AN audit of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s (DAWE) response to biosecurity non-compliance found its arrangements “largely inappropriate”.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) carried out an audit of the department to assess its effectiveness in responding to non-compliance with plant and animal biosecurity requirements.

“In the absence of frameworks, plans or targets to determine the desired outcomes of its regulation, the department is unable to demonstrate that its response to non-compliance is effective at managing biosecurity risks,” ANAO said in its conclusion.

The audit office went on to say the department’s compliance framework is “largely inappropriate” to support its response to non-compliance with biosecurity requirements.

However, ANAO found arrangements to detect non-compliance are partially appropriate, and the use of regulatory tools by the DAWE in response to biosecurity non-compliance is partially effective.

ANAO made eight recommendations to the department. DAWE agreed to all recommendations, saying it was already pursuing their implementation.


The system must evolve

DAWE head of biosecurity Andrew Tongue said the report identified timely recommendations to improve the department’s arrangements to respond to non-compliance with biosecurity.

“Although Australia’s current biosecurity system has served our country well, the department recognises that the system must continue to evolve to enable appropriate management of known and emerging threats both domestically and globally,” Mr Tongue said.

“Prior to the audit, the department had already commenced a body of work to enhance its compliance arrangements and regulatory practice. In particular the department is undertaking a range of changes and improvements through the development of its Regulatory Practice Statement and Regulatory Practice Framework.”

Mr Tongue said the department is committed to protecting Australia’s biosecurity status and its agricultural industries by minimising the entry of new pests, diseases and weeds and regularly making improvements.

“The Australian government’s significant investment in its biosecurity package in the 2021-22 Budget and the recently released Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030 will further position the department to address the audit findings,” he said.

“The budget investment will boost our frontline people and resources, strengthen our partnerships with industry and the community, and modernise our ICT systems, technology and data analytics to better target risk and speed up clearance times.”

Mr Tongue said Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030 will help the government build a stronger, smarter biosecurity system.

“Through addressing growing biosecurity risks and making sure we have the best controls, tools, processes and networks in place into the future we can continue to safeguard Australia’s agricultural industries, environment and exports,” he said.

The recommendations

ANAO’s eight recommendations, to which DAWE agreed, are summarised below.

  1. Implement a strategy and procedural guidance for the use of intelligence in regulating biosecurity.
  2. Implement a framework to assess and manage risk across the entire biosecurity system.
  3. Implement and publish a planning framework to establish the department’s approach to biosecurity regulation, long-term strategic goals and regulatory approaches for each year.
  4. Implement improved governance arrangements for information system developments.
  5. Establish a performance framework for its biosecurity regulation.
  6. Implement a framework to ensure the resources allocated to pathways and threats is proportionate to the level of risk.
  7. Implement a framework to support the effective use of the full suite of available regulatory tools.
  8. Put in place governance arrangements to ensure that once audit recommendations are implemented, they are reviewed and updated.

The full ANAO report can be read on its website.