Programme 2.1 Quarantine and export services

​Programme objective

  • support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment from t he 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 2013–14 was to:
    • strengthen Australia's biosecurity system across the continuum
    • deliver efficient, effective and sustainably funded biosecurity services
    • enhance partnerships to deliver better biosecurity outcomes.

Programme description

We delivered biosecurity services and were responsible for reforming Australia's biosecurity system to ensure the services we provide are responsive, targeted and able to meet increasing demand into the future. Our biosecurity programme was underpinned by five key principles:

  • implementing a risk-based approach to biosecurity management
  • managing biosecurity risk across the continuume–offshore, at the border, and onshore
  • strengthening partnerships with stakeholders
  • being intelligence-led and evidence-based
  • being supported by modern legislation, technology, funding and business systems.

More information is available on the department's website.

Key performance indicators

Table 15 Programme 2.1—Quarantine and export services—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator2013–14 targetPerformance
Implementation of risk-based biosecurity intervention for sea cargo, air cargo vessels, international passengers and mailMonitor and review change projectsMetMetMet
Drafting and passage of biosecurity legislationBill considered by Parliament. Draft subordinate legislationPartially metPartially met-
Remediation of Australia's biosecurity ICT systemsContinue repair of systemsMetMet-
Engage with industry to design and implement reforms2 industry meetings. Design and implement reformsMetMet-
Transition to revised arrangements for a single post-entry quarantine stationPlan transition into new facilityMetMet-
Engage with state and territory governments on biosecurity issues2 meetingsMetMet-
Markets lost as a consequence of failed Department of Agriculture certification services0MetMetMet
Export consignments rejected because of failure to meet export certification requirementsLess than 1%MetMet-
Proportion of import risk analyses conducted in accordance with biosecurity regulations100%MetMetMet
Proportion of expanded import risk analyses supported by the Eminent Scientists Group100%N/A aN/AN/A
Develop closer partnerships with other agencies to deliver better biosecurity outcomesMonitor partneringMetMet-
Integrated scientific and economic research–underpinning research, advice, forecast, projects, products and data services meet stakeholder expectations and are delivered within agreed timelines and in line with international research standards85%MetMet-
a No expanded import risk analyses were conducted in 2013–14.


Delivering a modern biosecurity system

Building a state-of-the-art post-entry quarantine facility

Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd was engaged by the Department of Finance as managing contractor and handed control of the site of our planned post-entry quarantine facility in late March 2014. On 1 May 2014, the Minister for Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary for Finance turned the first sod on the site, signifying the commencement of construction.

Building our technology

We progressed the development of two new applications to progress our biosecurity reform, service delivery modernisation and deregulation agendas.

The Plant Exports Management System (PEMS) will further support the recording, tracking and billing of all inspection activities for the Plant Export Programme. Through PEMS, we will move from a paper-based system to an online recording system that will improve our ability to track individual inspections across the country, as well as enabling the department to measure the effectiveness of inspection activities through reporting and statistical analysis.

The Priority Processing System will enable importers to submit import documentation online for assessment. The system will significantly enhance our online lodgement capability, reduce the reliance on face-to-face counter services and ensure information is consistent and facilitates efficient record and data collection and analysis.

Biosecurity Import Conditions database

The Australian Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) web-based system will support import conditions development, authorisation management, import preparation, clearance processes and online payment services. It will also support industry and public stakeholders involved in the importation of goods into Australia, and regulatory bodies responsible for quarantine service delivery or providing scientific advice to support quarantine policy development.

BICON will provide an import conditions database that will underpin the department's biosecurity business in managing risk offshore, at the border and onshore.

Managing Australia's imports

Table 16 Size of the import task
Item2013–14 a 2012–132011–12
International passenger clearances b17 167 00016 200 00015 440 000
Seizures of items from air passengers c257 425247 054381 178
Sea passenger and crew clearances513 473794 122834 088
Seizures of items from sea passengers3 5825 1248 225
International mail articles (total volume) b186 579 000186 580 000164 730 000
Seizures of mail items c24 09627 60854 027
Airports where we have staff888
International mail facilities where we have staff444
Import permit applications received23 49322 67220 873
Import permits issued18 70819 12519 715
Shipping pratique visits-first ports d17 46116 30015 700
Country Action List (CAL) sea container inspections (first port)45 61746 48253 785
Commercial consignments referred to the department e440 000--
Air freight consignments (under $1000) c621 606645 000721 000
Live animal imports processed at government post-entry quarantine facilities fcats
queen bees
1 573
3 525 444
1 815
3 761 495
horses avians
2 015
3 798 409
Hatching eggs processed at government post-entry quarantine facilities21 74522 81227 120

a Figures from midnight 1 July 2013 through to midnight 1 July 2014. b Rounded to the nearest ten thousand. c The reduction in 'Seizures of items from air passengers' and 'Seizures of mail items' are a result of amendments to the Quarantine Proclamation 1998, finalised between 2011-2013. The amendments allowed for specific low-risk items to be imported into Australia without requiring a permit when imported for the personal use of the importer. This initiative significantly reduced the number of items that require inspection and treatment or seizure in the passenger and mail environments. d Rounded to the nearest thousand. e Rounded to the nearest two significant figures; this has been provided as additional reporting.f Additional information on imports of queen bees and ruminants not reported in previous years.

Improving import processes

Streamlining our import pathways

As part of our ongoing programme to more effectively and efficiently manage biosecurity risks, we continued to review import pathways to find ways to cut red tape. Changes during the year included:

  • streamlining import requirements for new machinery and equipment
  • changing the methyl bromide fumigation standard
  • introducing a new approach to better manage the biosecurity risks of international day trippers, passengers and crew from international cruise vessels
  • implementing new Quarantine Approved Premises classes covering the importation of bulbs and Australian Defence Force and police dogs returning from active service.

We continued to administer the offshore deployment of biosecurity officers to undertake pre-shipment inspections of machinery and high-risk military machinery, audits of fertiliser establishments and the pre-shipment inspection of horticultural products imported into Australia.

In 2013–14, there were 129 offshore deployments to countries such as the United States, Solomon Islands, United Kingdom and China.

Reducing quarantine times in line with risk

We reviewed the policy to manage the risks associated with importing horses from approved countries, and importing dogs and cats and their semen from approved countries.

As a result, we implemented a new horse import policy in August 2013. The new policy reduces the minimum post-entry quarantine period from 21 to 14 days, removes the requirement for routine quarantine surveillance for pregnant mares and updates the pre-export biosecurity requirements.

In February 2014, we implemented new cat and dog import policies, including an increased emphasis on offshore protection. This has allowed a reduction of the minimum post-entry quarantine period from
30 to 10 days.

Resuming honey bee imports

We implemented new import conditions for honey bees, and updated and reopened the bee quarantine facility at Eastern Creek. The new conditions allowed imports of honey bees from Canada and Italy during the 2013–14 season.

Streamlining biological imports

We worked with industry to help importers of biological products provide the specific information needed for a biosecurity risk assessment. We developed new questionnaires to ensure importers provided adequate information to enable the department to make a determination on the biosecurity risk.

The questionnaires have improved importer and manufacturer understanding of biosecurity risks. Applications are assessed more quickly, leading to reduced costs and saved time for importers and manufacturers.

We also developed standard permit conditions for 11 biological commodities. The department now uses a streamlined electronic process to issue import permits for these commodities without the need for pre-arrival documentation assessment. This has reduced the amount of information importers need to provide on application and cut the turnaround time to issue permits.

Supporting the hazelnut industry

We worked with Chilean authorities, the New South Wales Government and importers to develop procedures for the safe introduction of more than 200 000 hazelnut trees into Australia. The introduction of commercial quantities of hazelnut trees will help expand the industry in Australia.

Agri Australis will plant one million hazelnut trees on two farms near Narrandera in south-western New South Wales as part of a new $70 million dollar deal with Ferrero, using trees successfully imported under the new procedures.

Faster clearance for stonefruit genetic material

We developed new post-entry quarantine tests to give Australian stonefruit growers faster access to new genetic material.

Previously, we budded imported materials on to local varieties susceptible to quarantined diseases and waited at least 24 months as they grew, to verify they were free from disease.

By using modern diagnostic techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction tests and electron microscopy, the process is more efficient, provides more reliable and accurate detection of disease and reduces the quarantine period for stonefruit tree imports that meet conditions.

Using imaging technology to spot diseases and p


We continued our collaboration with Australia's Information Communication Technology Research Centre of Excellence (NICTA), in the first of a possible series of project trials of NICTA's hyperspectral imaging technology. Trial results showed the technology can detect plants that are different from the overall population. The goal is to allow an inspector to quickly scan a consignment of plants to identify any exhibiting potential disease symptoms for further investigation.

In late 2013, we conducted another trial with the assistance of an inspector working in the Offshore Verification Inspection programme in New Zealand. We used a portable wireless digital microscope to take high-resolution images of insects found during inspections and emailed them to an entomologist for identification and advice. The process proved effective and timely, allowing officers to make decisions to clear goods more quickly than they would using conventional processes that require specimens to be sent by mail.

Ensuring and enforcing compliance

Comprehensive pathway analysis of airports, mail centres and cargo continues to inform our risk-based approach. This ensures we focus our efforts on those who need our help to comply or for those that choose not to comply and attempt to circumvent the law. We apply a rigorous verification programme across all pathways to help improve our biosecurity risk targeting.

During the year, we:

  • conducted four targeted campaigns
  • implemented a verification programme for containerised sea cargoes we do not inspect
  • applied 2519 profiles for full import declarations for commercial cargoes and 2385 profiles for self–assessed clearance non-commercial cargoes
  • received 611 Redline referrals from members of the public reporting alleged breaches
  • finalised 14 prosecutions
  • commenced 247 investigations.

We also invested in increasing our intelligence gathering and profiling capability for our own work and for our operations in partnership with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS).

For commercial seaborne cargo, there was a continued improvement in referral-to-release times, against a backdrop of moderate growth in overall referrals from ACBPS. Non-compliance has a significant negative impact on processing times. We have achieved a 32 per cent improvement on median referral-to-release times.

Targeted operations

We continued targeted operations to identify, analyse, test and eliminate non-compliance and illegal activity.

The department's Operation Hayride led to a jail sentence for a former New South Wales importer. The importer, who also managed a quarantine facility, pleaded guilty to having illegally imported more than 10 tonnes of meat products. This was a targeted operation against illegal meat imports, that could have had a devastating effect on Australia's livestock industry. The importer was charged with aggravated illegal importation, possession of illegally imported goods and failure to follow a direction from the department.

Our enforcement work at international airports continued in Brisbane, where we uncovered five bags of deliberately concealed plant cuttings, bulbs and 21 bags of seeds. This led to a conviction and fine of $7000.

Partners in law enforcement

Last year, department officers discovered more than 27 kilograms of the drug ephedrine during an inspection of a consignment of rice. In a cooperative operation with the Australian Federal Police and the ACBPS, the drugs were seized and three people were charged in Australia.

While the department plays an important and specialised biosecurity role, this outcome highlights the value of our work with other agencies in law enforcement.

Streamlining passenger declarations

Amendments to the Incoming Passenger Card removed the requirement to declare 'all food', enabling passengers to focus on declaring goods of high biosecurity concern. This has led to a reduction of approximately 100 000 in low-risk seizures and allowed biosecurity officers to target high-risk commodities such as live animals, raw meat, seeds and plant cuttings.

Auditing compliance

In 2013–14, we undertook 4368 audits of quarantine approved premises and 723 compliance agreement audits. We also conducted more than 6500 inspections of randomly selected sea cargo consignments.

Figure 8 Biosecurity compliance audits

This chart shows the number of biosecurity compliance audits conducted in 2012–13 and 2013–14:  The number of audits in Quarantine approved premises was 4200 in 2012–13 and 4368 in 2013–14.  The number of compliance agreement audits was 600 in 2012–13 and 723 in 2013–14.  The number of inspections of randomly selected sea cargo consignments was 6000 in 2012–13 and 6500 in 2013–14.   

Engaging our stakeholders

In 2013–14, we continued to engage stakeholders on a range of issues, including new initiatives, promoting awareness of biosecurity requirements and service delivery. These engagements are tracked, recorded and reported to ensure we provide timely assistance.

Figure 9 Biosecurity stakeholder meetings in 2013–14

This chart shows the percentage of meetings help with biosecurity stakeholders in 2013–14 by type:  Agents, brokerages and importers made up 28 per cent.  Quarantine approved premises made up 31 per cent.  Industry groups made up 11 per cent.  Transport and logistic operators made up 15 per cent.  Government made up 8 per cent.  The machinery/military, mining and resources sectors made up 7 per cent   

We continued to address biosecurity risks at the source by expanding the Australian Fumigation Accreditation Scheme. The cooperative programme provides surety for fumigation treatments and is operational or in the final stages of implementation in 22 countries.

We successfully negotiated with trading partners to develop the new International Cargo Cooperative Biosecurity Arrangement (ICCBA), to support international cooperation on biosecurity issues affecting the movement of cargo in trade.

The ICCBA aligns with Australia's interests in furthering engagement with our regional partners and supports our aid policy while building the governance capacity of our overseas counterparts.

We attended two meetings of the Imported Food Consultative Committee, which comprises representatives of the food and beverage importing industry, testing laboratories, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the department. The committee addressed the review of surveillance monitoring, changes to border testing, and service delivery charges and policy arrangements for the Imported Food Inspection Scheme.

Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy

We conducted a range of strategic stakeholder engagements through the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. These included public awareness measures delivered under Biosecurity Top Watch!. This initiative supports early detection and reporting of targeted risk species that can arrive through unregulated and unique risk pathways across the North and encourages compliance of biosecurity requirements in Torres Strait.

Other measures include formal engagements with more than 40 Indigenous ranger groups that deliver biosecurity monitoring services on behalf of the department.

Managing Australia's exports

Table 17 Size of the export task
Export certificates for eggs266334
Export certificates for wool10 92811 325
Export certificates for fish22 54523 076
Export certificates for meat for human consumption156 057143 725
Export certificates for dairy31 59533 644
Export certificates for skins and hides9 7419 739
Export certificates for meat by-products6 1674 806
Export certificates for plant products63 08354 810
Cat exports3 2093 135
Dog exports7 6377 885
Live cattle exports1 141 229644 469
Live sheep exports1 953 0582 040 106
Live goat exports79 69162 010

Improving export processes

Systems to help grain and seed exporters

We developed the Export Compliant Goods Storage system to provide greater flexibility in grain and seed inspections before export. The system gives exporters greater flexibility in scheduling inspections, helps reduce delays and costs resulting from inspections at the time of loading, and reduces the risks of goods being rejected just before export.

The system also facilitates trade by providing another option to ensure that goods are export-compliant before they are shipped.

More consistent plant exports documentation

In February 2014, we commenced the rollout of a National Documentation Hub, to deliver more consistent plant export certification across Australia. The hub will be the central point for enquiries on plant export requirements and export certification, and for receiving and processing the majority of plant export documentation. This will enable efficient trade and improve productivity.

Accreditation for companies providing Authorised Officers

We developed an accreditation scheme for independent employers of Australian Government Authorised Officers (AAOs), to satisfy European Union importing country requirements. This scheme maintains the same high level of post-mortem inspection delivered in export registered slaughter and boning establishments.

The department requires these independent employers to be certified against international standards to provide confidence to trading partners. The scheme opened in March 2014 and the department has already approved two independent AAO employers for export registered establishments.

Supporting market access

Table grapes to the Republic of Korea and Japan

We finalised plant quarantine import requirements for Australian table grapes to the Republic of Korea and Japan, which came into effect in December 2013 and February 2014, respectively. These new markets are expected to be worth approximately $40 million over the next four to five years. The new arrangements were a major achievement for the department and for the industry, which exports almost 60 per cent of its produce.

Lupins to India

We helped gain access to India for lupins for human consumption. This was a successful collaboration with the grains industry to provide the technical information required by Indian authorities to develop new import conditions. The agreement was a significant milestone for Australian producers, as it will assist the Australian pulse industry to continue to grow to about $450 million over the next 10 years.

Livestock to Indonesia

We worked with industry to negotiate new and revised health conditions for the export of productive heifers and feeder and slaughter cattle to Indonesia. The agreed health conditions have provided certainty and supported the ongoing and increasing trade to Indonesia.

Indonesia increased the projected number of Australian cattle to be imported for 2014 to approximately 750 000 feeder and slaughter cattle, with plans for an additional 187 000 productive heifers. This was a significant increase from 2013, when Australia exported approximately 453 000 cattle to Indonesia.

The updated conditions will improve the productivity and income of western and northern Australian cattle producers. The new conditions and the implementation of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) will continue to protect the welfare of exported Australian livestock (see Programme 1.10), and demonstrate the livestock export market can be financially viable while focusing on positive animal welfare outcomes with streamlined regulatory frameworks.

Negotiating acceptable health requirements for live animal exports

We negotiated with overseas animal health authorities to reach agreement on acceptable health requirements for the export of live animals and genetic material. Negotiations concluded during the year facilitated the export of alpaca, buffalo, camels, corals, day-old poultry, fish, goats, fertile eggs, honeybees, horses, rabbits and sheep.

We also followed up requests to our trading partners (including the European Union and the United States) for acceptance of Australia's bluetongue-free zone and bovine tuberculosis-free status.

National Residue Survey

The National Residue Survey (NRS) expanded its arrangements with Citrus Australia Limited for a market access residue monitoring programme to include exports to Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, India and Thailand.

The NRS completed its laboratory tender process for 2014–17 and in June 2014 issued contracts to analytical laboratories throughout Australia.

The NRS continued to improve its information management system to enable external users, such as sample collectors and analytical laboratories, to interact with the IT system more productively and efficiently.

Appendix 6 provides the annual report for the NRS and includes key financial information in accordance with the National Residue Survey Administration Act 1992.

More information is available on the department's website.

Scientific and economic research

Risk-return approach for imported plant products

We worked with the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis to refine the department's approach to inspecting low-risk plant product imports at the border. The Continuous Sampling Plan changes the inspection frequency for individual importers based on their recent compliance history.

For any particular import product, the department determines the initial continuous sampling plan rules to be applied at the border, based on analyses of compliance histories from past inspection data, when all consignments were inspected.

The department has implemented the approach at the border on five plant product pathways, and is analysing more. This contributes directly to the department's biosecurity reform agenda by providing more efficient inspection regimes for low-risk pathways.


Developing new biosecurity legislation

We developed new biosecurity legislation to replace the Quarantine Act 1908 and improve Australia's biosecurity system. The Biosecurity Bill 2012 and the Inspector-General of Biosecurity Bill 2012 were introduced into the Parliament in November 2012 and referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. Both Bills lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued in August 2013.

The department's target for this key performance indicator was 'partially met' in 2013–2014.

In July 2014, the Government announced it would bring forward the biosecurity legislation. The legislation is scheduled to be introduced in the Parliament’s 2014 spring sitting.

Managing imports

Post-entry quarantine

In December 2013, the department closed its Byford post-entry quarantine facility in Western Australia, because of an ongoing fire risk. Despite the department's work to mitigate this risk, bush fires continued to pose an unacceptably high-risk to both human and animal safety.

Emergency evacuations of staff were required on a number of occasions, forcing them to abandon animals to heightened risk. While the facility was not damaged at any stage, this was distressing to all concerned. On one occasion when it was possible to also evacuate all animals this was achieved, but it was a difficult undertaking and posed challenges in managing potential biosecurity risks.

All cats and dogs imported from countries other than New Zealand now go through the Eastern Creek and Spotswood post-entry quarantine facilities. The closure of the Byford facility has resulted in savings of approximately $1.2 million.

Reviewing the import cost-recovery framework

The department is comprehensively reviewing its import cost-recovery framework to align with modernising its service delivery and risk-based approach to safeguarding Australia. We expect to implement the new framework, informed by client and stakeholder views, in 2015–16.

Screening mail in the e-commerce age

The continued expansion of international e-commerce and the associated growth in international mail consignments presents a significant challenge in maintaining biosecurity through the mail pathway. The challenge requires a response across the biosecurity continuum. We are working with e-businesses to establish selling controls, applying targeted screening of mail at the border and increasing biosecurity awareness among Australia's online shoppers.

Biosecurity risk analysis

We carry out an annual work programme of animal and plant biosecurity risk analyses. The work programme considers risks to animal and plant health, the environment and industries in Australia, including the pest and health status of the country of origin, likelihood and consequences of a pest or disease incursion, the intended end use of the product, the type and extent of processing and the anticipated volume of trade.

The availability of resources (including staff with relevant expertise) is a major factor in the department's capacity to complete biosecurity risk analyses.

Ornamental fish import reforms

We continued to focus on managing the biosecurity risks associated with ornamental fish imports by placing greater emphasis on managing the biosecurity risks offshore and introducing an on-arrival fish health monitoring programme.

This allows the department to monitor the performance of overseas authorities and their export establishments, and to ensure health requirements for ornamental fish imported to Australia are met.

We commenced trials of the monitoring programme in 2013, initially testing the operational feasibility of sampling fish on arrival in Australia. We are working closely with industry to ensure any changes are workable and that the effect on importers, as well as the ornamental fish trade in Australia, is kept to a minimum.

These arrangements enable us to be more responsive to emerging disease issues and to work closely with trading partners to manage biosecurity risks effectively.

Managing exports

Table grape exports to China

At the end of the 2013 export season, China suspended market access for Australian table grapes, because of a high proportion of unacceptable consignments during the season. We worked intensively with industry to develop upgraded training of crop monitors and growers, implement pre-inspection procedures to ensure export eligibility, and increase awareness of changes to the consequences of non-compliance.

The department audited all growers and packhouses associated with the export pathway.

Following further negotiations, China agreed to a revised protocol in February 2014, and Chinese inspectors conducted a review and audit in March 2014. Our effort saw trade resume, but a continuing industry focus on quality and compliance will be needed to secure this important market.

Biotoxin management in fisheries

We are working closely with state and territory health and fisheries agencies to address the emerging issue of biotoxins in Australian fisheries. Biotoxins can accumulate in marine animals that feed on harmful algal blooms, the incidence of which is increasing worldwide. This could have serious implications if biotoxins affect Australian export commodities.

We are participating in biotoxin management steering committees to manage research projects into abalone and rock lobster biotoxins. If a bloom occurs in area where molluscs and crustaceans are harvested for human consumption, the department, in cooperation with the relevant state or territory authorities, will prevent harvesting from the affected area.

Increased requirements for residue testing

Increased import testing requirements from trading partners and the enhanced proficiency of respective government analytical laboratories have created new challenges for the National Residue Survey. During the past two years, the NRS has addressed these issues by comparing its analytical capacity and proficiency with overseas national monitoring programmes.

NRS directors continue to attend international residue conferences and workshops to meet overseas counterparts and analytical chemists to discuss current analytical techniques and management of national monitoring programmes.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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