The National Biosecurity Committee held its Strategic Workshop 20 and Meeting 33 via virtual platform, 16 -18 September 2020.
The Committee acknowledged the commitment to biosecurity of all Australian jurisdictions during this very challenging time. On behalf of the Committee, new Chair Andrew Tongue thanked officers around the country for their dedication and collaboration in working together to safeguard Australia’s biosecurity in the aftermath of the eastern states’ summer bushfires, the global COVID-19 pandemic and through the country’s worst ever outbreak of avian influenza.
Members acknowledged the importance of ensuring the biosecurity system can respond to the challenges we are facing over the next 10 years – changing trade, passenger and climate trends – informed by learnings from the past 18 months for prevention, preparedness and response capability. Time will be devoted to agreeing this agenda.
Highlighting the breadth of biosecurity efforts, the Committee worked through a full and diverse agenda across the three days – spanning efforts to develop a biosecurity climate change implementation plan, through to progress on the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in South East Queensland, to managing biofouling pest and disease risk.
The Committee endorsed the new National Fruit Fly Strategy 2020-25, commending the work of the National Fruit Fly Council and the many stakeholders who contributed to its development. This strategy signals an important opportunity for continued national cooperation in strengthening the fruit fly management system to support growth in horticultural production and market access.
On emergency response deeds, the Committee
- endorsed a revised National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) for ministers to consider, taking into account recommendations arising from the 2017 five-year review of the agreement
- noted the Committee Chair has recently written to prospective industry parties to an aquatic deed to offer a last round of engagement and to seek early indications of sign-on interest
- noted Queensland’s update on the work it is leading on an exotic production weeds incursion response agreement.
Members noted reform work underway to strengthen the national plant health surveillance system. It was agreed an interim cost-sharing arrangement between governments for the delivery of the National Plant Health Surveillance Program will be in place until a national plant health surveillance system cost-sharing model is developed and implemented.
With increasing biosecurity risks and access to traditional taxonomic skills in decline, the Committee acknowledged the potential importance of high throughput sequencing (HTS) to the future of diagnostics, noting HTS lends itself to cross portfolio and one-health approaches. Members agreed to oversee a time-limited, cross-sectoral, cross-discipline technical working group to develop an HTS adoption roadmap.
The strategic importance of biosecurity infrastructure assets and services was discussed. The Committee agreed to identify collectively those assets and services—such as laboratories and diagnostic capabilities—critical to national biosecurity activities and performance and then to consider options for their long-term funding.
Queensland provided an update on a series of innovative research projects such as planning for a virtual lab, and the Commonwealth showcased work underway to model outbreaks of African swine fever in domestic and feral pigs. The Australian Animal Disease spread model, AADIS, supports jurisdictions and industry to plan for disease outbreaks, modelling the impacts of various control measures and the cost of controlling the disease using various methods. The Committee plans to explore further options to enhance real time modelling of pests and diseases to inform and support policy interventions, together with more detailed on-ground response, at different scales.
A National Biosecurity Communication and Engagement Strategy, outlining key goals and deliverables to improve communication and engagement nationally across the biosecurity system, was approved. Participation from government, industry and partner organisations will be critical to delivering its objectives. The strategy will be available via the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website.
Committee members previewed Mission: Biosecurity, an interactive digital communications platform to support biosecurity education, awareness and best practice across Australia. Mission: Biosecurity will be formally launched towards the end of the year.
A framework for implementing performance evaluation of the national biosecurity system was endorsed. The Committee will consider the fully developed framework and results of the first pilot mid next year.
Committee members and observers shared insights on current and emerging issues for their respective jurisdictions, as well as key challenges and lessons learnt from managing biosecurity business during COVID-19, including avian influenza outbreaks and a khapra beetle incursion and detection. An update on the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program – South East Queensland was provided by the independent Chair of the Steering Committee responsible for the program, Dr Wendy Craik.
Finally, the Committee took stock of its progress against key deliverables and priority reform areas identified from agriculture ministers’ response to the 2017 independent review of the national biosecurity system, ahead of setting an updated forward workplan for 2021-23.
The Committee will next meet in March 2021, hosted by the Northern Territory.
For any questions regarding this communique, please email the NBC Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Biosecurity Committee is responsible for managing a national, strategic approach to biosecurity threats relating to plant and animal pests and diseases, marine and aquatic pests, and the impact of these on agricultural production, the environment, community wellbeing and social amenity. The Committee provides advice to the Agriculture Senior Officials Committee and the Agriculture Minister’s Forum on national biosecurity issues, and on progress in implementing the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity.
For further information on the National Biosecurity Committee, you can visit the Committee’s website, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.