Program 2.2: Plant and animal health

​Program objectives

The objectives of this program are to support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment from the impacts of unwanted 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 2011–12 was to:

  • strengthen Australia's biosecurity system to enhance national capacity to manage pest and disease risk
  • enhance Australia's biosecurity interests in international forums.

Review of performance

This review addresses the deliverables identified in the 2011–12 ​Portfolio Budget Statements. Table 20 summarises the extent to which we have met key performance indicators.

Strengthening Australia's biosecurity system

Building partnerships for biosecurity

We work to strengthen the national biosecurity system to enhance the national capacity to manage pest and disease risks by:

  • facilitating reforms to Australia's biosecurity system
  • implementing frameworks for managing pest and disease outbreaks
  • providing policy inputs to the strengthening of Australia's pest and disease prevention, preparedness and response capabilities.

We supported the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB), signed by the Prime Minister in January 2012. The IGAB was developed to improve the national biosecurity system by identifying the roles and responsibilities of governments and outlining the priority areas for collaboration to minimise the impact of pests and disease on Australia's economy, environment and the community.

On the same date, the Prime Minister also signed the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA). The NEBRA is the IGAB's first deliverable and sets out emergency response arrangements, including cost sharing, for responding to biosecurity incidents that primarily impact the environment and/or social amenity and where the response is for the public good.

We also supported the development of a national foot-and-mouth disease action plan by the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC). The NBC is an advisory committee to the Primary Industries Standing Committee under the Standing Council on Primary Industries. It provides strategic leadership in managing national approaches to emerging and ongoing biosecurity policy issues across jurisdictions and sectors.

Monitoring and surveillance

The Biosecurity Surveillance Incident Response and Tracing (BioSIRT) program is a web-based information capability that enables nationally consistent management of animal and plant pest and disease information related to emergency responses and routine biosecurity activities. Funding for BioSIRT is shared between DAFF and all jurisdictions. In 2011–12, BioSIRT was used to improve Australia's capability to respond to biosecurity emergencies, conduct surveillance and share reports and data between jurisdictions. We continued to promote and train people in its use and implemented national standards and procedures for data sharing.

BioSIRT was used in Exercise Phantom Fox, which simulated an emergency response to an outbreak of bluetongue in sheep in South Australia. The system recorded operational activities, including surveillance of sheep flocks at the infected premises and other processes, such as managing and updating the disease status of suspect and infected premises. Reports to managers and controllers were produced from data recorded in BioSIRT.

The NBC also commissioned a review of BioSIRT. Its recommendations, to be implemented from 2012–13, include a renewed focus on national standards and interoperability to enhance capacity to manage pest and disease risk.

Animal surveillance

The Australian Wildlife Health Network (AWHN) collates and manages wild animal health information from the states, territories and non-government sources. This information supports our animal health status reporting and evaluation of the risk of emerging diseases. It is used to develop our disease response capability and to provide summary information to the National Animal Health Information System Coordination Committee. We worked with the AWHN to coordinate national surveillance for disease in Australia's wild animal population.

During 2011–12, the department played a key role in the Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce to pursue a collaborative 'one health' approach to minimising adverse impacts of Hendra virus on human and equine health. The taskforce's terms of reference include:

  • analysing and sharing information
  • maintaining a consistent approach for managing Hendra virus incidents
  • identifying and commissioning areas for further research
  • identifying strategies to better educate horse owners, veterinarians and the general public about Hendra virus.

The taskforce also oversaw the process of identifying and prioritising Hendra virus research to be funded by $12 million of Australian, Queensland and New South Wales government funds over three years.

Case study

National response to Hendra virus

Since Hendra virus was first identified in 1994, four of seven infected people and around 70 infected horses have died. In 2011–12, there was an unprecedented number and geographic range of Hendra virus incidents in horses in Queensland and New South Wales. In addition, the first dog naturally infected was identified.

Quick emergency responses on the part of state government agencies ensured outbreaks did not spread beyond the infected properties. Increased knowledge of the disease has helped improve management of the outbreaks and refine public health messages.

The department worked with Australian health authorities to develop new national guidelines for public health units to use in assisting people who may have been exposed to the virus.

DAFF kept its key international trading partners informed of the incidents and provided assurances that trade in Australian animals did not pose risks to their country's health and biosecurity status. However, the incidents caused biosecurity concerns among some of Australia's international trading partners and did disrupt trade in Australian livestock, including export of live cattle, goats, sheep, horses, dogs and cats to a few destinations. We were able to work with relevant authorities in these countries to restore market access.

DAFF contributed to the national response through membership of the Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce. The taskforce was established in July 2011 to pursue a collaborative, 'one-health' approach to minimise adverse impacts of Hendra virus on human and animal health.

The Australian, Queensland and New South Wales governments have collectively allocated $12 million over three years for research into Hendra virus. The department helped to select research projects that were funded by this initiative. The commitment to fund further research into Hendra virus is important in building domestic and international confidence in Australia's biosecurity measures.

A scientist dressed in biosecurity garments looking at a computer screen showing a close up image of the Hendra virus.
Australian scientist working with Hendra virus at the highest level of biosecurity
Photo courtesy of CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory

Plant surveillance

We continued to implement the National Plant Pest Surveillance Program in collaboration with state and territory governments. The program aims to improve Australia's capacity for early detection of a range of plant pests that would impact the natural and built environment and plant production. Early detection optimises opportunities for effective containment, control and eradication of target species. The program includes the Multiple Pest Surveillance program, ports of entry trapping for fruit fly and Asian gypsy moth and data management components. Program outcomes also support market access, by demonstrating absence of a number of economic pests that do not occur in Australia.

We commenced a national surveillance program for Potato Spindle Tuber Viroid disease (PSTVd) to provide information on the occurrence of this disease in Australia. Strains of the PSTVd cause significant damage to tomatoes and potatoes and would have major trade and economic impacts if they were widely established. The program is being coordinated nationally to ensure consistency across jurisdictions in the surveillance approach, target species, diagnostics, data collection and data analysis. The outcomes of the national surveillance program will inform future emergency response and trade activities.

During the year, we delivered a national diagnostics development program in partnership with states and territories to build and enhance Australia's plant diagnostic capability. While the overall approach is a continuation from previous years, there has been an increased emphasis on building the national diagnostic network systems to effectively identify emergency plant pests in a timely manner. Key activities included building diagnostic capability through online systems, scholarships, national diagnostics standards for key pests and expert training involving use of molecular diagnostics and remote image analysis. We also conducted a review into the current structure and function of the pest and disease image library.

We increased the skills of diagnosticians through the delivery of the Advanced Diagnosticians Development program. This program delivered specialised training courses on fungal smuts, nematodes, termites and thrips, providing participants with diagnostic skills and competencies at a level equivalent to a tertiary qualification level.

Case study

The fight against fruit flies

Fruit flies are among the world's worst horticulture pests and have a major impact on both production and Australia's capacity to trade in domestic and international markets. The adult flies lay their eggs in a variety of fruit as well as some vegetables. While the maturing fruit or vegetables may look good on the outside, the maggots leave the inside inedible.

The National Fruit Fly Strategy is an initiative to improve Australia's management of fruit flies by providing a sustainable national approach that will place Australia at the forefront of international biosecurity.

An implementation plan was completed in 2010 and DAFF sponsored a symposium in October 2011 to ensure that plan was on track. For the first time in many years, more than 80 professionals involved in policy, biosecurity, operational planning, farming, research and awareness were able to come together and discuss the past, present and future of fruit fly management in Australia.

During two days of mediated forums participants discussed:

  • lessons learned from the eradication of Papaya Fruit Fly in the late 1990s
  • a stocktake of current research activity
  • how sterile insect technique has been used in the past and how it could be used in the future
  • new methods of fruit fly management using international standards
  • emerging threats
  • international market access
  • interstate trade innovation led by less dependence on chemical usage
  • raising awareness of biosecurity for the travelling public and backyard gardeners.

The final session tested whether the implementation plan and the strategy covered all the necessary issues and was still a valid document. The participants agreed that there were no gaps and that a governance body should be established to coordinate future fruit fly management activities and ensure that national priorities are addressed.

A close up image of a fruit fly specimen.
Banana fruit fly (Bactroceramusae)
Photo: Walker K, 2005, courtesy of the Pest and Disease Image Library.

Managing the impact of major pest and disease incursions

National emergency response management

The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) and Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) provide national emergency response and funding arrangements between government and industry to handle animal disease and plant pest threats. The respective consultative committees are chaired by the department's Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Plant Protection Officer. Nationally coordinated emergency responses are overseen by a National Management Group (NMG), chaired by the DAFF secretary. This group includes the chief executive officers of the Australian, state and territory departments of agriculture and primary industries, as well as relevant peak industry bodies, with representatives of Plant Health Australia (PHA)or Animal Health Australia (AHA)as observers.

Animal and aquatic animal responses

In 2011–12, the consultative committee was notified of approximately 26 newly detected animal diseases, 12 of which resulted in notification of the appropriate consultative committee. The detection of low pathogenic avian influenza in ducks in Victoria resulted in the submission of a formal response plan to the NMG to consider eradication. The NMG agreed to cost sharing arrangements. In the majority of other cases, the animal diseases detected were not of economic significance or were not considered to be technically feasible and/or beneficial to eradicate.

There has been one recorded exotic marine pest detection and eight instances of range extensions of known marine pests in Australian waters over the year. None resulted in a national response.

A review of Australia's preparedness for the threat of foot-and-mouth disease

The department commissioned Mr Ken Matthews AO to provide a qualitative assessment of Australia's readiness to respond to the threat of foot-and-mouth disease. Mr Matthews' report—'A review of Australia's preparedness for the threat of foot-and-mouth disease'—released in October 2011, acknowledged the strength of Australia's biosecurity system and highlighted areas where improvements would further strengthen Australia's approach to managing the threat of this disease. The Australian, state and territory governments and key livestock industry bodies formed a working group to develop and implement action plans to address the issues raised in Mr Matthews' report. Achievements to date include:

  • identifying options to facilitate the engagement of non-government veterinarians in an emergency, to provide surge capacity
  • developing a national policy on the use of vaccination in an emergency
  • updating the foot-and-mouth disease AUSVETPLAN strategy
  • increasing laboratory capacity in the event of an emergency response.

Plant responses

In 2011–12, the consultative committee was notified of approximately 50 newly detected plant pests. The detection of cocoa pod borer in Queensland resulted in the submission of a formal response plan to the NMG to consider eradication. The NMG agreed to a nationally cost-shared response program to eradicate this plant pest. In the majority of the other cases, the plant pests detected were not of economic significance or it was considered that it was not technically feasible and/or beneficial to eradicate them.

The committee continued to manage a number of ongoing incidents under the arrangements provided by the EPPRD, including a national eradication program for chestnut blight, which was detected in Victoria in 2010–11.

We participated in the first five-year review of the EPPRD, working with PHA, government agencies and industry to reflect on the deeds, objectives and operations, and to identify areas for improvement. The review was finalised in late 2011. While a number of minor amendments were proposed and agreed as a result, issues resolution groups have been established on more complex issues, including the scope of the EPPRD, party 'monitoring' points and mechanisms and the definition of an emergency plant pest. The department is involved in a number of these groups.

We continued to contribute to the eradication of a number of invasive species not covered by the EPPRD. These included branched broomrape, Siam weed, four tropical weeds and European house borer. These incursions are managed under arrangements that predate the EPPRD.

Post eradication: a new approach

We worked with state and territory governments and industry to trial containment arrangements developed by the NBC. The arrangements aim to address a gap in Australia's emergency response to incursions that are no longer considered eradicable.

The government provided funding for the Asian honey bee and myrtle rust transition to management programs as pilots to test the containment arrangements. These programs are still in progress, but have identified a number of areas in which the containment arrangements can be improved. We will continue to work through the NBC to address these areas.

Emergency response levies

We assisted the horse, vegetable and unprocessed potato industries to establish zero-rated emergency response levies. The levies will enable these industries to meet their obligations under the provisions of the EADRA and the EPPRD. These levy arrangements enable the Australian and state and territory governments to respond quickly and efficiently to an outbreak and help to minimise the potential impact of an emergency pest or disease on valuable food supplies and exports, the environment and public health.

Building regional capacity

We coordinated and delivered an array of regional capacity building activities for organisations in our region. These included organisations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries and in the Pacific region, often with the assistance of Australian Agency for International Development) funding. These activities were aimed at gaining a better understanding of the plant pest and disease risks in the region, improving regional biosecurity, implementing a regional diagnostics network, fostering links and creating opportunities for Australia to enhance its market access.

International activities, aimed at providing early warning of emerging pests and diseases in our region and contributing towards managing this risk offshore, included:

  • managing the development and delivery of the Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Disease—Animal Health Program 2010–2014
  • deploying DAFF technical advisors to Indonesia to assist government animal health institutions to meet standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
  • conducting collaborative plant health surveys in Indonesia, Timor–Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
  • providing training in plant pest surveillance and diagnostics in Indonesia, Timor–Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
  • providing training in animal health surveys in Timor–Leste and Papua New Guinea
  • strengthening regional plant health information sharing through the development of remote diagnostic networks in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
  • strengthening Timor–Leste's molecular diagnostic capacity for diseases of concern in both Timor–Leste and Australia.

We also provided:

  • assistance with the development of a proposal to determine constraints to the implementation of a national aquatic animal emergency disease response in the Asia–Pacific region
  • training on pest nematode diagnostics and conducting emergency disease exercises
  • intensive training in pest risk analysis for plant protection officers in the Republic of Korea and Vietnam
  • a training workshop on phytosanitary risk mitigation for APEC economies
  • assistance to Papua New Guinea to develop emergency management capability for outbreaks of new pests and diseases
  • assistance with building laboratory capacity in Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Timor–Leste and Thailand
  • a workshop to assist Pacific island countries to identify the gaps in regional biosecurity, as well as solutions and possible implementation mechanisms.

Case study

Australia works with its neighbours to improve biosecurity

Disease does not recognise borders and outbreaks of animal diseases such as avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease can be devastating—affecting animal health, production, and in some cases, people, often with fatal results.

Working with neighbouring countries to help them manage animal diseases is part of the department's biosecurity risk management strategy. It's a two-way process that helps neighbouring countries and gives Australia a better understanding of the exotic disease risks in our region. It also provides Australian experts with practical knowledge and experience in active disease management, often impossible to gain in Australia.

In recent years, Australia has been part of a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) program to help member countries improve their veterinary services to meet international standards. The Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) Pathway is a close collaboration between the country being assessed and the OIE. DAFF veterinary officers John Stratton, Jill Mortier and Peter Beers were trained by the OIE and have participated in PVS mission teams in Southeast Asia and Africa.

John has now undertaken seven PVS missions and worked in the OIE Bangkok office for nearly two years. He returned to DAFF in January 2012 and has been using his international experiences and contacts to improve DAFF's animal health work.

Jill has helped develop an international standard for veterinary legislation to guide countries in improving their veterinary legislation. Strong legislation is essential to control animal diseases and many countries in our region have lacked this vital tool. Peter has participated in two OIE missions in the region and provided technical support for other OIE missions.

Controlling animal diseases in neighbouring countries will help reduce the risk of an exotic disease entering Australia and contribute to reducing poverty, improving food security and facilitating increased trade.

A vet drawing blood from a cow for disease testing.
DAFF veterinary officer John Stratton at work in Cambodia
Photo: DAFF

International engagement

Australia was represented on the Emergency Management Working Group (EMWG) of the quadrilateral group of countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States). The group commenced a project to investigate the scientific feasibility of amending specific sections of the foot-and-mouth disease chapter in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code and considered how to share and leverage experiences associated with the One Health Concept. We also participated in a forum to promote cooperation and collaboration between member countries in the areas of epidemiology and disease modelling, to support emergency disease management and response. The department was a member of the EMWG's technical working group for destruction, disposal and decontamination.

We ensured that Australia met its obligations to OIE. We led Australia's contributions to the development of OIE policies, including setting international standards for trade in terrestrial and aquatic animals and the OIE Regional Work Plan. We participated in a regional network for OIE Wildlife Focal Points and reviewed wild animal information in international animal health standards.

The department also continued its strategic involvement with the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to help prevent the spread of pests, diseases and invasive weeds through international trade. We participated in the development of international standards that govern the movement of plant goods and other articles that can carry plant pests and diseases. We met Australia's information exchange obligations under the IPPC through the International Phytosanitary Portal. Since July 2011, we have received and responded to more than 100 queries from IPPC members. We notified incidents of import non-compliance, with the aim of reducing incidents and providing feedback to exporting countries. More than 100 notifications of non-compliance with Australia's import requirements were sent to trading partners and seven pest notifications were made to IPPC members.

We continued our involvement with the Asia and Pacific Plant Protection Commission and completed formal treaty action that allowed Australia to accept amendments to the Plant Protection Agreement for the Asia and Pacific region. These amendments align the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the International Plant Protection Convention and are likely to come into force in coming years. We also worked with the secretariat of the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation to further joint plant protection activities in Pacific island countries.

Key performance indicators

Table 20  Program 2.2: Plant and animal health—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator 2011–12 target Achievement
2011–12 2010–11 2009–10
Responses to pest and disease incursions and outbreaks are managed according to relevant frameworks (EPPRD, EADRA, NEBRA) All incursions and outbreaks managed within frameworks Met
Performance: All incursions and outbreaks were managed within the relevant frameworks. This is a new indicator.
Reports provided to international bodies provide up-to-date information on Australia's animal, plant and marine health status, as required by international agreements All reports provide up-to-date information at the time of provision Met
Performance: All information on health status was provided in line with international agreements. This is a new indicator.
Fund key national surveillance, response and diagnostic capabilities 100% Met
Performance: We funded all national surveillance, response and diagnostic capabilities in accordance with relevant frameworks. This is a new indicator.
Deliver capacity building projects to the
Asia–Pacific region, to manage pests and diseases
Agreed milestones met Met
Performance: DAFF continued to demonstrate a strong commitment to capacity building projects in the Asia–Pacific regions. This is a new indicator.
Representation of Australia's views at relevant standard setting forums 100% Met
Performance: DAFF ensured a strong presence at relevant standard setting forums.
This is a new indicator. This is a new indicator.
AUSVETPLAN, AQUAVETPLAN and PLANTPLAN reflect current science of emergency animal diseases and emergency plant pests All plans reflect current science Met Met
Performance: DAFF participated in the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (AUSVETPLAN) Technical Review Group. We contributed to a major review of the AUSTVETPLAN disease strategy manual for foot-and-mouth disease. We also participated in revisions of AUSTVETPLAN manuals and guidance and resource documents such as the rift valley fever, bluetongue virus, control centres management and disposal operational procedures manuals. We provided comments to the response policy briefs for artificial breeding centres and Hendra virus. We contributed revisions to the AQUAVETPLAN manuals for abalone viral ganglioneuritis, piscirickettsiosis and white spot disease. We continued to support the review of the EPPRD and associated documentation, including PLANTPLAN.
Minister/parliamentary secretary and executive satisfied with the quality and timeliness of policy advice, scientific advice and support High level of satisfaction achieved Met
Performance: DAFF provided policy advice and support to the minister and parliamentary secretary. This advice has been received with a high level of satisfaction.
This is a new indicator.

Outlook for 2012–13

We will collaborate with other Australian departments, agencies and neighbouring countries to minimise the risk of pests and diseases entering and establishing in Australia.

Throughout the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity, the department will work with jurisdictions to address priority reform areas, including:

  • improving risk prioritisation and decision making
  • refining our surveillance and diagnostics capabilities
  • refining our emergency planning, response and preparedness
  • targeting our research and development efforts
  • improving information sharing across jurisdictions.

We will work with jurisdictions on the development of an improved framework for onshore pest and disease management, to address gaps and improve the effectiveness of partnerships that underpin biosecurity across the continuum.

A national framework will be completed for managing outbreaks that cannot be eradicated. The framework will provide guidance on how the management of a pest or disease outbreak that is not eradicable can be transitioned from eradication to a program that manages living with the pest or disease in the future, including identifying any potential ongoing management activities.

The department will work with industries that are signatories to the EADRA and the EPPRD to establish funding mechanisms to enable them to meet their obligations under the agreements. We will work with PHA and AHA to encourage non-signatory industries to become parties to the deeds. We will finalise the implementation framework for elements of the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy, which will contribute to the allocation of priorities for investment and delivery.

We will continue to respond to the recommendations of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Preparedness (Matthews) Review, including:

  • establishing the capacity to use foresight, scanning and intelligence-gathering tools to inform decision-making and organisational action
  • auditing overseas competent authorities
  • reducing the likelihood of swill feeding
  • strengthening the capacity to respond to an outbreak
  • improving the national disposal and diagnostic capacity and likelihood of early detection in high risk areas.
Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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