Significant events in the history of NAQs

Historical events before the establishment of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy


  • The Quarantine Act 1908 receives royal assent, providing a national approach to quarantine for the first time after State Premiers agree to hand over administration of quarantine to the Commonwealth in 1906.


  • The Torres Strait Treaty*, an agreement between Australia and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG), is signed at Papua New Guinea House in Sydney on the 18th of December.

*Refers to Treaty between Australia and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea concerning Sovereignty and Maritime Boundaries in the Area between the Two Countries, Including the Area Known as Torres Strait and Related Matters.


  • The Torres Strait Treaty takes effect in February, defining the two main boundaries – the Seabed Jurisdiction Line and the Fisheries Jurisdiction Lines – as well as a ‘protected zone’ between Australia and Papua New Guinea.


  • In December the Quarantine Review Committee headed by Professor David Lindsay published the interim ‘Report on Aerial Littoral Surveillance and Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy’ recommending establishment of a strategy focused on the unique biosecurity risks in northern Australia.


  • The report into Aerial Littoral Surveillance from the 1987 Lindsay review of quarantine in Australia is published by the Department of Primary Industries and Energy and considered by Cabinet. As a result of the Lindsay review the government commits to establish a program to deal with the unique risks associated with Australia’s northern coastline.

The Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy established 1989


As a result of the Lindsay Review the Australian, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian governments committed to establishing the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy.

In 1989, the NAQS was formed with a small, dedicated and enthusiastic team of scientific specialists and biosecurity officers and has since forged an enduring foundation legacy.

  • The first NAQS coordinator, Colin Fish, is appointed and remains in the role until 1994.
  • First NAQS field officers are appointed in Torres Strait and include Ted Mosby (later Anglican Bishop of Torres Strait). Initial appointments are quickly followed by the appointment of Jackson Sailor in Bamaga.
  • Kevin Hyde, first NAQS plant pathologist is appointed in Queensland (QLD).
  • The (then) Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) begins conducting surveys in PNG and Irian Jaya, the easternmost province of Indonesia adjacent to PNG. These early surveys were funded by the Commonwealth but delivered by NAQS personnel who were state employees at the time.


  • NAQS appoints its first veterinarian officers, John Curran (WA), and Andrew von Berky (QLD).
  • Judy Grimshaw is appointed as NAQS’s first entomologist, closely followed by Barbara Waterhouse, as NAQS’s first botanist. Both are based in Queensland.
  • Spiralling whitefly observed in Western Province (of PNG) coastal villages in November. 


  • Spiralling whitefly is detected on Boigu Island during a NAQS plant health survey. It subsequently spread to most inhabited Torres Strait Islands but its impacts were mitigated by a biological control program using a parasitic wasp.


  • Sampling starts for migratory birds for target diseases such as Newcastle disease, avian influenza and Japanese encephalitis.


  • The Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) is detected in Torres Strait for the first time and becomes established on Boigu, Saibai, and Dauan Islands. The eradication of this pest is considered unfeasible because of the proximity of these islands to PNG.
  • In March, exotic papaya fruit fly, Bactrocera papayae, is trapped on Boigu, Dauan, Saibai and Darnley islands in Torres Strait, sparking an intensive collaborative eradication program.


  • Siam weed is detected at Bingil Bay, north Queensland, in July 1994.


  • An independent scientific review of NAQS, chaired by Professor Malcolm Nairn, is commissioned by the department. The report, The Nairn-Muirhead Review, confirms the value of NAQS’s contribution to biosecurity in northern Australia and leads to an increase in NAQS program activities and resourcing.
  • A staged transition of responsibility for NAQS service delivery begins, moving from State/Territory authorities to the Commonwealth.
  • Spiralling whitefly is detected at Seisia near the tip of Cape York Peninsula, far north Queensland, during a NAQS plant health survey in January.
  • An outbreak of papaya fruit fly near Cairns is confirmed. NAQS provides scientific support in the early stages of the outbreak reducing the extent of the incursion. The detection triggered a successful eradication program that takes four years and costs $33 million.


  • An outbreak of black Sigatoka disease of bananas in Weipa triggers a successful eradication program.
  • Establishment of the Torres Strait Fruit Fly Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) incorporating representatives of NAQS, the Qld Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) and external specialists during June. The TAP focuses on developing and implementing a “Long Term Containment Strategy for Fruit Flies in Torres Strait”.


  • NAQS survey activities detect spiralling whitefly and mango leafhopper at Weipa in July. The detection results in the establishment of the Coen Information Centre on the only road leading into and out of Cape York to limit southward vehicular movement of pests.


  • Black Sigatoka is detected by NAQS plant pathologist at Bamaga during a plant health survey, triggering a successful QDPI eradication program.
  • The presence of a nest of Asian honeybees is confirmed in Darwin and a successful surveillance and eradication program is subsequently developed.
  • A member of the public notifies NAQS botanist regarding a potential biosecurity risk. This report leads to the detection of the target weed Mikania micrantha at Mission Beach, QLD and triggers a national eradication program.
  • JEV detected for the first time on the Australian mainland in one human and in populations of feral pigs.


  • The containment strategy for exotic fruit flies in the Torres Strait is modified to include pre-emptive male spraying on Boigu, Dauan, Saibai and Darnley. This action effectively eradicates papaya fruit fly each year from the top western islands, where it had been established since 1993.


  • An Aboriginal Communications Strategy is enacted leading to the employment of a full time Aboriginal Liaison Officer in Darwin and an undertaking to develop formal relationships with Land Councils.


  • NAQS botanist identifies target weed Limnocharis flava (yellow burrhead) in Cairns in May, triggering a nationally-funded eradication program.
  • NAQS plant pathologist detects target pathogen grape vine rust in suburban Darwin during July. An eradication program is implemented and in July 2007 the NT is declared free of this plant pest.


  • The Australian Government provides specific funding to NAQS to support regular surveys for highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza in bird populations across the northern coastal areas of Australia.
  • Target weed Croton hirtus is identified at Scherger RAAF base during a NAQS survey, triggering a localised containment and eradication program funded by the Department of Defence.


  • Mango gall midge is detected by NAQS on Darnley Island in May. The NAQS program is tasked with implementing enhanced surveillance and monitoring measures in relation to the biosecurity risks posed by foreign fishing vessel activity in northern Australia. This work is supported by increased engagement with Indigenous communities on biosecurity support measures, and a targeted communications campaign to raise biosecurity awareness amongst remote coastal communities. 


  • Vegetable leaf miner is detected by NAQS on Warraber Island. Later detections occur on Yorke and Mabuiag (2010).


  • NAQS celebrates 21 years of continuous service in northern Australia.


  • Mealybug pests, Planococcus lilacinus and Pseudococcus jackbeardsleyi are detected on a number of Torres Strait islands. NAQS entomologists participate in the national scientific advisory panel to analyse the significance of the detections.
  • The sentinel pig surveillance program for JEV ceased. Risk-based JEV surveillance continued through mosquito trapping and testing of samples from domestic animals.
  • Trichinella papuae first detected in Torres Strait (Gabba Island) from samples that NAQS had collected in 2009.


  • A NAQS entomologist identifies a single exotic biting midge, Culicoides nudipalpis, from a single trap collection of almost 8000 midges at Kalumburu, WA. The exotic vector for BTV was thought to have been blown in during Tropical Cyclone Lua in March 2012.
  • Dr John Curran completes a PhD on the surveillance and risk assessment of wild birds in northern Australia for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus, determining that entry of the virus via shorebird migration is negligible to very low risk. This research contributes to the ongoing surveillance strategy for avian influenza in wild birds in Australia.


  • A new surveillance method for JEV each wet season is implemented through collaboration between the Commonwealth and QH. Adult mosquito trapping is replaced with traps that use FTA cards® to collect the saliva of mosquitoes when they feed. These cards are then tested using PCR diagnostics for a range of flaviviruses of public health concern, including JEV, and the endemic Murray Valley encephalitis, Ross River and Kunjin viruses.
  • Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy—25 years of protecting Australia published to commemorate the 25th anniversary of NAQS. The book chronicles the memories of 31 current and former NAQS staff. It provides a fascinating snapshot of the work the programme conducts, with a vivid array of images of the beautiful but often challenging countryside in which our officers work.


  • The Biosecurity Act 2015 is passed into law, replacing the Quarantine Act 1908. The new act takes effect from June 2016.
  • The Australian Government announces the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper (White Paper) and Our North, Our Future White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. Funding was provided over four years to improve Australia’s national biosecurity system and included investments supporting expanded surveillance and compliance activities in northern Australia by Indigenous ranger groups.
  • Panama disease tropical race 4 confirmed near Tully in far north QLD. NAQS officers provide a range of emergency response and monitoring assistance to the control effort.
  • Bluetongue virus serotype 5 (BTV-5) is detected in Australia for the first time through sentinel herd monitoring in Northern Territory. This detection was found to have also infected the sentinel herd at Kalumburu, WA.


  • The Queensland Biosecurity Act 2014 comes into effect and includes a ‘General Biosecurity Obligation’.
  • A NAQS entomologist identifies four exotic biting midges, Culicoides orientalis from a single trap collection of approximately 400 midges collected at Kalumburu, WA, thought to have been blown in during Tropical Cyclone Yvette in December 2015.
  • Two new sentinel cattle herds established through White Paper funding, bringing sites managed under NAQS to a total of six including one at Merepah Station, near Coen, QLD and one at Gunbalanya, West Arnhem Land, NT.
  • Trichinella detected on Gabba Island on animal health survey by NAQS veterinarian.


  • Funding under the White Paper enables a joint department and NAQIA plant and animal health survey of the western Treaty Villages, PNG.
  • White Paper funding supports expanded aquatic biosecurity surveillance measures through the NAQS. New measures include the engagement of a full time aquatic biosecurity officer and delivery of aquatic biosecurity training to Indigenous ranger groups and the aquaculture sector.


  • A NAQS plant pathologist identifies citrus canker in Darwin prompting a territory-wide ban on movement of citrus fruit and plant material and a national response plan. NAQS officers provide a range of emergency response, monitoring and diagnostic assistance to the control effort.
  • Australian Government and NAQIA plant and animal health scientists complete surveys of the eastern Treaty Villages, Western Province, PNG supported by funding from the White Paper.
  • White Paper funding enables trialling of underwater acoustic monitoring and remote operated vehicles (ROVs) for aquatic biosecurity surveillance.
  • Asian green mussel detected in Weipa Harbour, QLD. NAQS officers and Indigenous rangers assist the Queensland Government with the response effort.
  • Hepatozoon canis, a blood-borne parasite of dogs spread via ticks, is detected in ticks collected by NAQS from 4 dogs from the outer Torres Strait islands during a routine survey. Although not a notifiable disease, this is only the second detection of this disease in Australia, being first found in October 2017 in Sarina, Queensland.
  • A novel phytoplasma in palms is detected in Cairns. NAQS molecular biologists and plant pathologists work to characterise the new and lethal phytoplasma and work with local, state and Commonwealth agencies to continue to monitor the disease in north Queensland.


  • Changing risk management strategies saw the retirement of the department’s last quarantine launch in February 2019. The Al Jordan was named in honour of a popular biosecurity officer who sadly passed due to illness.
  • Asian green mussel detected at Mornington Island and Escape River, QLD. NAQS officers assist with the QLD Government’s response effort.
  • The NAQS celebrates 30 continuous years of collaborative biosecurity in the north of Australia, activities under the White Papers concluded and an expanded ranger engagement program commences.
  • NAQS animal health surveillance program undertakes an external review of their risk assessment framework, with input from over 20 experts drawn from government, academia, epidemiology and industry consultants.
  • With continuing global spread, including to nearby Timor-Leste, African swine fever (ASF) is added to NAQS’ target list. NAQS also contributes to national ASF preparedness activities including input into science and policy via the Animal Health Committee ASF Taskforce and the National Feral Pig Coordinator.


  • Black scar oyster (Magallana bilineata) is detected in Cooktown by Indigenous rangers working with the NAQS aquatic scientist. This is one of the first detections of this species in Australia, being found first in nearby Cairns in September 2019. NAQS and Indigenous rangers assist Biosecurity Queensland with surveillance to determine the extent of establishment of this newly introduced species.
  • Culicoides nudipalpis, an exotic blood-feeding midge species is detected at three different sites in Northern Territory in trap samples collected in February. This species is considered likely to be a competent vector for bluetongue virus, a disease of ruminants with significant impacts on trade. Further surveillance fails to detect the species again, suggesting it has not become established in Australia.
  • ASF is detected in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s closest neighbour. NAQS contributes to a coordinated government response, working with departmental counterparts (regional biosecurity and preparedness) and other agencies and consultants from Australia and New Zealand to provide technical assistance to the PNG government to respond to the incursion.
  • First Australian detections of the fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda with moths collected from pheromone traps set by NAQS officers in Torres Strait and Bamaga. Subsequently identified by NAQS scientists in Cairns and Darwin using a combination of morphological and molecular methods.
Last reviewed: 26 November 2020
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