Biosecurity Matters, Issue 4, 2016

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Biosecurity Matters

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​A new biosecurity era​

An industry participant An industry participant.

Just over two months ago the regulatory landscape for managing Australia’s biosecurity system changed significantly with the introduction of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

The new legislation replaced the century-old Quarantine Act and has enhanced the biosecurity system by providing increased flexibility in our legislative framework to allow us to adjust to changes in the biosecurity operating environment and pest and disease risks.

While the work of the department’s biosecurity officers has remained largely the same, some of our systems, information and business support functions have changed with the introduction of the new Act. Thanks to extensive preparations by industry and the department, transitioning to the new Act has been relatively seamless.

The following achievements provide a testament to the efforts of industry to work with the department and provide leadership to help prepare people for the new Act:

  • By 16 June, more than 1400 people had completed the Biosecurity Act e-learning
  • Over 700 people attended biosecurity legislation information sessions held in every capital city and one in Cairns.

Continue reading about the Biosecurity Act 2015

Some of the essential work that helped maintain services and information access for clients during the legislative transition was largely invisible, but it’s worth noting that the department:

  • cleared 65 flights arriving at Australian international airports between midnight until 9am on 16 June unimpeded by the start of operations under the new legislation
  • published more than 1400 web pages and documents to provide information about the new operating environment
  • updated more than 100 forms that support operations
  • wrote approximately 21,000 lines of code to modify IT systems
  • trained more than 2000 departmental staff in the new legislation.

Two months on and things are running ‘business as usual’ and whilst much of the hard work is behind us, a lot of work is still ahead. Your continued feedback will be essential to inform how we realise the benefits of the legislation and ensure future changes are just as smooth.

For more information about the Biosecurity Act 2015 and what it means for you, visit the department’s website.

Industry gives MARS the OK for lift-off

A department officer discusses MARS with a Maersk chief officer A department officer discusses MARS with a Maersk chief officer.

The shipping industry has given the thumbs up to the department’s Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS), which is expected to be fully launched across Australia by early December.

A total of 38 representatives participated in the third round of industry assurance testing in June ­– their first hands-on experience with MARS.

As part of these sessions, participants were given an overview of the system before they were left with a set of tasks to complete.

Participants provided positive feedback about the changes MARS will deliver, particularly the increased visibility of vessel status and use of traffic lights to provide a simplified view of their biosecurity status.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Deputy Secretary, Lyn O’Connell, said that MARS will provide many benefits to both vessel masters and shipping agents.

Continue reading about MARS

“MARS is just one of the department’s service delivery modernisation projects designed to make it easier for clients to do business with us,” Ms O’Connell said. “This project has been in the making for several years, and a great deal of innovative thinking has led to its development. I’m pleased to see the results of hard work by staff from many different areas, as well as the significant effort from our industry partners, coming to fruition.”

Registered MARS users will be able to lodge pre-arrival and ballast water reports electronically, access their vessel’s voyage and inspection history, and request additional services such as waste removal, ship sanitation certification and coastal strip inspections. Biosecurity directions issued by the department will now be easier to understand and transparent through the Biosecurity Status Document.

MARS will also give effect to a new Vessel Compliance Scheme (VCS) designed to help vessel operators and shipping agents meet their biosecurity obligations.

MARS is currently being piloted in Mackay and Gladstone with the full rollout expected to be completed by early December 2016. For more information about MARS and VCS, visit Vessels

Spread your knowledge of invasive animals

Wild dogs are pests in many parts of Australia.

Are you involved in vertebrate pest animal management, research, policy making or on-ground activities? If so, organisers of the 17th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference want to hear from you.

Abstracts are now open for anyone who would like to present a spoken paper of 15 minutes or a poster with a speed talk of three minutes. The conference, convened by the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee, is to be held in Canberra from 1-4 May 2017.

The need for action has never been greater. Experts estimate that at least 81 introduced vertebrate species have established colonies in Australia, creating havoc for native plants and wildlife.

The conference theme is “innovative solutions and future directions” and will discuss topics such as the development and roll out of rabbit and carp biocontrol agents as well as innovative tools to manage feral predators. Other topics range from prevention and containment to community-led engagement and action.

Abstract submissions will close on 4 November 2016. Visit the 17th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference website for details of the conference and how to submit your presentation ideas.

Border finds - Another succulent find for our biosecurity officers

Package containing cacti and succulents labelled as fries.

Two consignments containing packets labelled as fries had a crisp ending after being intercepted by biosecurity officers at the Melbourne Gateway Facility.

On inspection, officers found the packages contained 14 cacti and succulents (roots and all) craftily concealed in the packets of fries.

Arriving from Korea, these prickly consignments were detected by x-ray and detector dog — the department has now intercepted 122 live plant consignments this year.

Our biosecurity officers regularly intercept international mail parcels containing prohibited live plants. Consignments are often purchased by individuals online from sellers based overseas and can be contaminated with soil and, in some cases, plant based fungal diseases.

Live plants can contain high-risk pathogens and nematodes and sellers can be unaware of Australian import requirements for live plants under the Biosecurity Act 2015.

The department is working closely with eBay and other online stores to educate overseas sellers of Australia’s biosecurity regulations. Australia’s biosecurity legislation provides for criminal and civil offences where goods such as live plants have been deliberately imported into Australia in contravention of biosecurity requirements.

The goods were destroyed as there was no import permit provided for the live plants. The related investigation resulted in a letter of advice being issued.

Detector dog sniffs out fake bear claw

A passenger from China was recently intercepted at Brisbane Airport when biosecurity officers detected a suspicious item that appeared to be a bear claw.

This find by our detector dog Woof and his handler Lisa rang alarm bells for our biosecurity officers, who sent the object for analysis to our Operational Science Services (OSS) team.

Bear claws are considered a delicacy in some Asian countries and are also used for medicinal purposes. As they are expensive, demand for fake claws is high and faux pieces have been discovered worldwide.

The OSS team conducted molecular diagnostics on a small sample of the claw and discovered that it was not actually a bear claw but more likely a water buffalo!

Based on morphological features and the sequencing of the DNA, it was proven to be fake and was likely carved from a water buffalo horn. The key identifier of a real bear claw is found on the underside—if genuine, there should be a deep, open channel in the lower claw.

The claw was surrendered to the officer for destruction. Products like this could harbour pests and diseases that pose a serious risk to the health of Australian people, animals and plants.

Had it been a real bear claw, the item would have been confiscated anyway due to Australia’s commitment to the CITES treaty that prevents international trade in endangered species.

This discovery just goes to show that items seized at our borders are not always what they seem.  Real or counterfeit, potentially harmful items are treated the same when detected in mail or carried into the country by passengers.


Fake bear claw carved from water buffalo horn.

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