THE AUSTRALIAN government is introducing legislation that enable courts to mete out higher penalties for breaching biosecurity laws – including jail time and fines up to $1.11 million.

Minister for agriculture David Littleproud said the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 is about sending a clear message to people and companies who put at risk Australia’s $61-billion agriculture industry and more than $1 trillion in environmental assets by contravening the Biosecurity Act 2015.

“The clear message is you could cop jail time and a bigger fine of up to $1.11 million when this legislation is passed by the Parliament,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The amendments focus on individuals and businesses, such as commercial importers and biosecurity industry participants, that have a particular responsibility to know and understand their obligations under the Act and take necessary steps to comply with the law.”

Mr Littleproud said the bill would ensure penalties are set at a level that means they are not merely a cost of doing business.

“The new maximum penalties, in some cases up to $1.1 million, reflect the potential gains someone might obtain or seek to obtain through non-compliance with our biosecurity laws, as well as the devastating impact that contraventions may have on Australia’s biosecurity status, market access and economy,” he said.

“Similarly, the new Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill is also designed to provide a stronger penalty regime that more appropriately reflects the seriousness of breaching the Biosecurity Act than the current law.”

In the bill’s explanatory memorandum, Mr Littleproud wrote that the growth in trade and travel expected as part of the economic recovery from the current COVID-19 pandemic is expected to accentuate biosecurity threats.

“In the face of growing regional and global threats such as African Swine Fever and hitchhiker pests (such as khapra beetle) the current penalty regime needs reinforcement to provide an effective deterrent against non-compliance,” he wrote.

“The penalty amounts in this bill more appropriately reflect the impact the contraventions may have on Australia’s biosecurity status, market access and economy.”

International Forwarders and Customs Brokers Association of Australia CEO Paul Damkjaer told DCN IFCBAA supports the legislation.

“We support it because we appreciate that Australia’s agricultural business is worth billions, and it also has a good reputation around the world,” he said.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility. As freight forwarders, we’re on the forefront, so we must assist the department in biosecurity matters.”