Illegal citrus imports putting Australia at risk

​The attempted illegal import of citrus budwood through Brisbane Airport demonstrates the significant biosecurity risks Australia faces, with tests now confirming the plant material carried one of the world’s worst citrus diseases.

Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said the plant material was infected by Huanglongbing—or citrus greening disease—which poses a huge threat to Australia’s citrus industry.

“If this disease was to arrive here, it could decimate our citrus tree population, meaning less produce for export and fewer home-grown oranges, mandarins and lemons on our supermarket shelves,” Dr Ritman said.

“In Florida, Huanglongbing has destroyed millions of citrus trees, devastated the citrus industry and led to massive yield losses for farmers.

“It is Australia’s fifth priority plant pest and there is currently no cure, so we definitely do not want passengers bringing this devastating disease here.

“This particular passenger tried to smuggle citrus budwood through Brisbane Airport in the inner tubing of a tyre, and we have now confirmed that plant material was carrying Huanglongbing.

“It is also highly disappointing that the passenger is employed in a horticulture sector that was significantly impacted by the 2005 outbreak of citrus canker.

“Our biosecurity officers intercepted the risky material and the passenger is now the subject of enforcement action by the department.

“This is a timely reminder of the significant biosecurity risks we face at the border, but it also highlights the importance of being aware of what you can and cannot bring into Australia from overseas.”

In 2017, there were 16,460 citrus interceptions across Australia’s international airports, mail centres and seaports. This equates to around 5.5 per cent of all biosecurity interceptions. 

Australia has strict import conditions for plants and plant products to manage associated biosecurity risks. The conditions outline what plants and plant products can be imported to Australia and how they can be imported safely.

Depending on the circumstances, a person who imports plants into Australia without lawful authority may commit a criminal offence and/or be liable to a civil penalty.

The penalties for the illegal importation of plants can include fines of up to $420,000 and/or up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

For more information on Australia’s biosecurity conditions and what can and cannot be brought to Australia from overseas, visit agriculture.​gov.au/travelling.​

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