The National Biosecurity Committee met on 28 and 29 September 2022 in Hobart, Tasmania. The meeting was co-chaired by Dr Chris Locke (Deputy Secretary, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) and Mr Malcolm Letts (Chief Biosecurity Officer, Biosecurity Queensland). The committee welcomed its first face-to-face meeting after an extended period of virtual meetings, noting an apology from the New Zealand member.
Strategic discussions centred around collective considerations across jurisdictions for preparedness, prioritisation, and resourcing of the national biosecurity system, particularly in the context of biosecurity risks that are growing in number and complexity. Productive exploration of issues over the two days led to a number of outcomes, including agreement to:
- Further progress the implementation of the recently released National Biosecurity Strategy through finalising arrangements for the National Biosecurity Strategy Implementation Committee (NIC) that will oversee the roll-out of the strategy.
- Develop a national biosecurity data sharing capability framework, in light of increasing animal disease risks facing Australia, and to progress this work through the MAX Technical Working Group.
- Collectively progress work to strengthen the biosecurity system through implementation of the recommendations arising from the recently released report from the Joint Interagency Taskforce: Exotic Animal Disease Preparedness. The committee reflected on the importance of ensuring that animal health response planning and arrangements were able to effectively support a response to a large-scale emergency animal disease incursion in the unlikely event that it was to occur.
The committee discussed the importance of aligning effort and coordinating activities under the National Biosecurity Strategy’s six priority areas, which have been established to achieve the vision and purpose for Australia’s future biosecurity system. Agriculture Ministers have tasked NBC with overseeing the delivery of the strategy through the NIC, with the following four NBC members represented on the implementation committee: South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the Commonwealth. The NIC will also comprise representatives from a range of non-government biosecurity stakeholders who will help to inform strategy delivery.
The committee received an update on the Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) Action Plan, developed by the Australian Government in consultation with government and industry stakeholders. The Action Plan is expected to be finalised and released shortly following final rounds of consultation, incorporating committee feedback. The Action Plan has eight objectives and 28 activities that will improve Australia’s preparedness for, and response to, a possible LSD incursion.
The committee endorsed the terms of reference and allocation of resources for a small, time-limited working group to further the implementation of high throughput sequencing (HTS) diagnostics in Australia’s biosecurity system. The increased use of HTS in biosecurity offers a rapid, reliable and cost-efficient diagnostic platform to not only identify pests and diseases in a single test but to determine the biological, temporal and spatial origins of pests and diseases.
The committee noted progress on livestock traceability, with an update provided on the work of the Sheep and Goat Traceability Taskforce that has been established as an expert group under the NBC. The taskforce’s first meeting was held on 16 September 2022 and was followed by a government and industry workshop on 28 September. The Commonwealth is working with industry and governments to co-design, and implement, individual electronic identification for sheep and goats by 2025, a key component of the National Agriculture Traceability Strategy.
Committee governance was a focus throughout the meeting, with members agreeing to the development of a refreshed NBC Work Plan. A forward work program will also be developed, setting a strong strategic direction for the committee into the future. Future work plans will synthesise and consolidate priorities and deliverables from the review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity, the National Biosecurity Strategy and the Exotic Animal Disease Preparedness Taskforce report assessing the linkages between biosecurity and emergency management. This will ensure alignment of effort towards achieving collective goals to safeguard Australia’s biosecurity and minimise the risk of pests, weeds and diseases impacting on Australia’s environment, economy and way of life.
The committee also welcomed its next co-chair, Lorraine Corowa, Northern Territory, with thanks to Malcolm Letts for his experience and leadership as the first co-chair of NBC.
The committee will next meet face to face in early 2023 in South Australia, and virtually as required in the interim.
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.