Programme 2.1: Biosecurity and export services

​Programme objective

This programme’s objective in 2014–15 was to:

  • support access to overseas markets and protect the economy and the environment from the impacts of unwanted exotic 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 the year was to:
    • strengthen Australia’s biosecurity and export certification systems across the continuum
    • deliver efficient, effective and appropriately funded biosecurity and export certification services
    • improve partnerships to deliver better biosecurity outcomes.

Programme description

We deliver biosecurity services and are 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 is underpinned by the key principles of:

  • implementing a risk-based approach to biosecurity management
  • managing biosecurity risk across the continuum—offshore, at the border, and onshore
  • strengthening partnerships with stakeholders
  • being intelligence-led and evidence-based
  • being supported by modern legislation, technology, and funding and business systems.​​​
Table 15 Programme 2.1—Biosecurity and export services—key performance indicators
Key performance indicator2014–15 targetPerformance
2014–15 ​​​2013–14 ​​​2012–13
Implementation of risk-based biosecurity intervention for sea cargo, air cargo vessels, international passengers and mailMonitor and review change projectsMetMetMet
Changes to biosecurity cost-recovery arrangements developed and implemented Implementation of revised Cost Recovery Implementation Statements aPartially met
Engage with industry to design and implement reforms2 industry meetings Design and implement reformsMetMet
Transition to revised arrangements for a single post-entry quarantine stationCommence early commissioning of new facility Commence transition implementationMetMet
Engage with state and territory governments on biosecurity issues2 meetingsMetMetMet
Markets lost as a consequence of failed departmental certification servicesNilMetMetMet
Export consignments rejected because of failure to meet export certification requirementsLess than 1%MetMetMet
Proportion of import risk analyses (IRAs) conducted in accordance with regulations100%MetMetMet
Proportion of expanded IRAs supported by the Eminent Scientists Group100% cN/AN/AN/A
Develop closer partnerships with other agencies to deliver better biosecurity outcomesReview partneringMetMetMet
Underpinning research, advice, forecast, projects, products and data services meet stakeholder expectations, and are delivered within agreed timelines 85% bMetMetMet
a New performance indicator. b Client satisfaction as measured in an annual survey of ABARES clients. c No expanded import risk analyses were conducted in 2014–15. 


Delivering a modern biosecurity system

Introducing new biosecurity laws

In July 2014, the minister announced the government’s intention to introduce the Biosecurity Bill 2014 into Parliament. The legislation was passed in May 2015 and will take effect from 16 June 2016.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 will reduce red tape for businesses that interact regularly with the biosecurity system. It will reduce compliance costs by $6.9 million a year through clearer, easier to use legislation and the improved processes it will enabl​e. The Act will also give the Commonwealth powers to manage a broader range of biosecurity risks and to continue to strengthen partnerships with industries and state and territory governments.

The new Act represents the culmination of six years of work by the department to replace the century-old Quarantine Act 1908 with modern laws to support a modern biosecurity system.

National biosecurity reform

The National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) is the peak government advisory body for national biosecurity policy issues. The committee met four times in 2014–15 to discuss progress on key areas of national biosecurity reform and the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB).

The committee reviewed the implementation of the IGAB since it came into effect in 2012 and identified six national priority reform areas for future work:

  • decision-making and investment
  • emergency preparedness and response
  • management of established pests and diseases
  • surveillance and diagnostics
  • information management
  • communications and engagement.

The committee also adopted principles for national significance and national interest to ensure consistency in managing decisions about biosecurity issues. This will support activities in surveillance, diagnostics and in managing established pests and diseases of national significance.

The NBC is considering new approaches to investment in biosecurity and is working with industry to look at the health of the national biosecurity system. The committee has developed a National Biosecurity Investment Portfolio Model under the IGAB and is investigating new funding arrangements for eradication programmes that would seek contributions from risk creators and beneficiaries. The committee is also developing new national arrangements for managing exotic weed incursions.

Sectoral committees for animal health, invasive plants and animals, marine pests and plant health are developing strategies for surveillance and diagnostics, and for managing established pests and diseases. The strategies will include new approaches including targeted roundtable meetings to engage community and environmental stakeholders.

Improving cost-recovery

We are redesigning our cost-recovery fees and levies for export certification and biosecurity services. Our cost-recovery strategy looks to deliver efficiencies by addressing inequality, reducing cross-subsidisation, driving down costs and simplifying fees and levies.

The redesigned arrangements are underpinned by an improved and standardised approach to the costing and charging of services. We aim to improve the transparency and consistency in how fees and levies are applied so that clients can be confident in the department’s charging arrangements.

We have consulted more than 240 organisations across import and export activities on the redesign. Consultation will continue to define the new fees and levies, with the revised arrangements expected to come into effect in late 2015.

The department’s target for this key performance indicator was ‘partially met’ in 2014–15.

Building the new post-entry quarantine facility

Work progressed toward completion of the new post-entry quarantine facility in Mickleham, Victoria. The new facility will replace the Commonwealth’s quarantine operations at four existing facilities located in three states.​

The first stage of operations at Mickleham will commence in late 2015, catering for imported bees, cats, dogs, horses and plants. The first stage has been designed to provide concurrent capacity for six consignments of bees, 120 cats, 226 dogs and 80 horses. The plant compound will provide 2000 square metres of greenhouses, a 1200 square metre shadehouse, a diagnostic laboratory and horticultural support facilities.

Site-wide services such as roads and support buildings, including administration, storage and utilities infrastructure have also been delivered in the first stage.

Designs for the second stage of construction have been finalised. The second stage will include avian and ruminant compounds, and expand the facility’s capacity to 240 cats and 400 dogs. Construction will commence in October 2015 and is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Making the transition to the new facility

We continue to prepare for the transition of operations from the four existing post-entry quarantine facilities into the consolidated facility. This included planning and implementing the first stages of closure at the four facilities, procuring equipment and services for the new facility and advising stakeholders on the progress of these arrangements.

In February 2015, we began commissioning the new facility, using domestically sourced animals and plants. This will ensure it meets the department’s high standards for containing biosecurity risks and diagnosing diseases.

Managing Australia’s imports

Each year we process millions of arriving passengers and mail items, cargo consignments and animals sent to Australia. Table 16 shows the scale of our biosecurity work at the border.

This year, the table also includes additional information on compliance rates for air passenger and international mail. The ‘compliance rate’ estimates the proportion of arriving air passengers and international mail items that comply with Department of Agriculture requirements on entry into the Australian community. This is a statistical estimate that was developed in collaboration with the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis.

Table 16 Size of the import task
Item2014–15 2013–142012–13
International passenger clearances a17 907 00017 167 00016 200 000
Seizures of items from air passengers 257 682257 425247 054
Post-intervention compliance—air passengers 98.84%
Sea passenger and crew clearances600 061513 473794 122
Seizures of items from sea passengers3 5143 5825 124
International mail articles (total volume) a146 100 000 b173 170 000186 580 000
Seizures of mail items 24 21024 09627 608
Post-intervention compliance—mail 99.91%
Airports where we have staff888
International mail facilities where we have staff444
Import permit applications received21 69223 49322 672
Import permits issued17 24318 70819 125
Shipping pratique visits—first ports 18 06017 46116 300
Country Action List (CAL) sea container inspections (first port)57 42345 61746 482
Commercial consignments referred to the department c450 000


440 000

Air freight consignments (under $1000)611 349621 606645 000
Live animal imports processed at government post-entry quarantine facilities dcats dogs horses avians queen bees alpacas1 552
3 693 389
avians queen bees ruminants
1 573
3 525 444
cats dogs horses avians 1 815 3 761 495 447
Hatching eggs processed at government post-entry quarantine facilities4 225 e21 74522 812

a Rounded to the nearest thousand. b Declining mail volumes predominantly letter class and other articles, attributed to increased use of electronic mail and fluctuations in the Australian dollar. c Shown to two significant figures and provided as additional reporting. d Additional information on imports of queen bees and ruminants not reported in 2012–13. e Reduction in hatching eggs due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreaks in the northern hemisphere.

Improving our import processes

Risk-return for imported plant products

The Compliance-Based Inspection Scheme (CBIS) is one of our showcase risk-return activities. It sets the frequency of department inspections, based on an importer’s history of compliance. The CBIS rewards compliance by reducing the number of inspections for low-risk pathways. This results in cost savings for importers and the department.

We added three new low-risk commodities to the CBIS in 2014–15, bringing the total to eight. A further nine commodities are likely to be added to the scheme by the end of 2015.

We worked with the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) to analyse incentives to encourage importers to reduce contamination in their consignments. This work will be used to improve risk-based compliance of plant product pathways and to support more effective communication of the initiative.

Cutting red tape

The department’s new off-shore biosecurity procedures for vehicles produced a 97 per cent fall in seed-contamination on vehicles from Thailand between December 2013 and December 2014. This reduced the need for on-shore vehicle treatments.

We implemented improved clearance procedures for new over-sized tyres to manage risk material immediately on arrival. This change reduced the wharf turnaround time for importers from 28 to four days. This represents a considerable saving, estimated at $900 ​000 per year, for industry.

We also rationalised document requirements for containerised tyres, which enabled the increased use of automated entry processing. This measure has saved industry an estimated $3.2 million in regulatory costs.

Building trusted trader compliance

We commenced work on a compliance arrangements framework to help develop and maintain our arrangements with industries and other governments. The framework will provide a mechanism to manage biosecurity risk more effectively and consistently through smarter regulation and shared responsibility.

As part of the framework we are reviewing the requirement for desk and site audits to be part of the assessment of import supply chains to develop ‘trusted trader’ arrangements.

We will use the proposed change as a case study in reducing the number of cargo consignments inspected on arrival in Australia.

Improving Quarantine Approved Premises policies

We reviewed the department’s Quarantine Approved Premises (QAP) General Policies, which were introduced in 2010 to define the approach to QAP compliance monitoring. We revised the policies after analysing compliance data and consulting industry. The updated policies reduce the number of QAP audits and set lower audit rates in the system to recognise compliance.

The review has delivered a more streamlined compliance approach while ensuring the department continues to effectively manage biosecurity risk.

New horse quarantine approved premises

In February 2015, we approved a new QAP for horses at Canterbury Park, New South Wales. The new facility is the second QAP for horses in Australia and is operated by Racing NSW. This facility allows racehorses to continue to train in post-entry quarantine while the biosecurity risk is being managed. The first intake included racehorses imported from Hong Kong and Japan for the Autumn Racing Carnival.

Managing import risk

Managing risks offshore

Biosecurity risks are often best managed before they arrive in Australia and we apply various measures to manage risks offshore. During 2014–15, we undertook more than 30 audits and verification activities in other countries. These included assessments of offshore stock feed manufacturing facilities and pathways and fruit and vegetable import pathways, and reviews of departmental processes and systems.

Excellence in risk management

Our Australian Fumigation Accreditation Scheme received recognition at the 2014 Comcover Awards for Excellence in Risk Management. The scheme operates through bilateral arrangements with overseas government quarantine agencies (OGA) designed to improve the effectiveness of methyl bromide fumigation of consignments bound for Australia. We provide training to offshore fumigators, and OGA officers are trained to provide ongoing compliance management of the approved fumigators.

The department received an honourable mention in the risk initiative category of the awards for its work on the scheme.

Reviewing import risk analysis

We reviewed Australia’s import risk analysis (IRA) process in line with the government’s commitment to ensure robust arrangements are in place to minimise the risk of exotic pest and disease incursions into Australia. The review included extensive consultation with a variety of industries and sectors from July to October 2014.

The government is considering the review’s recommendations for improvements to parts of the IRA process.

Assessing import risk

In September 2014, we finalised an IRA for freshwater ornamental finfish with respect to gourami iridovirus and related viruses. We are continuing to work with importing countries to improve their laboratory and surveillance capabilities for megalocytiviruses.

We plan to fully implement the revised import policy in March 2016. This will include expanding the on-arrival surveillance programme to identify biosecurity risk pathways for these viruses.

We also finalised two policy reviews. Importers and consumers will benefit from a review of gamma irradiation as a treatment for pathogens because lower irradiation doses will be allowed in some circumstances where we can ensure biosecurity risks remain acceptably low.

The findings of the review of the policy for Avian paramyxovirus types 2 and 3 in hatching eggs will facilitate trade and ensure we manage the biosecurity risk to an acceptable level.

We updated guidelines for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) to take into account the latest information about biosecurity risks for animal products. The guidelines cover the approach used to recognise the disease status of trading partners and the response to outbreaks in trading partner countries.

We also reviewed biosecurity risks associated with ornamental game trophies, zoo rhinoceroses and Special Air Service working dogs returning from short-term assignments to areas of conflict in the Middle East.

We are reviewing import conditions for vegetable seeds and tissue cultures, in response to emerging risks associated with seed-borne viruses. A priority is reassessing import conditions for plants in the carrot and cucumber families.

New import protocols

We developed and implemented import conditions for new commodities including ginger from Fiji, plums from the United States, salacca from Indonesia and table grapes from the Republic of Korea. The conditions are based on analysis of the biosecurity risk associated with importing these products into Australia.

We also implemented revised import conditions including new veterinary health certification to facilitate the movement of horses from approved countries into Australia.

We are reviewing the first year of ginger imports from Fiji to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures applied to this commodity.

Irradiated lychees from Vietnam

Vietnam sought market access for irradiated lychees following the release of the department’s irradiation policy in 2013. Irradiation is a safe and effective way of treating biosecurity risks and is used routinely for Australian exports, but Australia has not yet implemented any import protocols for fruit treated in this way.

We worked with the Vietnamese agricultural authority to put in place a system for irradiating lychees for importation to Australia. Imports will commence in 2015.

Biosecurity at the border

Safeguarding human health

Ebola screening

We implemented increased human health protection measures for arriving passengers and crew, following advice from the Department of Health on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Measures included identifying higher risk passengers ahead of flights, using Travel History Cards, revising pre-arrival traveller announcements, health screening at the border and referring travellers to appropriate state health authorities for assessment if required.

These measures complemented existing human health screening controls, including documentary checks on passengers arriving from countries known to have yellow fever, and preliminary health assessments of travellers who were unwell.

Exotic mosquitoes

The department took urgent action to respond to the detection of exotic mosquitoes at three international airports. Treatments included using fogging in airport infrastructure to knock down any insects, residual surface spraying in airside areas, and treating standing water, drains and other potential breeding sites.

The department also introduced additional on-arrival hold spraying for aircraft from suspected high-risk ports to reduce the likelihood of exotic mosquito arrivals.

We are working with the Department of Health to continue pathway analysis. We have also implemented enhanced surveillance and increased trapping measures to ensure the early detection of any further exotic mosquito arrivals.

Pest detections

Timber pallets

In May 2014, we were informed possible biosecurity pests had been found in a timber pallet. Our investigations identified pests including Asian longhorn, Japanese sawyer and brown mulberry beetles. Our entomologists also found nematodes in some of the adult Japanese sawyer beetles.

The pallets had arrived from China. They were stamped as having been treated in accordance with the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures no. 15 (ISPM 15). If the pallets had been treated in accordance with ISPM 15, the beetles would have died following contact with the pallets.

We took immediate action to identify all potentially affected pallets and identified approximately 23 ​000 pallets. By October 2014, all pallets had been contained and treated in accordance with approved biosecurity treatment processes, which included incineration and burial at a depth of no less than two metres.

We also contacted Chinese authorities to raise concerns about the efficacy of ISPM 15 treatments performed in China.

Stink bugs

In December 2014, we responded to significant infestations of brown marmorated stink bugs on and in boats, trucks and vehicles arriving as break-bulk cargo on vessels from the United States. We implemented emergency biosecurity measures at all Australian ports.

In January 2015, we implemented new import requirements for mandatory offshore pre-treatment of break-bulk and containerised machinery and vehicle cargo sourced and/or shipped from the United States.

New international airports

As the number of international airports continues to grow, demand on government to provide border agency services is increasing.

The government announced funding in the 2015 Federal Budget to provide biosecurity services for international flights to the Townsville and Sunshine Coast airports from 2015–16. Other airports that have indicated their aspirations to attract international services include Avalon, Canberra, Newcastle, Port Hedland and Toowoomba.

Managing Australia’s exports

Table 17 Size of the export task
Item a2014–15 b2013–142012–13
Export certificates for eggs408266334
Export certificates for wool12 04410 92811 325
Export certificates for fish22 73822 54523 076
Export certificates for meat for human consumption174 706156 057143 725
Export certificates for dairy31 74431 59533 644
Export certificates for skins and hides9 7609 7419 739
Export certificates for meat by-products9 1646 1674 806
Export certificates for grains and horticulture produce68 32563 08354 810
Cat exports3 7263 2093 135
Dog exports8 2997 6377 885
Live cattle exports1 356 1621 141 229644 469
Live sheep exports2 135 5501 953 0582 040 106
Live goat exports88 89779 69162 010

a Includes electronic and manually generated certificates. b In 2014–15, the number of certificates issued and live animals exported increased for all commodity categories.

Improving our export processes

Assisting small exporters

The government introduced a $15 million package in the 2014–15 budget to help small exporters. The package included:

  • a rebate for eligible small exporters in 2014–15 to assist with export registration charges
  • a review of export fees and charges for each export sector
  • funding for projects to improve market access for small exporters.

The rebate was available to eligible export-registered establishments and covered up to 50 per cent of export registration charges, to a maximum amount of $5000. We processed and approved more than 650 rebate applications from eligible businesses in the egg, dairy, fish, grain, horticulture and meat sectors.

Certification reforms exceed expectations

We use the Plant Export Authorised Officer model as an alternative service delivery option for Australia’s plant export industries. Industry employees are trained, assessed and authorised to conduct phytosanitary inspections on behalf of the department. Plant export industries can use authorised officers employed by the department or industry.

Since introducing the model in August 2011, we have received more than 2100 industry-authorised officer applications. This has significantly exceeded the original estimate of 1800.

Our plant export assessors have delivered 2700 training sessions and 2381 assessments to industry-authorised officers. Across Australia, 948 appointed industry-authorised officers are conducting plant export inspections.

Cutting red tape

Livestock exports

We reviewed and simplified the administration of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) in consultation with industry, to reduce costs for exporters and the department while meeting animal welfare objectives.

Improvements included separating ESCAS from individual consignment approvals to focus the application system on managing risk rather than completing paperwork. We introduced a risk-based approach to auditing ESCAS facilities that recognises and rewards compliance while increasing the scrutiny of higher-risk facilities.

We also consolidated and improved the auditor checklist used to assess a facility’s compliance with international animal welfare standards. The changes will streamline the process for auditors and result in more consistent assessments of facilities and supply chains.

These changes improve the competitiveness of Australia’s livestock export industry and improve farm-gate returns for producers, and continue to protect the welfare of livestock.

Meat exports

We developed a new audit policy to provide assurance to the department, industry and importing countries that Australia’s export meat inspection system delivers safe products. The policy has also reduced the regulatory requirements for compliant exporters by cutting the frequency of audits from every two months to twice a year.

The Meat Export Verification System (MEVS) supports the new policy. It outlines the verification and audit activities conducted by the department’s on-plant staff. MEVS replaced the existing on-plant management system and has reduced the frequency of departmental checks.

These initiatives have given clients greater control and responsibility to ensure their processes and procedures manage the risks to food safety. We have changed our role from identifying faults and non-compliance to ensuring exporters understand these risks and their obligations.

Mobile bulk grain loading

We developed an alternative method to load bulk grains shipments for exporters that do not have access to bulk loading facilities at a wharf. The new approach enables a mobile loader to be used on a general purpose wharf.

This arrangement allows phytosanitary inspections to be carried out in a registered establishment away from the wharf, from where the grain can then be transported securely to the loader. This provides exporters with greater flexibility and reduces infrastructure costs.

Export compliance

We successfully prosecuted an Australian timber company for illegally exporting timber between 2006 and 2009.

Three Moxon & Company directors and an employee pleaded guilty to charges of using fake stamps to make Commonwealth export documents. The company and individuals were fined a total of $858 ​000 and all four individuals received custodial sentences. The company owner, Anthony Moxon, received a two-year sentence, with a minimum term of eight months. The other three individuals had their sentences suspended.

National Residue Survey

The National Residue Survey (NRS) continued to manage residue monitoring programmes for a range of commodities. Most of the monitoring programmes are export focused but some focus on domestic trade and support industry quality assurance.

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

A programme of site audits verified sample collection and data input procedures at participating establishments. In addition, each representative industry body received an NRS programme and financial report.

See Appendix 6 for the NRS annual report. It 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

Assessing the value of biosecurity at the farm-gate

ABARES studied the value of Australia’s biosecurity system at the farm-gate. It considered the effect on farm profits of an outbreak of six biosecurity threats: foot-and-mouth disease; Mexican feather grass; citrus greening; highly pathogenic avian influenza; karnal bunt; and red imported fire ants.

The analysis showed expected profits for beef, dairy and sheep production would be 8 to 12 per cent lower without the biosecurity system because of the higher risk of an FMD outbreak. It estimated the annual gross margins of typical broadacre farms would be reduced by up to $17 ​500 because of the higher risk of an FMD or karnal bunt outbreak or a Mexican feather grass incursion.

This study illustrates the importance of managing biosecurity risks to sustain the profitability of Australia’s agricultural sector. It demonstrates the farm-level benefits of biosecurity activities by government, industries and landholders to target the pathways through which pests, diseases and weeds enter, become established and spread in Australia.

Norfolk Island

We carried out a survey of plant and animal pests on Norfolk Island ahead of changes to its administrative status as an Australian external territory. The survey provided a comprehensive assessment of the island’s biosecurity status. It will inform future quarantine and export policies, new community engagement on biosecurity and a handbook documenting the island’s weeds.


Managing imports

Imported frozen berries

We played an important role in responding to the February 2015 outbreak of Hepatitis A suspected to be linked to the consumption of imported frozen berries. We worked with other government and state health authorities, the importer and the broader industry to trace the source of the berries and to identify other import pathways for potentially contaminated food.

We took immediate action to manage imports from the identified sources and have implemented an ongoing monitoring process for hygiene indicators of ready-to-eat frozen berries from all sources.

The department also worked with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in managing the health risks associated with ready-to-eat frozen berries.

Ingredients from multiple countries

Australians have access to a variety of food products processed in part in other countries. Traditionally, we have managed such products using bilaterally agreed sanitary certification, on the basis that their ingredients come from the country where they were made.

Increasingly, international manufacturers are using ingredients and manufacturing facilities from multiple countries. These globally integrated supply chains present a challenge to ensure the final product complies with Australia’s biosecurity and food safety requirements.

We are addressing this issue with risk-based measures and by developing new inspection, auditing and certification arrangements with trading partners and other Australian government agencies, including FSANZ.

Managing exports

Livestock exports

The department is committed to ensuring compliance with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, which applies to the handling and treatment of exported livestock. We have investigated a number of reports by exporters and claims from third parties of alleged regulatory infringements.

Since the implementation of ESCAS in July 2011, more than 9.3 million Australian livestock animals have been exported to 20 countries under its arrangements.

In 2014–15, 28 reports were investigated and actioned. Twenty of these were self-reports by exporters. Two were made by industry representatives and the remaining six were made by third parties.

Some investigations resulted in the department removing facilities from approved supply chains, undertaking additional independent auditing of supply chains, or requiring exporters to provide further information about proposed exports.

In some cases we applied additional conditions to export approvals, required further reconciliation requirements to account for animals in supply chains, or required exporters to provide further training to improve animal handling practices.

ESCAS reports are publicly available on the depar​tment's website​.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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