Programme 2.2 Plant and animal health

​​Programme objective

  • support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment fro m 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 2013-14 was to:
    • improve the preparedness of governments, industry and the community to quickly and effectively respond to pest and disease incursions
    • enhance Australia's biosecurity interests nationally and internationally to maintain Australia's current pest and disease free status.

Programme description

Our biosecurity programme worked to keep Australia free from some of the world's major agricultural and aquatic pests and diseases, providing a trading advantage and continuing access to overseas markets. We protected Australia's plant and animal health through education and awareness to prevent incursions, worked to ensure robust response plans were in place if outbreaks occurred and participated in responses to incursions in accordance with our obligations under the national biosecurity system.

More information is available on the department's website.

Key performance indicators

Table 18 Programme 2.2—Plant and animal health—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator2013–14 targetPerformance
Responses to pest and disease incursions and outbreaks are managed according to relevant frameworks100%MetMetMet
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 utilisedMetMet-
Representation of Australia's interests at relevant standard setting fora26 meetingsMetMet-
AUSVETPLAN, AQUAVETPLAN, EMPPLAN and PLANTPLAN reflect current science of emergency responses to plant and animal pests and diseasesAll plans reflect current scienceMetMetMet
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-


Supporting a national approach to biosecurity

We continued to work with the states and territories to implement the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB). This included developing a national framework for funding and managing collaborative surveillance and diagnostic activities.

We also worked to establish consistent national minimum data standards for emergency responses in the animal, plant, marine, aquatic animal, weed and vertebrate pest sectors. These standards, once agreed, will provide a foundation for sharing biosecurity information that is consistent and accurate across all jurisdictions.

ABARES helped develop the national minimum data standards for weeds, vertebrate pests and marine pests. A separate programme will develop national minimum data standards for biosecurity surveillance.

We engaged CSIRO to develop a national environment and community biosecurity research, development and extension strategy, which will combine with the plant and animal biosecurity strategies to form the basis for a national biosecurity research, development and extension framework.

We reviewed our national critical incident response plan to update our arrangements for responding to agricultural incidents, incorporating best practice systems and the experience from previous response and exercise activities. The new plan ensures we use the same emergency management terminology as the states and territories and industry, so there is clear communication when responding to an incident.

Plant health

Building national plant health policy

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

  • finishing the review of interstate trading processes, to help plant health managers support market access reforms
  • completing Australia's fruit fly code of practice
  • implementing the findings from the report 'Benefit-cost analysis of the long-term containment strategy for exotic fruit flies in the Torres Strait'
  • developing a broader approach to pest management in Torres Strait.

We started work on a national approach to risk analysis and investigated a framework to implement the principle of shared responsibility for plant health. This is a significant issue for the plant health sector because of the size of the sector and diversity of industry groups.

The department received the first application under its new process for importing a live culture of a high priority pest. Under this process, the department engages governments and industry to balance the research and preparedness benefits of a proposed import against the risks it poses. We made a number of administrative improvements as a result of the first use of the process.

Implementing national plant health diagnostics

We worked with state and territory governments on a national strategy to build diagnostic capability and capacity in plant health. As part of our biosecurity reform programme we funded the second Annual Diagnosticians Workshop. The workshops deliver priority training at a national level and improve core skills across agencies and organisations involved in plant biosecurity diagnostics.

We also funded a laboratory residential programme that provides high-level training for individual diagnosticians, and a proficiency testing programme to provide quality assurance of the capability and expertise of individual laboratories.

Plant pest surveillance

We continued the national plant pest surveillance programme to improve Australia's capacity for early detection of a range of pests. This included undertaking National Sentinel Hive surveys to detect honeybee parasites such as varroa mite and exotic bees. The department also began implementing the national plant biosecurity surveillance strategy, including developing a framework to identify priority plant pests and high-risk areas based on pest-risk analysis.

We developed nationally agreed data standards for surveillance, to support more consistent and accurate analysis and reporting. These standards will ensure our surveillance effort is aligned with national and international standards and provide confidence to make official claims about Australia's pest-free status.

Plant Health Australia

We provided funding to Plant Health Australia to develop the National Bee Pest Surveillance Programme, a national plant biosecurity portal and a virtual surveillance coordination centre. These projects built on previous initiatives to strengthen Australia's plant health system. We also provided a grant to the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council to help it achieve its vision for a profitable and sustainable honey bee and pollination industry supported by an effective biosecurity system.

Animal health

Preparing for foot-and-mouth disease–Exercise Odysseus

We worked with government agencies, Animal Health Australia and livestock industry organisations to coordinate a series of discussion exercises and field-based activities in 2014.

Exercise Odysseus is aimed at enhancing national preparedness to implement a national livestock standstill in response to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The programme will assess government and industry arrangements, decision-making, communication and coordination of a livestock standstill.

The department started planning its own exercise under Exercise Odysseus. This exercise will be run in 2014-15 and will enhance our ability to prepare for, and respond to, a large agricultural biosecurity emergency.

Establishing Wildlife Health Australia

We delivered funding of $4.9 million over five years for the Australian Wildlife Health Network and began the process to establish the organisation as a separate legal entity, independent of the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, which was the previous host agency.

The new entity, Wildlife Health Australia Incorporated, was established in November 2013 and was expected to be fully operational by the beginning of 2014–15. The new organisation will foster strategic development to meet increasing national requirements for wild animal surveillance, health information and technical expertise to support agricultural industries.

National biofouling guidelines

We continued work on voluntary national biofouling management guidelines for vessels operating in Australian waters. The guidelines provide practical maintenance recommendations to help vessel operators manage the level of biofouling on their vessels. We have produced five guidelines for recreational, commercial fishing, commercial vessel, non-trading vessel, and petroleum production and exploration vessels.

We published new guidelines for the aquaculture industry, to address a significant gap in the national system to prevent and manage marine pest incursions.

Rapid response manuals for marine pest incursions

We are finalising a generic rapid response manual and four species-specific manuals for marine pests. The manuals provide control and eradication principles, and the species-specific manuals will be the authoritative Australian references for the control and eradication of those pests. The manuals are designed to help authorities make informed decisions to control outbreaks of marine pests in Australian waters.

Managing major pest and disease incidents

National emergency response management

In 2013-14, the department committed to the Commonwealth's financial contribution to a national cost-shared response under the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) to eradicate red imported fire ant in Yarwun, Queensland.

We also committed funding to a national cost-shared response under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed, for eradicating banana freckle in the Northern Territory, and under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement for eradicating highly pathogenic avian influenza in New South Wales.

The national management group considered ongoing cost-shared responses for eradication of electric ant, chestnut blight, four tropical weeds, red imported fire ant and highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Eradicating cocoa pod borer in Australia

In a world first, Australia declared cocoa pod borer officially eradicated in January 2014, through a partnership between the department and state and territory governments.

After a two-year eradication programme and more than a year of surveillance, the Queensland Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry has not detected this serious pest. Australian cocoa producers can be relieved that this major insect pest has been eliminated from our shores.

Eradicating highly pathogenic avian influenza

In October 2013, we participated in the national response to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in New South Wales. NSW authorities implemented comprehensive movement restrictions on poultry and related risk products, conducted the humane destruction and safe disposal of approximately 490 000 chickens and eggs on two infected properties, and disinfected and decontaminated the properties.

In February 2014, after the required three-month waiting period, Australia again declared it was free of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry.

The total cost of responding to the outbreak is estimated to be approximately $5 million. This cost will be shared between the Australian, state and territory governments and industry under conditions prescribed in the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement.

Working to eradicate red imported fire ant

Since 2001, the Australian, state and territory governments have invested a total of $281 million towards eradicating red imported fire ant from southeast Queensland. The Commonwealth provided $7.5 million in 2013-14 as part of its commitment to the eradication programme.

An incursion of fire ants was detected in the Yarwun area of Gladstone. A response was agreed under NEBRA, in which the Commonwealth committed $293 190 towards eradicating this pest.

Working to eradicate browsing ant

In April 2013, the exotic ant species Lepisiota frauenfeldi, or browsing ant, was found at the Perth airport. We worked with the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the West Australian Department of Agriculture and Food to eradicate the infestation.

In January 2014, officers treated the infested area with insecticide. We will conduct periodic surveillance in the area to detect and destroy any surviving browsing ants. Eradication can be declared after two complete years have elapsed with no evidence of surviving colonies.

International engagement

Trans-Tasman foot-and-mouth disease action plan

We signed a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries for high-level collaboration to improve the preparedness of both Australia and New Zealand for foot-and-mouth disease.

The trans-Tasman action plan includes sharing intelligence on risk, collaborating on training opportunities (such as real-time training for veterinarians in Nepal), sharing skills in emergency animal disease outbreaks and influencing international policy in the area of disease management.

International plant health standards

Through the Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer (ACPPO), Australia strongly engaged in the International Plant Protection Convention and its governing body, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, to ensure Australia's plant health interests are best represented.

Australia was nominated to host an expert drafting group for the international movement of grain, and gained support for improving the implementation of international phytosanitary standards. Regionally, Australia will lead further work to implement the surveillance standard through collaboration with the Asia and Pacific Plant Protection Commission. Australia also facilitated an agreement to widen the scope of phytosanitary treatments, so these are no longer restricted to particular treatments on specific hosts.

This work will deliver real benefits to Australian exporters by enabling more flexible trade conditions.

Supporting market access

We worked on a more strategic approach in Australia's pursuit of technical market access for plant-based products. This included a significant effort and funding support to encourage the development of evidence-based export strategies as part of the selection of priorities for negotiation with potential trading partners.

This has encouraged early collaboration between horticultural industries and the states and the Northern Territory on new, reinstated or improved market access for Australian cherries, table grapes and summer fruit.

International animal health standards

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer (ACVO) is Australia's delegate to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the international standards-setting body for animal health.

The ACVO is a member of the OIE Council, which manages business on behalf of member countries between the annual OIE general sessions. Under the influence of the ACVO, the work of the council has become more transparent and has been guided by greater consultation with member countries.

The ACVO is also an active member of the OIE World Animal Health and Welfare Fund's management committee. Australia's contributions to the fund have supported foot-and-mouth disease control, strengthening veterinary services in our region and animal welfare training in a number of Australia's markets.

Through our membership of the OIE's Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission and the Permanent Working Group on Animal Welfare we have been able to influence the development of animal welfare standards and aquatic animal health standards at the earliest possible stage.

A highlight in 2013–14 was the achievement of official OIE recognition that Australia is historically free of peste des petits ruminants. Official recognition of disease status facilitates market access for Australian animal commodities.

Scientific and economic research

Assessing the effect of pest and disease incursion

ABARES completed cost-benefit analyses for foot-and-mouth disease, Siam weed, varroa destructor, Torres Strait fruit fly, black-striped mussel and red imported fire ant. It provided all six case studies to the National Biosecurity Committee.

The studies considered the biophysical, economic and, for foot-and-mouth disease, social effects of the pests and disease to Australia's agricultural industries, the economy, the environment and regional communities. The work is a significant investment in capacity-building and provides the foundation for ABARES to analyse the effects of future incursions as they arise.

Rabies risk assessment for northern Australia and our neighbours

We were part of a collaborative Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research project, led by the University of Sydney, to define risk pathways for the spread of rabies in eastern Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and northern Australia. The project assessed the risk of rabies spread via one hypothetical pathway, identified data gaps in the risk assessment of regional rabies spread and evaluated rabies surveillance methods.

ABARES identified potential spread pathways in eastern Indonesia. The risk assessment tool and the information generated may assist a variety of users, from international agencies responsible for animal disease spread across borders to local communities affected by rabies.


Reduction in capability and capacity

Continued reductions in resourcing across state and territory governments for plant health scientific and diagnostics areas could affect management of biosecurity into the future.

Gaps in existing cost-sharing arrangements, insufficient mechanisms to involve pasture-dependent industries, and limits to the application of the Emergency Plant Pest Response and the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement have the potential to delay responses to emergency plant pests. We are working with our biosecurity partners to address these gaps, and are continually looking for opportunities to improve the way we respond to pests.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increasingly critical global issue affecting public health and animal production, welfare and biosecurity. Strains of bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics are emerging, with few new antibiotics entering the market.

The emergence of most AMR is the result of the use of antibiotics in humans. However, AMR has also emerged from the use of antibiotics in animals. In some cases, resistant bacteria have transferred from animals to humans, causing adverse health effects. Many countries are now establishing programmes to contain and manage AMR risks.

Our secretary and his counterpart from the Department of Health are leading a steering group to oversee the development and implementation of a national AMR strategy. The steering group expects to release a discussion paper for consultation in 2014-15. The departments are also overseeing the development of reports on options for AMR surveillance and antibiotic usage monitoring in Australia. These reports will assist in informing future activities under the strategy.

Fruit fly management arrangements

Fruit flies are significant pests that affect horticultural production in most states and territories of Australia. Recent periods of relatively high rainfall in Australia's fruit fly pest-free areas have made conditions more suitable for the establishment of fruit flies. Coupled with the escalating costs of monitoring, eradication and public awareness this has meant that Australia's return on the investment is diminishing.

Alternative management systems for controlling endemic populations in other areas are also needed, including changes required after revised label uses were implemented for a number of pesticides.

The work of the National Fruit Fly Advisory Committee will be important in improving coordination and finding solutions to these issues. We are continuing work to address the challenges and to ensure parties are committed, both financially and technically, to working through pest management changes.

The department also works to secure and improve market access and ensure any concerns raised by trading partners can be addressed

Red witchweed in Queensland

The presence of red witchweed was confirmed in sugar cane at Habana in Queensland in July 2013. Red witchweed is a parasitic plant. Its hosts include sugarcane, sorghum, maize, and rice, and to a lesser extent wheat, barley and millet; as well as native and introduced pasture grasses. Some of Australia's trading partners have import restrictions on seed and grain originating from countries with red witchweed.

Red witchweed is neither a disease nor an invertebrate affecting agricultural production, nor a pest affecting the natural environment. No existing national cost-sharing arrangement covers its eradication. We are helping Queensland work with other jurisdictions and industry to develop a cost-shared arrangement to eradicate red witchweed.

Emerging aquatic animal diseases

Emerging infectious diseases continue to challenge Australia's aquaculture and fisheries industries. This is because of rapid global growth in aquaculture production, changes in production techniques, increased trade in aquatic animals and their products, domestication of new species and farming of species in new locations.

Aquatic animal diseases emerging in Australia include abalone viral ganglioneuritis, oyster oedema disease and Pacific oyster mortality syndrome. Government and industry have invested considerable resources to mitigate their effect.

AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 will be Australia's third national strategic plan for aquatic animal health. We are coordinating its development in cooperation with industry and the state and territory governments. AQUAPLAN 2014-2019 will strengthen existing systems to address emerging diseases.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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