Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT: Biosecurity, Quarantine & Fumigation

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

AUSTRALIA has an intergovernmental approach to biosecurity – otherwise known as the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) – which was under review earlier this year.

Chief executive of the Invasive Species Council (ISC), Andrew Cox, believes the review’s recommendations should be adopted and in particular the proposal to develop a “fighting fund” against pests and disease incursions.

He says there have been too many incidents of harmful pests being introduced into Australia and people who import goods must share the cost of a robust and inclusive biosecurity program.

This is based on forecasts that total containerised trade (both imports and exports) is forecast to rise from 7.2 million TEU in 2012–13 to 19.4m TEUs in 2032–33—a rise of 169%. Total non-containerised trade is forecast to more than double over the same time period, from around 1bn tonnes to over 2.2bn tonnes.

The review also identifies air freight, international air and cruise ship passengers as potential risks to biosecurity.

Maritime Industry Australia (MIAL) says projected increase in shipping resulting from global trade growth does not necessarily directly correlate to increased biosecurity risk.

“In relation to marine/aquatic biosecurity, regulation on ballast water is in place and has been so since 2001,” said a MIAL spokesperson.

“Available technology and industry awareness of biofouling issues are also developing over time which will minimise the risk of introduction of new nonindigenous species.”

MIAL says there has been no known new introduction of an invasive marine species in recent decades.

“The real issue at present is containing species in highly disturbed areas (such as ports) and preventing domestic translocation via recreational boats and small scale commercial marine operations such as aquaculture and marine construction etc,” said MIAL.

A joint statement by Agriculture Ministers at the time of the review’s release, said the government was working on some of its recommendations and it aimed to have a new intergovernmental agreement in place by mid-next year.

While the review acknowledges the present biosecurity system is working well, a new agreement would be designed to respond to challenges such as a growing global population, increased and changing international trade and travel, loss of biodiversity and increasing urbanisation.

To fund some of these “gaps” in biosecurity, the review suggests three additional sources of funding:

  • A per-container levy on incoming shipping containers of $10 per twenty-foot equivalent unit and a levy of $5 on incoming air containers, effective from July 1, 2019;
  • Increasing the Passenger Movement Charge by $5, effective from 1 July 2022, with the revenue generated hypothecated to the Australian Government agriculture department for use nationally;
  • More widespread implementation by states and territories of land-based levies, with each jurisdiction to determine the magnitude of a levy based on its circumstances, but to include properties at least two hectares or greater.

“The revenue raised by these mechanisms should be directed to those areas of the national biosecurity system that are currently most underfunded, with a priority for strengthening environmental biosecurity activities, national monitoring and surveillance activities, R&I and national communications and awareness activities,” says the report.

This represents an evolution in Australia’s approach to biosecurity according to Andrew Cox, which offers the potential for a more broad reaching system.

“What the review does is say that we need to bring a broad range of interests, communities and the environment into biosecurity, so there’s some equality of treatment and it doesn’t just protect the agricultural sector.

“This is really the first time that governments have clearly recognised that there needs to be an equalisation of treatment of the environment,” he said.

MIAL says compliance and audit services provided to the shipping industry in the implementation of Australia’s biosecurity system are “fully cost recovered” at Commonwealth level.

“However, state biosecurity activities dealing with domestic issues, are underfunded. Certainly in the marine biosecurity space,” said the spokesperson.

The ISC is urging the government to direct any new funding sources towards increased environmental measures.

“You can’t simply have the same system and expect to have the same level of protection without improving effectiveness or capacity of your system,” Mr Cox said.

“One of the fundamental principles that the review accepts is that the risk creator should bear part of the burden of funding the system.”

Mr Cox said environmental measures would include preparation of contingency plans for some of the pests and diseases we are most concerned about, rather than directing the majority of resources towards those already in the country.

“The industry had done work around foot and mouth disease and hundreds of response plans have been developed, but for the environment there are only one or two,” he said.

“We don’t have a long-term biosecurity research body, we have short-term research bodies such as cooperative research centres and more recently the research and development corporations… but it’s almost all agriculture-based.

There’s no one comprehensively dealing in the public interest of the environment.”

MIAL says while cost recovery via risk creators is a reasonable approach, “it depends on what functions the proceeds from the levy will actually fund”.

It believes any funds levied from industry to address biosecurity issues from a “public good perspective” would be “misguided and unjustified”.

There is a view in government that ports are a risk creator when it comes to biosecurity, according to Mike Gallacher, chief executive of Ports Australia.

“Our ports are trade gateways and facilitate the economy of this country, the risk comes from the activity of trade and its members are constantly refining and exploring new ways to mitigate that risk on behalf of the country,” he said.

Ports Australia is concerned that the review doesn’t go into government operations and their effectiveness, in respect to planning for future funding.

“Savings could easily be found through minimising duplication and leveraging industry which is already doing a lot of the work that government agencies are being asked to do with limited funding,” Mr Gallacher said.

As the peak body for the sector, Ports Australia conducts regular working groups with relevant port staff from across the country on environmental issues, focusing heavily on biosecurity.

“These meetings are run without any cost to the Australian public and without the charge of government although many state and federal government bodies attend.

“I caution against continued introductions of levies prior to government thoroughly understanding the commitment the port sector is already providing to protect the nation’s biosecurity,” said Mr Gallacher.

From the print edition November 23, 2017

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