Australia's Animal Health System

​​​​​​​​​Key facts

  • Effective national surveillance and control of animal diseases in Australia requires cooperative partnerships among the government agencies, organisations, commercial companies and individuals who are involved in the animal industries.

  • Australia’s animal health system includes all organisations, government agencies, commercial companies, universities and individuals who are involved in the livestock production chain. Wildlife Health Australia complements livestock health activities and provides Australia’s framework for national management of the health and diseases of wildlife (both native and feral animals).

  • Australia is a federation of states and territories governed by an Australian Government, six state governments and two territory governments. The Australian Constitution sets out the powers of the Australian Government. The state and territory governments have exclusive authority in areas that do not come within the authority of the Australian Government.

  • The Australian Government advises on and coordinates animal health policy at a national level. It is responsible for international animal health matters, including quarantine, export certification and trade, as well as disease reporting to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

  • Under the Australian constitution, the individual state and territory governments are responsible for animal health matters within their boundaries. Such matters include disease surveillance and control, chemical residues in animal products, livestock identification and traceability, and animal welfare.

  • Australian governments have a close association with livestock industries. This allows consultation between government and industry to determine national animal health priorities. The livestock industries participate in policy development, support targeted animal health activities and contribute to emergency responses.

  • Government-run veterinary services in Australia involve officers from the Australian Government, state and territory governments, and local government. A system of consultative committees ensures that these three levels of government work together to serve the overall interest of Australia. In addition, the interests of government and industry are served through Animal Health Australia, a public company whose members include the Australian Government, state and territory government, the peak national councils of Australia’s livestock industries and various key research, veterinary and educational organisations.

  • Additionally, Australia’s animal health laboratories, which comprises the state/territory government laboratories, and the Australian Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong, plays a critical role in providing diagnostic, surveillance and research services to support nationwide veterinary activities and the health and productivity of Australia’s livestock industries.  

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Australian Government responsibilities

The Australian Government is responsible for quarantine and international animal health matters, including disease reporting, export certification and trade negotiation. It also coordinates and provides advice on national policy on animal health and welfare. In some circumstances, it provides financial assistance for national disease control programs.

The animal health role of the Australian Government is delivered through the Biosecurity Animal Division working in conjunction with other areas of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture. Diagnostic services, exotic and emergency disease support, and independent scientific advice are provided by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The Australian Government is the largest single employer of veterinarians in Australia because of the large number employed in the meat inspection service. It is therefore able to provide an important reserve force to the states and territories in the event of any major exotic animal disease incursion.

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer

The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (OCVO) provides national leadership and direction on priority policy issues relating to animal health and welfare in Australia.

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer (ACVO) is Australia’s principal representative on animal health matters nationally and internationally, and is Australia’s permanent representative to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). As the international reference point on animal health, the OCVO coordinates animal health intelligence gathering, Australia’s commitments to OIE, and communication with other international agencies dealing with animal health and welfare.

Quarantine and biosecurity

The Department of Agriculture’s quarantine and biosecurity functions within the Animal Division work in conjunction with other areas of the department to deliver effective, risk-based services across the biosecurity continuum. This structure reflects a national approach to biosecurity, simplifies domestic and international communications, and improves responsiveness.

The following divisions and branches are responsible for animal health, biosecurity policy, export health certification, and the regulation of importation of animals and plants, their genetic material and their products:

  • Biosecurity Animal Division (Animal Health Policy, Animal & Biological Import Assessments, Animal Biosecurity, Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer)
  • Exports division (Export Standards, Meat Exports, Live Animal Exports, Residues and Food).

Their veterinary functions include responsibility for:

  • veterinary public health inspection of meat through a national inspection service
  • animal quarantine involving imports of live animals and animal products
  • health certification of exports of live animals and animal reproductive material.

Although the Australian Government has responsibility for formulating policy and ultimate responsibility for quarantine under the Australian Constitution, the states and territories may act as operational field agents of the Commonwealth to assist the delivery of quarantine and export certification services. Under the provisions of the Accreditation Program for Australian Veterinarians, accredited veterinarians also play an important role in delivery of export certification services.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

CSIRO undertakes animal health research and operates the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) at Geelong. This is a high security laboratory for emergency animal disease diagnosis and research. It provides training in emergency animal diseases for Australia’s and overseas animal health field and laboratory staff. AAHL is an OIE Collaborating Centre for New and Emerging Diseases and a designated OIE reference laboratory for bluetongue, avian influenza, Newcastle disease, Hendra and Nipah virus diseases, yellowhead disease, and epizootic haematopoietic necrosis. Further information on CSIRO and AAHL is available at the CSIRO website.

State and territory government responsibilities

  • Under the Australian Constitution, state and territory governments have legislative responsibility for animal health services within their respective borders.
  • State and territory animal health services administer relevant acts and regulations involved with livestock identification and movement (within and between states and territories), disease surveillance, diagnosis, reporting (notifiable animal diseases and reportable aquatic animal diseases) and control, chemical residues and other programs.
  • Each state and territory is further subdivided into veterinary regions or divisions that are under the control of a government veterinary officer. Each region or division is further subdivided into animal health districts which are administered by inspectors who may be veterinarians or qualified animal technicians.
  • Veterinary officers located in regions supervise inspectors and administer the application of relevant state and territory acts and regulations. They also maintain records of the animal health status on farms in their region that assist in the reliable certification of animals moving within Australia and overseas.
  • The states and territories also have government animal health laboratories that provide a disease diagnosis and investigation service and which may also undertake applied research.

National Biosecurity Committee

The National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) was established in July 2008 to provide strategic leadership in managing national approaches to emerging and ongoing biosecurity policy issues across jurisdictions and sectors, and to provide advice to the then Primary Industries Standing Committee (PISC) and Standing Council on Primary Industries (SCoPI). The NBC takes an overarching, cross-sectoral approach to national biosecurity policy, and works collaboratively to achieve national policy objectives for biosecurity in Australia.

All biosecurity issues (including environmental, animal and plant biosecurity issues) are considered by the NBC with a view to resolution or the development of advice to the Agricultural Senior Officials Committee (formerly PISC) and the Agricultural Ministers Forum (formerly SCoPI) as appropriate.

The NBC meets twice yearly in February and August. For further information contact the NBC Secretariat.

Animal Welfare Committee

The Animal Welfare Task Group (AWTG) replaces the former Animal Welfare Committee. For information about the AWTG and animal welfare standards visit the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines website.

Animal Health Committee (AHC)

Several committees advise NBC on specialist issues and in turn have their own infrastructure of subcommittees, time-limited task groups and expert panels that focus on particular areas within each committee’s terms of reference.

Committee members of AHC include the chief veterinary officers (CVOs) of Australia and of the states and territories, and representatives from CSIRO, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Environment. There are also observers from Animal Health Australia, Wildlife Health Australia, and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries.

AHC's primary purpose is to develop science-based and nationally consistent policy on animal health issues, and to provide advice as necessary on animal health to NBC. In so doing, AHC provides leadership in developing and implementing policy, programs, operational strategies and standards for government in the areas of animal health, domestic quarantine, animal welfare and veterinary public health.

AHC conducts its business in close conjunction with Animal Health Australia, providing technical and policy advice and consulting over program development.

AHC meets face-to-face twice a year, and the meetings are held in a different state each time. The position of the chair of the committee is rotated annually between the CVOs.

AHC publishes a newsletter, Vetcommunique, which provides information on topics that they have considered in their face-to-face meetings.

Sub-committee on Aquatic Animal Health

The Sub-committee on Aquatic Animal Health (SCAAH) provides scientific and technical advice to AHC on aquatic animal health issues, including national policy and program development. SCAAH considers issues including those that affect the wild capture and recreational fishing industries, aquaculture industries and the ornamental fish industry.

SCAAH comprises representation from the Australian, state and Northern Territory and New Zealand governments, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Australian Animal Health Laboratory (CSIRO AAHL) and Australian universities. SCAAH is chaired by a member of AHC. For more information visit the department’s Aquatic Animal Health web pages.
Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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