Revised guidelines for the introduction of exotic biological control agents for the control of weeds and plant pests

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Step 1: Approval of the target species as a candidate for biological control

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: Invasive Plants and Animals Committee or Plant Health Committee.

For the biological control of weeds, the weed species must be submitted to the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee (IPAC) for approval as a target.

Approval for invertebrate pest species or pathogens as candidates for biological control should be sought through the Plant Health Committee (PHC).

This can be done at any time during the process, but the target must be approved before permission to release a biological control agent is sought.

Step 2: Offshore research on possible agents

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: none

The proposer usually searches for potential biological control agents in the natural range of the target species. Often, some specificity testing is conducted offshore.

Step 3: Host-specificity test list

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: none

The proposer takes the responsibility for the development and the finalisation of the host-specificity test list. There is no formal approval process through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.  Applicants are advised to employ the available expertise in Australia’s Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies as well as any other relevant expert opinion when preparing host lists and developing testing methodologies for a biological control agent.

If requested by the proposer, the department can assist this process by publishing host test lists and procedures for a biological control agent on the department's website.

Step 4: Permission to undertake specificity testing in contained use in Australia

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: A permit issued by the department will specify a containment level and any other conditions required

For experimental work on potential biological control agents in contained use in Australia, an import permit issued by the department is required.

Import permit – departmental administrative requirements

  • An application form (Application to Import Plant Research Materials and Plant Pathogens) must be completed and submitted to the department. Applications for import permits may be submitted via BICON.
  • The address of an- approved arrangement site with appropriate containment level to hold the organism(s) must be supplied.
  • Where appropriate, the host material or the media used for transportation of the agent should be specified.

Step 5: Testing permit for proposed biological control agents that are animals

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: A testing permit issued by the Department of the Environment is required for contained use experimental work in Australia or potential biological control agents that are animals.

Where the proposed biological control agent is an animal, a testing permit is required from the Department of the Environment to import specimens for experimental work in contained use into Australia. Conditions on containment and use are specified on the permit according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Further information can be found on the Department of the Environment website.

Testing permit – Department of the Environment administrative requirements

An application including justification as to why the testing must be undertaken in Australia must be completed and submitted to the Department of the Environment via the online application form.

  • Government entities are exempt from permit fees.
  • If a species is undescribed or there is any doubt about its taxonomy then a voucher specimen(s) of the most recognisable stage must be lodged at a recognised institution (e.g. the Australian National Insect Collection). A permit will not be issued for undescribed specimens without a voucher number.
  • Documents proving the source of the specimen/s are required where applicable.

Testing permit – information requirements

The application must provide justification for why testing is required before completing an amendment to the live import list to include this species and why the testing must be undertaken in Australia.

Testing permit – renewals

A single testing permit allows multiple consignments of a specimen to be imported for testing over a six month period. It must be renewed at the end of the six months, requiring a new application and a report updating the progress of testing.

Step 6: Specificity testing

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: none

After importing the potential biological control agents, the proposer can undertake host specificity testing under biosecurity containment in Australia.

Step 7: Application to release a biological control agent

Responsibility: Proposer

Approval: none

If release of a biological control agent is sought, the proposer must submit a release application to the department.

Application to release – information requirements (release package)

An information package about the proposed biological control agent and its target should be supplied to the department – Plant Import Operations Branch. This package should contain:

  • Agent name (order, family, genus, species, author, date and common name if available)
  • A brief biology of the agent
  • The native range of the agent
  • Related species to the agent and a summary of their host range
  • The proposed source(s) of the agent
  • The current status of the target species in Australia, including a summary of the economic and environmental losses caused by the target
  • Whether and when the target species was approved for biological control, and the proposing organisation
  • The agent’s potential for control of the target
  • Information on non-target organisms at risk from an agent
  • Copies of any references referred to in the application
  • Information and results on any other similar assessments undertaken on the species
  • Information on all other relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory legislative controls of the target species
  • Report of host-specificity testing, including:
    • Quantified laboratory evaluation of oviposition, larval and adult feeding, development to maturity on each test species, fungal development etc., where appropriate
    • Testing methods
    • Overseas host records, including literature and discussions with experts
    • Risk evaluation to non-target species
    • Any evidence to reveal laboratory artefacts in behaviour or development
  • Possible interactions, including conflict-of-interest with existing biological control programs
  • Information on where, when and how initial releases will be made
  • Information on whether this species has established feral populations, and if so, where those populations are
  • Information on, and the results of, any other environmental risk assessments undertaken on the species both in Australia and overseas.

The above list is only a guide. In some cases, more information will be required. For some targets and agents, not all points will need to be covered.

Step 8: Assessment of release package

Responsibility: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Approval: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

After the application and the information package are received, the department will conduct a risk analysis in accordance with the BIRA guidelines .

A preliminary draft risk analysis report will be distributed to state and territory departments of primary industry and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) through the Plant Health Committee (PHC). Comments received via this consultation process will be incorporated into the draft risk analysis report.

A draft report will be published on the DAWR website for public comment and will be distributed to registered stakeholders for comment. Comments must be submitted within 30 days. The department will consider the comments and will produce a final report.

The Department of the Environment also has an approval process for the import and release of biological control agents under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Under Section 303EE (4) of the EPBC Act, a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources final risk analysis report may be used by the responsible Minister in making a determination to include the item on the List of Specimens taken to be Suitable for Live Import (the live import list). The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will consult with the Department of the Environment throughout the process and prior to the release of the final risk analysis report.

Step 9: Release conditions/requirements

Responsibility: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Approval: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources provides advice on release conditions

Following the risk analysis process, if the department recommends approval for release, then a letter will be sent to the applicant providing conditions of release.

Voucher specimens of the agent must be lodged with the Australian National Insect Collection or an Australian State/Territory agricultural collection or herbarium and should be labelled with the following information:

  • Reference numbers for undescribed species
  • Country of origin
  • Host
  • Date collected
  • Collection location
  • Target species
  • Source of identification
  • Contact officer for biological control program

Step 10: Amending the live import list for biological control agents that are animals

Responsibility: Department of the Environment

Approval: Amending the live import list to include a species allows it to be imported into Australia

If the Department of the Environment is satisfied with the findings of the risk analysis produced by DAWR, a recommendation will be made to the Minister for the Environment to amend the live import list to include the biological control species.

The Department of the Environment is responsible under the EPBC Act for assessing the environmental impact associated with proposals to import live species. Should the Department of the Environment require more extensive information, in order to meet the requirements of the EPBC Act and the biological control agents Terms of Reference, it is the responsibility of the applicant to provide this to the Department of the Environment.

If the Minister for the Environment approves of the proposal then the species will be added to the live import list. The Department of the Environment can then authorise release of any specimens imported into biosecurity containment under a testing permit.