Programme 2.2: Plant and animal health

​​Programme objective

This programme’s objective in 2014–15 was to:

  • support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment from the impacts of unwanted exotic pests and diseases through the safe movement to and from Australia of animals, plants and their products, including genetic material, people and cargo. The focus for the year was to:
    • improve the preparedness of governments, industry and the community to quickly and effectively respond to exotic pest and disease incursions
    • improve Australia’s biosecurity interests nationally and internationally to maintain Australia’s current pest and disease free status.

Programme description

Our biosecurity programme works to keep Australia free from some of the world’s major agricultural and aquatic pests and diseases to provide a trading advantage and continuing access to overseas markets. We protect Australia’s plant and animal health through education and awareness to prevent incursions. We also work to ensure robust response plans are in place if an outbreak occurs, and respond to incursions in accordance with our obligations under the national biosecurity system.

More information is available on the department's website at animal health and plant health.

Table 18 Programme 2.2—Plant and animal health—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator2014–15 targetPerformance
2014–152013–142012–13
Responses to pest and disease incursions and outbreaks are managed according to relevant frameworks100%MetMetMet
Requests for rapid response assistance in the event of a significant exotic pest or disease outbreak are responded to immediately 100% aMet
Reports to international bodies provide up-to-date information on Australia's animal, plant and marine health status, as required by international agreements100%MetMetMet
Fund key national surveillance, response and diagnostic capabilities100%MetMetMet
Deliver capacity building projects to the Asia-Pacific region, to manage pests and diseases100% of budget utilisedMetMetMet
AUSVETPLAN, AQUAVETPLAN, EMPPLAN and PLANTPLAN reflect current science of emergency responses to plant and animal pests and diseasesAll plans reflect current scienceMetMetMet
Underpinning research, advice, forecast, projects, products and data services meet stakeholder expectations and are delivered within agreed timelines85% bMetMetMet

a New performance indicator. b Client satisfaction as measured by an annual survey of ABARES clients.

Achievements

Supporting a national approach to biosecurity

Biosecurity roundtable

More than 50 stakeholders from government and industry attended the 2015 Biosecurity Roundtable meeting. Attendees represented agriculture, fisheries, environment, food, livestock, manufacturing, research and development, standards and certification, and the supply chain. Stakeholders welcomed the opportunity to hear from the department and to raise issues for biosecurity policy development.

Biosecurity rapid response

We activated the Stronger Biosecurity and Quarantine Initiative (SBQI) on three occasions in 2014–15 to provide early assistance to state and territory governments. We responded to an incursion of red imported fire ants in New South Wales and outbreaks of Panama disease in Queensland and cucumber green mottle mosaic virus in the Northern Territory.

We provided financial and emergency assistance and technical experts, including virologists, tracing and diagnostic specialists, emergency controllers, logistics planning and communications managers, to put containment arrangements in place until longer term plans could be made towards eradication or state-based management.

Modernised intelligence gathering

The department’s investment in the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) led to the development of the International Biosecurity Intelligence System (IBIS). IBIS is a web-based system for gathering and reporting intelligence on existing, new and emerging plant and animal disease  threats.

IBIS has accelerated the department’s approach to scanning vast amounts of scientific, industry and other biosecurity threat information. This is vital to maintaining Australia’s favourable animal and plant health status.

The IBIS network continues to grow. It now has more than 6500 registrants of which 32 per cent are international.

Building national plant health policy

We continued to work through the Plant Health Committee to develop and implement strategies to support delivery of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) in the plant health sector. Key initiatives included:

  • developing a framework to support the integration and optimisation of trade processes and to guide reform activities
  • developing a framework to ensure declarations that an area is free from a pest are consistent with international standards
  • finalising criteria to assess the robustness of general surveillance
  • writing communication material for research organisations outlining their obligations to report detections of new plant pests
  • streamlining national committee arrangements to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and targeted efforts to address major priorities.

Managing major pest and disease incidents

National emergency response management

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer (ACVO) and the Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer (ACPPO) are the nominated contacts for notifications of animal disease and exotic plant pests under emergency response deeds and the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA).

State and territory governments are responsible for notifying the Australian Government of the detection of an animal or plant pest and disease incursion. On notification, the ACVO or the ACPPO convenes a consultative committee to consider and recommend next steps to the National Management Group (NMG).

In 2014–15, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases considered 31 detections of animal diseases. There were nine detections of environmental pests and diseases. Only one—red imported fire ants at Port Botany, New South Wales—was considered by the NMH and responded to under the NEBRA.

The Consultative Committee on Introduced Marine Pest Emergencies considered 10 detections, but none resulted in a national response.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests considered 71 detections of plant pests, 45 of which were new to Australia.

The NMG met to consider responses to the detection of banana freckle and cucumber green mottle mosaic virus in the Northern Territory, Panama disease tropical race 4 in Queensland, and giant pine scale in South Australia and Victoria.

Eradicating red witchweed in Australia

The Australian Government has agreed to provide $1.8 million over 10 years to eradicate red witchweed in the Mackay region of Queensland. In June 2015, governments and industry endorsed an eradication plan. The $5.8 million agreement brings together the sugarcane, grain and cattle industries to share costs of eradicating red witchweed, a parasitic weed pest that has the potential to seriously affect pastures and cereal crops.

Eradicating red imported fire ant

Since 2001, the Australian, state and territory governments have invested $293 million towards eradicating red imported fire ant from south-east Queensland. In 2014–15, the Australian Government provided $7.7 million to the eradication programme.

Under the NEBRA, the Australian Government has provided $2.9 million for programmes to eradicate red imported fire ants detected at Yarwun, Queensland in December 2013 and at Port Botany, New South Wales in November 2014.

Eradicating giant pine scale

In October 2014, giant pine scale was detected in Victoria and South Australia. This insect feeds on the sap of pine, fir and spruce trees and can kill affected trees. The insect could seriously affect amenity trees and the $1 billion Australian pine softwood plantation industry.

Under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) , the government has committed $1.5 million towards eradicating giant pine scale. We expect to demonstrate proof of freedom from this destructive pest in 2018.

Torres Strait fruit fly management

Since 1996, governments have jointly funded the Long-term Containment Strategy for Exotic Fruit Flies in the Torres Strait. The strategy has been critical in rapidly detecting and eradicating seasonal incursions of exotic fruit flies that pose a serious threat to Australia’s horticultural industries and its favourable pest and disease status.

We have been working with Plant Health Australia (PHA), industry stakeholders and the states and territories to establish a new cost-shared national response arrangement for the Torres Strait Fruit Fly Response Plan under the EPPRD. This will share the responsibility for managing detections of exotic fruit flies between all beneficiaries.

Safeguarding human health

National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is linked to the use of antibiotics in humans and food animals. It is recognised as a significant global health issue. AMR presents a serious challenge across all sectors, including human health, animal health, agriculture and food.

We worked with the Department of Health to release Australia’s first national AMR strategy. The strategy provides the framework for a coordinated response to antimicrobial resistance. The framework identifies areas for action on awareness and education, the appropriate use of antibiotics, surveillance, infection prevention and control, research and development, and international partnerships.

Responding to the threat of antimicrobial resistance: Australia’s first National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015–2019 is available on the department's website.

Antimicrobial resistance research

We engaged Adelaide Research & Innovation Pty Ltd to provide an analysis of the surveillance and reporting of AMR and antibiotic use in animals and agriculture in Australia. The report, released in October 2014, provided options for a nationally coordinated approach to monitoring AMR and meeting World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards.

In December 2014, we hosted a roundtable meeting with representatives from government, animal industries, research institutions and other stakeholders. The roundtable agreed to establish a task group to develop a proof-of-concept model for AMR surveillance in food animals.

The AMR report Surveillance and reporting of antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic usage in animals and agriculture in Australia is available on the department's website.

Animal health

Exercise Odysseus

The department coordinated Exercise Odysseus, to simulate a national livestock standstill in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

More than 40 discussion exercises and field-based activities were held in 2014 and early 2015. The exercise brought together hundreds of people from government biosecurity agencies, livestock industries and other organisations that would have a role in a livestock standstill.

Exercise Odysseus helped participants assess response arrangements and raised awareness of FMD, its potential impact on our farmers, agricultural industries, the community and the economy, and the importance of biosecurity practices and surveillance activities in the early detection of the disease.

Disease-free status

In 2014–15, Australia achieved official OIE recognition as being free of classical swine fever. This means Australia now has the highest possible status for freedom from all diseases officially recognised by the OIE. These are foot-and-mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, classic swine fever, African horse sickness, peste des petits ruminants, rinderpest and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia.

The official recognition of our disease-free status will facilitate market access, benefiting producers and exporters of Australian animal commodities.

Marine pest review

We progressed a review of national marine pest biosecurity, which included work by ABARES to identify improvements to national surveillance and a cost-effectiveness analysis of different approaches to addressing marine pest threats.

The review process included extensive engagement with state and territory governments and industry. We provided two opportunities for stakeholders to make written submissions and held workshops around the country.

AQUAPLAN 2014–2019

In September 2014, the parliamentary secretary released Australia’s third national strategic plan for aquatic animal health.

AQUAPLAN 2014–2019 was developed in collaboration with the state and territory governments and aquatic animal industries. The plan incorporates agreed national priorities and details activities to improve biosecurity at the regional and enterprise level, strengthen emergency preparedness and response capability, and enhance surveillance and diagnostic services.

AQUAPLAN also aims to increase the availability of appropriate veterinary medicines and improve education, training and awareness. The plan is available on the department's website.

Plant health

Improving plant health diagnostics

We continued to work with state and territory governments on a national strategy to build diagnostic capability and capacity in plant health.

This included funding the third Annual Diagnosticians Workshop to improve core skills across agencies and organisations involved in plant biosecurity diagnostics. We also funded the laboratory residential programme which provides high-level training for diagnosticians.

We funded the development of new national diagnostic protocols in consultation with state and territory governments. There are now 29 agreed diagnostic protocols for exotic plant pests.

Plant pest surveillance

We continued our national plant pest surveillance programme which included National Sentinel Hive surveys to detect honeybee parasites such as varroa mite and exotic bees. The National Plant Biosecurity Surveillance Strategy continued a number of specific technical projects to strengthen surveillance activities such as the identification of high-risk areas and s​urveillance hotspots.

We also funded a third national surveillance workshop to discuss and share ideas of best practice surveillance and recent initiatives.

We began work on a department-wide system to provide better biosecurity intelligence by managing surveillance and laboratory-based diagnostic data.

Plant Health Australia

We provided funding to PHA to continue work on the National Bee Pest Surveillance Programme and the national plant biosecurity portal. We are also working with PHA to deliver the Australian Plant Pest Database through a modernised portal on the Atlas of Living Australia website.

In June 2015, we provided a grant of $600 000 to PHA to lead the implementation of national strategies to enhance Australia’s preparedness to respond to exotic fruit fly incursions. These projects build on previous initiatives to strengthen Australia’s plant health system.

The Atlas of Living Australia website.

Engaging international stakeholders

Leading international forums

In May 2015, the ACVO was elected vice-president of the OIE Council. The council manages business on behalf of member countries between the annual OIE general sessions.

The ACVO’s membership of the council since 2012 has led to improved transparency and summary reports of OIE council meetings are now provided to all delegates. Regional consultation has also improved. The OIE now seeks advice from the region on issues for the council agenda.

The department continued its engagement on OIE aquaculture issues and had an officer elected as president of the Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission.

Animal welfare

In November 2014, Australia hosted the Regional Animal Welfare Strategy (RAWS) Coordination Group meeting in Canberra. The meeting discussed Malaysia’s development of guidelines for religious festivals where sheep and cattle are slaughtered, and further development of animal welfare legislation and standards in the region.

Following the RAWS meeting, regional representatives attended a seminar on the OIE National Focal Points for Animal Welfare. The focal points are an important mechanism for countries to comply with the OIE international standards. The seminar allowed countries in the region to share and discuss their experiences in animal welfare.

International Animal Health Emergency Reserve

The International Animal Health Emergency Reserve (IAHER) is a high-level agreement between Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States to share personnel during an exotic animal disease outbreak. The IAHER provides additional resources that may be required to assist with resource requirements during an emergency animal disease response.

We led a work programme to improve the ability of IAHER members to facilitate the rapid deployment of personnel between countries. The programme used scenario planning to target preparation efforts and to identify critical areas where supporting documentation or prior planning would facilitate using IAHER during a real event.

Strengthening Indonesia’s veterinary services

We deliver the $22 million Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Diseases animal the health programme in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture.

The programme has strengthened the Indonesian Government’s veterinary institutions, particularly in planning, management, policy development and coordination. It has also enhanced the country’s skills, expertise and capacity to deliver veterinary services. This will benefit Indonesia, Australia and the region by supporting animal health and biosecurity, public health, food security and economic development.

Strengthening influenza protocols with the United States

In July 2014, Australia and the United States finalised a protocol for managing outbreaks in either country of highly pathogenic or low pathogenic avian influenza.

Australia’s poultry and egg industries are valuable to the agricultural sector and contributed a combined production value of about $2.9 billion in 2012–13. Avian influenza incidents in Australia in 2012 and 2013 caused significant disruption to those industries and related exports.

The protocol will reduce disruption of trade during an outbreak and ensure biosecurity risks are effectively managed by science-based import health measures.

International plant health standards

The ACPPO continued to be actively involved in the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to represent Australia’s plant health interests. A departmental officer will become the IPPC bureau chair in 2016, which will further strengthen Australia’s participation.

The IPCC adopted annexes to the international phytosanitary standard for cold treatments for Queensland fruit fly on citrus varieties, a significant outcome for Australia. It also ran a workshop to promote confidence in cold treatment among trading partners. The annexes and the workshop will support market access for Australian citrus and other fresh commodities.

Phytosanitary awareness and capacity

We provided training for South and South-East Asian plant health agencies to improve understanding of strategic and operational aspects of phytosanitary management and promote greater awareness of international obligations. This included workshops for the national plant protection organisations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the National University of Laos.

International plant pest surveillance

We contributed to the region’s biosecurity through plant pest surveillance development activities in Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and South-East Asian countries.

The surveillance activities provided important new records of pests of concern to Australia, including the detection of cotton blue disease in Timor Leste and the range extension of the bee mite Tropilaelaps mercediae in Papua New Guinea. We continued to improve our capability to collect and manage surveillance information consistently and to develop the Australian Plant Health Status database.

International plant pest diagnostics

We are delivering activities in support of the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Agreement to improve diagnostic capability in South-East Asian countries. Improved diagnostic capacity will contribute to a sharper appreciation of regional biosecurity risks.

The project involves the national plant protection organisations of all ASEAN nations and diagnostic experts from Australia and New Zealand.

Scientific and economic research

Building our decision-making capability

Urgent action is often necessary to respond to a pest or disease incursion. Decision-makers need to be able to compare the estimated costs and expected benefits of an eradication programme before committing public funds.

ABARES developed a simple analytical framework that can be used in a biosecurity emergency to undertake a quick but credible cost–benefit analysis for plant pests and diseases. The framework includes a generic spreadsheet, a database for quick retrieval of production and trade data and a questionnaire to obtain expert opinions on the spread and impacts of a pest or disease.

ABARES is also developing guidance for decision-makers to assist in determining species of national significance under the IGAB. This will ensure consistency in decisions about managing pests, diseases and related biosecurity issues, and support the IGAB as a practical and transparent approach to biosecurity.

Banana freckle and cucumber green mottle mosaic virus

ABARES advised the National Management Group on the economic implications and likely impacts of the banana freckle incursion to enable it to compare the costs of eradicating the pest were it to become established in Australia. The NMG used the analysis to inform its decision to proceed with eradication. We also provided advice on emergency response surveillance and on calculating owner reimbursement costs for compensation.

ABARES advised the Northern Territory Government on the potential benefits and costs of eradicating cucumber green mottle mosaic virus and reviewed the final analysis and report.

Northern Australia surveillance systems

Effective surveillance systems for plant pests and diseases along the northern coast of Australia are essential for biosecurity and the protection of Australian agriculture. Under the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS), ABARES is reviewing emerging surveillance methods to inform decisions about more efficient, risk-based allocation of resources.

The results will directly benefit the NAQS surveillance programme for unregulated pathways and have broad applicability to the allocation of other biosecurity resources.

International agricultural research

The department’s Chief Scientist founded the International Agricultural Research and Development Coordination Group to provide strategic oversight and the coordination of international agricultural research in Australia. The group comprises representatives from the department, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the CSIRO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The group collaborated on organising the 2014 Meeting of G20 Agricultural Chief Scientists (MACS) and the associated Food 4 Growth Forum. It is now focusing on post-MACS follow-up actions and the lead-up to G20 2015 under Turkey’s presidency.

Challenges

Building national biosecurity capability

We activated our SBQI rapid response capability to assist with three incursions in 2014–15. These highlighted the challenges of building and maintaining capability and capacity within jurisdictions and industry to have experts available to assist at the outset of an incursion.

An early response to the detection of an exotic pest or disease can sig​nificantly enhance the success of an eradication programme. We are working with industry and government stakeholders to build our national capability to detect and respond to incursions through the SBQI function.

Biosecurity emergency preparedness

We used Exercise Odysseus to test the department’s Critical Incident Response Plan and the operation of its incident management teams. Around 230 staff, including 30 senior executives, took part in a series of five activities to test our capability. The evaluation found the department could better prepare for a large-scale emergency by making advance arrangements for finances, staffing and facilities.

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