers and businesses. This will help to minimise the spread of exotic pests and diseases through northern Australia.

We are enhancing ranger capability through a $1.78 million third-party procurement. This will deliver equipment, goods and services to First Nations ranger groups over 3 years.

We delivered 19 grants under the $13 million Advancing Pest Animal and Weed Control Solutions Competitive Grant Round. Projects aim to deliver innovations and tools to improve established pest animal and weed management. They include a machine learning-based platform for invasive ant detection and recognition, remote detection technologies for weeds in heterogeneous landscapes, autonomous machinery for under-vine weed control, and improving the efficiency of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus.

We delivered grants totalling $3.74 million under the Plant Biosecurity and Response Reform program and the Priority Pest and Disease Planning and Response program. These programs support the early detection of priority pests and a timely response to plant pest incursions, minimising the cost and impact to growers, industries and the environment. This maintains and enhances Australia’s plant health status and facilitates trade, providing benefits at the farm-gate and contributing towards the Australian agricultural sector’s $100 billion vision.

Under the Priority Pest and Disease Planning and Response program, we have committed $1 million annually through a national partnership agreement to enhance the National Plant Health Surveillance Program. The program provides early warning of high-priority exotic plant pest incursions. We have contributed $270,000 to the National Bee Biosecurity Program and the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program. The funding will meet a reduction in levy contributions following the Black Summer bushfires. These programs assist to maintain and improve bee biosecurity status by protecting Australia from the impacts of exotic bee pests and diseases and informing the community about the national bee pest status.

We have contributed to work to enhance the AUSPestCheckTM system. This is a national repository of plant health surveillance data administered by Plant Health Australia. The system aggregates national surveillance data to facilitate pest status determination and support market access.

African swine fever

African swine fever (ASF) continues its global spread. To prevent its entry into Australia, we continued to monitor border controls, strengthen awareness of import requirements and on‑farm biosecurity, and deliver technical workshops on ASF preparedness. We conducted surveillance, including in the Torres Strait and northern Australia. We deployed additional resources to screen and inspect international mail, as the growth in online purchasing has increased mail volume from high-risk countries.

We continued to engage the states and territories, Animal Health Australia, the pig industry, laboratories and international observers to identify vulnerabilities and practise ASF response arrangements using hypothetical disease outbreak scenarios.

An incursion of ASF in Australia would have a significant effect on our exports. In recognition of this, we formalised a pre-emptive zoning arrangement with Singapore to facilitate the trade of Australian pig meat in the event of an ASF outbreak.

We provided support to Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste to help them contain ASF outbreaks. We also gave technical support, including in-field epidemiology, geographic information system mapping, and biosecurity and laboratory support.

Avian influenza

We provided support and advice after an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza on 3 commercial egg farms in Victoria in 2020. Our staff also assisted Victoria’s biosecurity response team with on-farm surveillance. Australia declared freedom from notifiable avian influenza in February 2021.

The outbreak affected the export of poultry and poultry products. In most cases trade continued with commodities sourced from other Australian producers. However, the only Australian facility producing specific pathogen-free eggs was in Victoria, although it was outside the outbreak control zone. This facility exports specific pathogen-free eggs to the United States to manufacture vaccines for Australian poultry.

We provided technical advice to re-establish trade from this facility. While Australian-specific pathogen-free eggs were unavailable, we invoked a contingency policy to allow limited use of eggs from the United States to produce vaccines as it was a case of critical national need.

Plant pests

Managing contaminant pests along complex supply chains requires innovative solutions. We collaborated with the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative, local and international researchers, government and industries on new risk assessment, detection, treatment and management solutions.

Khapra beetle

A marked increase in interceptions of khapra beetle posed a major threat to Australia’s billion‑dollar grain industry and stored food commodities. During the year we investigated and managed several interceptions where beetles were found in imported goods and in empty containers.

We phased in measures to safeguard Australia from khapra beetle, including changed import conditions for high-risk goods. We implemented mandatory offshore treatment conditions for sea containers where high-risk plant products are packed in risk areas.

The government invested an additional $14.5 million for dealing with khapra beetle. This includes expanding offshore treatment, revising treatment and phytosanitary requirements, enhancing electronic systems and developing an assurance program for overseas treatment providers.

Brown marmorated stink bug

We maintained seasonal measures to protect Australia during the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) risk season. More than 30,000 consignments were referred for BMSB intervention. Half were treated offshore and required no BMSB-related intervention on arrival.

During the season BMSBs were detected on more than 150 occasions. This was a decrease from the previous season. More than 95% of the bugs detected were on known risk pathways and more than 90% were dead.

Industry is adapting to our import requirements and there was no need to direct vessels to leave Australia because of unmanageable numbers of live bugs. We continue to work with trading partners and industry on new ways to detect, treat and prevent BMSBs from infesting goods.

Fall armyworm

The fall armyworm can migrate long distances on wind currents and by flight. After spreading across southeast Asia in 2019, the fall armyworm arrived naturally in the Torres Strait Islands in January 2020. It was detected in the Northern Territory and in the north of Western Australia shortly afterwards.

The fall armyworm has since spread across Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Norfolk Island. It is not eradicable because of its reproductive capacity, ability to fly long distances and wide host range.

We are working with national and international forums, the states and territories, industry groups and research organisations on the management of this pest. Activities this year included:

  • boosting Plant Health Australia’s research and development with a grant of $600,000
  • funding a review to identify areas where ecological modelling can assist pest management
  • grants to the CSIRO and Murdoch University to develop biopesticides and non-toxic pest controls
  • support to Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands
  • support for activities by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

International Year of Plant Health

The 2020 International Year of Plant Health was extended to June 2021 because of disruptions caused by the COVID‑19 pandemic. We celebrated the international year with a dedicated website, promotional products and sponsoring plant health-related events.

We continue to support international efforts to have an annual International Day of Plant Health to promote the importance of plant health across the world.

Independent prawn review

In September 2020 we released the draft ‘Review of the biosecurity risks of prawns imported from all countries for human consumption report’ for stakeholder comment. Submissions highlighted significant differences in stakeholder positions.

We sought independent expert advice from members of the Scientific Advisory Group on whether we had properly considered relevant matters and made appropriate conclusions in the draft report. We are considering the expert advice and submissions.

Animal health

Our Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, completed a 3-year term as president of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Dr Schipp guided development of the OIE strategic plan for 2021–25 and the first OIE Aquatic Animal Health Strategy 2021–2025. The OIE provided expert advice during the COVID‑19 pandemic. During Dr Schipp’s term, the OIE launched the OIE Wildlife Health Framework. This framework will reduce the risk of future pandemics emerging from animals.

Dr Schipp will continue to be part of the OIE Council for another 3 years. This continues our contribution to leading international animal health and welfare.

This year there were new initiatives in international zoonotic disease management. Our advocacy and funding aimed to decrease high-risk interactions between wildlife and people. We supported the strengthening of international bodies to work on pandemic prevention and a global approach to international zoonotic disease management.

Antimicrobial resistance

The responsible stewardship and use of antimicrobials for human health and animal health and welfare remain a priority. This year Minister Ley began a 2-year appointment to the One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

We are contributing to the international effort in line with Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and beyond. During the year we:

Strengthening compliance and administration of the Biosecurity Act

The Australian Government implemented a suite of legislation and regulatory changes to increase compliance with biosecurity requirements and improve the administration of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

Since 1 October 2019 international visitors who breach the Biosecurity Act by not declaring high-risk biosecurity items may have their visitor visa cancelled immediately under biosecurity provisions in the Migration Regulations 1994. In January 2021 international students and holders of temporary work visas also became liable to have their visas cancelled under the regulations. If a person’s visa is cancelled, they are refused entry into Australia and are unlikely to be eligible to apply for another Australian visa for up to 3 years. Since October 2019, fourteen visitors have had their visas cancelled under the regulations.

The Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Act 2020 commenced in January 2021. Biosecurity officers can now issue infringement notices up to the maximum amount of 12 penalty units to travellers who fail to declare goods, or classes of goods, determined by the Director of Biosecurity to pose a high level of risk. These include animals, live plant material, certain meat and meat products, seeds and fresh horticultural produce.

The Australian Government also enacted the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Act 2021. This legislation allows for Australian citizens or residents to face civil litigation or criminal prosecution for serious breaches of the Biosecurity Act. The new laws took effect on 30 June 2021, with potential penalties of up to $1.1 million and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Better regulation

Successful regulation depends on ensuring compliance by businesses and individuals. We released our Regulatory Practice Statement, which describes how we approach our work and what our stakeholders and the community can expect when they interact with us. The statement will be backed by:

  • a compliance policy to provide guidance on our regulatory approach, promote compliance and increase awareness of enforcement action when we detect non-compliance
  • a professional regulator capability framework, which will guide the professional development of regulatory staff, starting with biosecurity officers.