Biosecurity Bulletin - Edition 6, 2014

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Acting Deputy Secretary Foreword​

Image of Greg WilliamsonEnsuring Australia’s biosecurity system is robust and effective  goes beyond managing risks at the border—each aspect of the work that is done across the biosecurity continuum (onshore, at the border and offshore) forms an integral component of a strong and successful biosecurity system.

This end of year edition of Biosecurity Bulletin celebrates the diversity of the parts that comprise our biosecurity system as a whole—the breadth of the work undertaken by our department and the wide-ranging skills and expertise of our people. It features stories about our onshore biosecurity management, our offshore certification schemes, and the importance of the science which underpins everything we do.

Continue reading the message from the Acting Deputy Secretary

The department has had a very busy year in biosecurity: in addition to managing the risks associated with the movement of the 186 million mail items, 30.9 million cargo items and 16 million passengers that enter Australia every year, we’ve been modernising our services, developing a new legislative framework for managing biosecurity, and looking at ways we can improve the process of import risk analysis.

On 27 November the Australian Government introduced the Biosecurity Bill 2014 and supporting bills into Parliament.

This legislation has been developed over many years with significant consultation undertaken with industry, state and territory governments, environment groups, health professionals, the general public and trading partners.

If passed, the new legislation would replace the Quarantine Act 1908 and provide a modern regulatory framework to manage the biosecurity risks.

Key features of the Biosecurity Bill 2014 include:

  • a strong legislative framework that clearly sets out the powers that can be exercised by officials as well as the requirements of those being regulated
  • new powers to manage risks onshore and in Australia’s marine environment
  • the ability to impose a minimum regulatory impact whilst still achieving the best biosecurity outcomes, including flexible tools to target non-compliant activities, whilst reducing the burden on those who are compliant.

It is e​xpected that, if passed, the new biosecurity legislation would have a commencement date 12 months after royal assent. This is to ensure that clients, staff and stakeholders understand their rights and responsibilities under the new legislation and also to ensure a smooth transition to the new Act.

If the Biosecurity Bill 2014 and supporting Bills pass into law, the department will be working with stakeholders, state and territory governments and clients to develop delegated legislation (for example, regulations or administrative instruments) and policies that underpin the legislation in readiness for commencement.

Note: These materials are provided for the information and benefit of the general public and stakeholders who are interested in the reforms to Australia’s biosecurity system.

You should not rely on the information contained or referred to in the materials as reflecting the current or future state and effect of Australia’s biosecurity laws but rather, you should exercise your own skill and judgement and make your own enquiries. Where necessary, you should seek your own independent legal advice that is relevant to your particular circumstances.

The role of Import Risk Analysis and enhancing the process for assessing biosecurity risk

Biosecurity biosphereRisk analysis plays an important part in Australia’s biosecurity protection. The Department of Agriculture uses risk analysis to consider the level of biosecurity risk associated with the importation of animals, plants and other goods.

Louise van Meurs, Acting First Assistant Secretary of Biosecurity Plant Division, has overseen her fair share of Import Risk Analyses (IRAs) and understands that regulated IRAs are some of the more complex scientific assessments undertaken by ​the department.​​

“We use technical and scientific experts to understand the risks associated with an animal or plant import product and we undertake the scientific assessment in consultation with domestic and international stakeholders.

Continue reading about import risk analysis

“If the biosecurity risks are found to exceed Australia’s acceptable level, risk management measures are proposed to reduce the risk and manage the import safely. If the biosecurity risks cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, trade will not be allowed” she said.

The department’s approach to IRAs is consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).

“As a nation that exports approximately two-thirds of its agricultural produce, Australia benefits from the WTO system of rules-based trade. We adhere to a science-based process for assessing biosecurity import risks, and other WTO members are required to do the same.”

Australia already has a strong record on biosecurity, with no incursions being reported on regulated pathways, but the department is continually improving its methods and systems.

The department recently undertook  an examination of the IRA process​​ and is currently analysing feedback from that consultation. Over 2000 stakeholders were notified about the examination and we heard from approximately 100 people. A total of 61 written submissions were provided and we met with around 70 stakeholders face-to-face.​

Issues raised during the consultation included concerns around transparency, consultation processes, communication and the role of external expertise in the IRA process.

Stakeholders want clearer provision of information about how regional differences are considered and suggested a number of changes to the IRA han​dbook to make the process clearer. Recommendations about any administrative or regulatory changes to the IRA process will be provided to the Minister for consideration.

While this examination is about the current IRA process, outcomes will also be used in the development of regulations and policies for conducting IRAs under the Biosecurity Bill 2014 which was introduced into Parliament on 27 November 2014 and is expected to be considered by Parliament in early 2015.

Consultation on the IRA process will continue as we engage stakeholders to test and trial changes on a small scale to ensure that any new processes and policies are suitable before they are implemented more widely.

Note: These materials are provided for the information and benefit of the general public and stakeholders who are interested in the reforms to Australia’s biosecurity system.

You should not rely on the information contained or referred to in the materials as reflecting the current or future state and effect of Australia’s biosecurity laws but rather, you should exercise your own skill and judgement and make your own enquiries. Where necessary, you should seek your own independent legal advice that is relevant to your particular circumstances.

Managing plant pests, an account from our Chief Plant Protection Officer

Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer and Department of Agriculture Chief Scientist, Kim RitmanAustralian Chief Plant Protection Officer (ACPPO) and Department of Agriculture Chief Scientist Kim Ritman deals with more plant pest incursions than people would realise, which brings variety of the unexpected kind to his working week.

We interviewed Kim to find out what it’s like to manage pesky plant pests and whether things ever get as exotic and extreme as the little shop of horrors would have us believe.

“We get a lot of plant pests in Australia. Just about every week we get a notification from sources such as our department and state agencies, who undertake surveillance in agricultural production areas, forestry, around the border, quarantine facilities and in Torres Strait through our Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy programme” Kim said.

“Often someone will identify some plant pest, research it to see whether it exists already in Australia, and if it doesn’t then it qualifies as a plant pest.”

Managing plant pests and diseases is not easy and Kim talked to us about the challenges of managing plant diseases in Australia.

Every pest is different and there are some that may expand in their range because of things like a change in climate. Some of these pests can pop up right across Australia and there is no way they can be cost effectively wiped out. But for others, we will look at the technical feasibility of eradication.

Kim talked us through the process for how governments and industry decide when and how to take action against a plant pest. As the ACPPO, Kim leads some of the initial steps to investigate the technical aspects of the incident.

"I ask myself questions like, what does the science show, or is it operationally and technically feasible to eradicate this pest?"

One pest that Australia is undertaking eradication for is Banana Freckle which is currently affecting Darwin and the greater Darwin district in the Northern Territory.

Every banana plant is being wiped out; the whole lot are being destroyed by biosecurity officials in the first year. In the second year the plan is to restrict planting so there are no hosts, then in the third year we’ll reintroduce bananas that we know are free of banana freckle in the hope of eradicating this terrible disease” he said.

Making a commitment to eradicate an exotic biosecurity pest can be a multimillion dollar decision so it’s important to consider the economic feasibility of eradication. Kim explained that in most cases, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences will do a cost-benefit analysis of eradicating the pest.

“This is an important part of the information package provided to the National Management Group who make the final decision on whether to eradicate. It’s this group who are able to bring money and resources to the table, and also typically set the wheels in motion for implementing the eradication measures.”

The NMG is made up of the Chief Executive Officers of state and territory and Australian Government departments of agriculture (or equivalents), as well as industry representatives.

The Department of Agriculture brings science and scientific evidence to the fore. The department together with jurisdictions and industry make a technical assessment of whether it’s feasible to eradicate a plant pest.

“Naturally there’s a tension there between the money and the science, and we have to constantly remind ourselves, that we’re looking at the science and the technical aspects as well as the money, and not to be overridden immediately by the money. We drive that evidence based approach.”

Being the Chief Veterinary Officer and the role of veterinary science in government

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Mark SchippTackling exotic animal diseases such as Hendra Virus, Avian Influenza or Blue Tongue is an everyday occurrence for Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), Mark Schipp, who took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us before flying to Thailand to attend an international meeting hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Mark talked to us about his experiences as a veterinarian working for the Department of Agriculture and the role that veterinary science plays in keeping Australia safe from exotic animal pests and diseases.

The Department of Agriculture is the largest employer of veterinarians in Australia. Our people are involved in the preparation of animals and products for export, and they work in abattoirs and laboratories across Australia. They manage the arrival and post entry health checks for animals coming to Australia, as well as develop national policies and implement animal health programmes from the central office in Canberra.

Mark spoke about advances in veterinary technology over the years, such as rapid, more accurate tests, and how science has shifted the way the department looks at risk and manages biosecurity.

“We’re taking a more risk-based approach and we’re much more considerate of industry needs, dealing with importers and exporters and trying to understand their business,” Mark said.

Mark gave the example of the recent change in import conditions for cats and dogs coming to Australia. Before February 2014, cats and dogs had to undergo a minimum of 30 days in quarantine. But now, with advancements in rabies vaccines, offshore treatment and testing, the department has reduced the minimum mandatory stay in post entry quarantine to just 10 days without compromising Australia’s biosecurity protection.

The CVO also brings new veterinary science and improvements to the attention and consideration of Australia’s animal biosecurity policy makers, the CVO has broad and far reaching responsibilities.

In terms of his international influence, Mark is the Australian delegate to the World Organisation for Animal Health commonly referred to as the OIE. He manages Australia’s biosecurity responsibilities as they relate to changes in our animal health status and notification in line with the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. The agreement concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations.

The presence of an animal disease can have substantial economic effects, particularly on our access to trade markets. It’s a delicate situation Mark has negotiated on many occasions, from notifications of Avian Paramyxovirus in 2011 to misleading reports over the presence of scabby mouth in 22 000 Australian sheep exported to Bahrain in 2012.

Mark represents the department and the national position on animal health and veterinary issues. In the event of an emergency animal disease outbreak, Mark chairs the consultative committee on emergency animal diseases, which brings together all the states to agree on a national position for managing the incident.

“In Australia in recent years we’ve had a number of avian influenza outbreaks and in each case the CVO has brought that committee together to develop and implement a response and has successfully eradicated each of those outbreaks.”

When it comes to Australia’s preparedness, Mark carries the responsibility for building Australia’s veterinary capacity and delivering strategic work to strengthen veterinary schools and services within our region, including some of our nearest neighbours.

“We’ve implemented vaccination programmes against foot-and-mouth disease and rabies throughout the region. In Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste we’ve been focused on emerging infectious diseases, building the laboratory and surveillance capacity so that we get early warning if something should emerge, and ensuring those countries can respond quickly.”

It’s clear that Mark Schipp presides over a considerable amount of on-the-ground effort that protects Australia from serious animal pests and diseases.

Australian Biosecurity Awards 2015: a step closer to finding out the winners!

Biosecurity Awards biosphereNominations for the awards have now closed. Thank you to everyone who nominated. Winners will be announced at the ABARES Outlook Conference on Tuesday 3 March 2015. Follow the @DeptAgNews to keep up-to-date with the awards.


Boosting biosecurity arrangements to protect our marine environment

Common marine pest – exotic sea starJust as we work hard to protect our land-based industries from exotic pests and diseases like foot-and-mouth disease, it’s equally important that we protect our fishing, aquaculture and marine environment from invasive marine pests.

More than 250 introduced marine plants and animals have hitch-hiked to Australian waters—generally arriving in ships' ballast water or attached to their hulls.

While some introduced marine species are benign, others have displaced native species from their habitats, changing our coastal areas and damaging our fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries.

The Northern Pacific sea star is one example of a serious marine pest that was most likely introduced into Australia through ballast water from Asia.

It has reduced shellfish production in Tasmania and damaged marine ecosystems in Tasmania and Victoria.

To help safeguard our marine environment from invasive pests, the Australian Government has announced a review of national marine pest biosecurity arrangements—the first stage of a four-year project to review and strengthen Australian marine pest biosecurity management.

The department released an issues paper for anyone with a keen interest in our marine environment to have their say on the current biosecurity arrangements.

A discussion paper, due to be released early 2015, will present opportunities for improving marine pest biosecurity arrangements.

Stakeholders can provide their feedback on the discussion paper before the department prepares a final report for government consideration.

Strengthening the management of ballast water is another body of work being undertaken to tackle the biosecurity risk from invasive marine species. 

Ballast water is carried in many vessels to maintain stability and safety at sea.

When ballast water is taken up, marine organisms can be picked up with it and then released with the ballast water at a new location.

Because of this, ballast water is recognised as a major contributor to the spread of marine pests around the world. 

Australia signed the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, subject to ratification.

The Conventionprovides a global framework for countries to prevent, reduce and control the harm caused by invasive marine pests contained in ballast water, and is expected to come into force in 2015 or 2016.

The proposed Biosecurity Bill 2014, if passed, would provide a framework for Australia to manage risks associated with ballast water and work towards ratification of the Convention.

More information on ballast water.

Note: These materials are provided for the information and benefit of the general public and stakeholders who are interested in the reforms to Australia’s biosecurity system.

You should not rely on the information contained or referred to in the materials as reflecting the current or future state and effect of Australia’s biosecurity laws but rather, you should exercise your own skill and judgement and make your own enquiries. Where necessary, you should seek your own independent legal advice that is relevant to your particular circumstances.

Promoting vet leadership in Indonesia

Attendees of the first Indonesian Veterinary Leadership TrainingThe year 2014 saw some great achievements delivered under The Australia Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Diseases Animal Health (AIP-EID) programme. Through the programme the Department of Agriculture has played a direct role to improve Indonesia’s animal health services and strengthen our bilateral relationship.

The highly successful AIP-EID programme is Australian–aid funded and managed by the department in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).

Continue reading about vet leadership

Our people worked in collaboration with the Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services within the MoA to establish Indonesia’s integrated animal health information system. This system provides the Indonesian Government with information about the country’s agricultural industries including, data from abattoirs and case reports on suspected and confirmed animal diseases, all from one easy to access tool. This has supported efficient and effective policy development and planning for the management of disease outbreaks.

In partnership with the Indonesian Agricultural Quarantine Agency, we conducted an in-depth review of Indonesia’s quarantine risk pathways. The review identified challenges, constraints and opportunities to strengthen the country’s quarantine operations and border controls. By focussing on improving Indonesia’s capacity in rapid risk assessment and science-based decision making, this initiative helps to reduce the risk of diseases entering Australia.

But the programme didn’t just focus on building systems. The department was also involved in training over 50 veterinary managers who will act as the human resource in Indonesia’s enhanced pests and disease management capacity. The Indonesian Veterinary Leadership course delivered a range of leadership skills including management, team building, organisational structures and communication. The course also included technical and management competencies such as strategic planning, policy development, disease detection, reporting and diagnosis, risk assessment, and emergency preparedness and response.

The Indonesian Government is including this course in its mandatory government administrators’ training programme and Indonesian universities are also beginning to incorporate core components of the course into postgraduate programmes.

An Indonesian Government official (Mr Ison) commented on the programme, saying “through the program support, we’ve a much clearer idea on how to provide training to support our priorities. Previously we did training for the sake of doing it but now we are much more targeted and directed.”

As global trading and travel continues to build, the challenges of managing a country’s biosecurity will become more complex. By working in partnership, Australian and Indonesia can further strengthen the bilateral relationship, building on the veterinary capacity of the Asia Pacific region to keep disease such as foot and mouth or avian influenza at bay.

The first Indonesian Veterinary Leadership Training was conducted over a six-month period (January–June)

Attendees of the first Indonesian Veterinary Leadership Training Attendees of the first Indonesian Veterinary Leadership Training

Department of Agriculture – festive season arrangements

Christmas candlesThe department would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The department will close on 25 December 2014 and reopen on 2 January 2015.

There are special opening times for our regional offices. These times will be made available through the usual channels closer to the date.

NAQS – the first line of protection to the north

Biosecurity officer, Titom NonaAustralia’s tropical north is a vast, remote and therefore vulnerable entry point for many exotic pests, diseases and weeds.

Entry pathways include wind and tide movements, animal migrations, foreign and domestic vessel movements, aircraft, passenger and cargo movements through Torres Strait, and traditional trade between Papua New Guinea and the outer Torres Strait islands in accordance with Australia’s treaty obligations.

Continue reading about NAQS

Standing in the way of these incursions are the staff of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. NAQS was established in 1989 to provide an early warning system for exotic pest, weed and disease detections across northern Australia and to help address unique biosecurity risks facing the region.

NAQS staff like Titom Nona perform vital roles under the strategy. He is the biosecurity officer on Badu Island and has worked for the Department of Agriculture for more than 20 years.

“I was born on Thursday Island and raised on Badu Island. My family are traditional land owners on Badu” Mr Nona said.

“I am very proud of being a biosecurity officer and the contribution I have made to safeguarding Australia, and more importantly, my island home.”

Many things have changed and evolved during Titom’s career with NAQS. In 1993 Asian honey bee was first detected on Boigu Island in Torres Strait and he implemented the first Asian honey bee eradication programme with his fellow officers.

“In 1995 there was a Japanese Encephalitis outbreak on Badu. The outbreak claimed the lives of two community members. Sadly, one was a child. Two other community members also fell ill but survived.

“This sad time highlighted for me the importance of my role as a biosecurity officer and member of the Badu community. It was my role to make my community aware of the importance of the risk Japanese Encephalitis posed by keeping pigs in the community. The pigs carried the disease and were the source of the outbreak. This was very challenging, as keeping pigs is part of our traditional way of life and our culture.”

These days Titom’s role as a biosecurity officer involves diverse activities including the clearance of aircraft and sea cargo, scientific monitoring, clearance of traditional visitors from Papua New Guinea and performing Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) clearances of these vessels under the memorandum of understanding when the Movement Monitoring Officer is off the island.

“Another important role I play is delivering public awareness programs about biosecurity to our community, schools and traditional visitors in our own language and culture.”

To find out more about the work we do in northern Australia, view the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy page.

Post border finds

Managing biosecurity is a big job, and one that requires everyone to do their part in protecting our valuable agricultural industries, our environment and our way of life.

Every year the Department of Agriculture receives thousands of reports from ordinary citizens who have seen or heard something that looks a little strange.

While many of these reports turn out to be common domestic pests, a small percentage we discover are major biosecurity nasties. Check out some of the recent post border finds below and find out how they were detected and managed.

Boring tunes from these beetles

Gnawing sounds coming from furniture were the last thing the owner of a new timber buffet imported to Australia expected to hear. Fortunately the owner called the Department of Agriculture.

Biosecurity officer Warren Rigby visited the caller’s premises to inspect the furniture, and at first found nothing.

“I visually inspected the buffet and there was no evidence of external damage,” Warren said.

“However, as reported, there were crunching noises coming from the buffet. I recorded the sound through my tablet and sent the audio to Senior Entomologist, Darren Peck.”

Warren is one of many officers trialling that the use of tablets as part of our mobile workforce pilot. Using the tablet, he recorded the sound of the suspected pest and sent it to our entomologists.

Darren used the real time audio data to determine the chewing noise was consistent with the sound of a large wood-boring insect—thought to be longicorn beetle larva—and advised the specific treatment needed to control this biosecurity risk.

Early detection and intervention prevented further damage and the buffet was treated to remove the pests before they emerged out of the timber.

There are many varieties of longicorn all of which are damaging to Australia’s biosecurity. The burnt pine longicorn for instance would have devastating effects on our forest and construction industries if it were introduced to Australia. The beetle larvae cause damage to pine tree timber used for construction by tunnelling in the wood which reduces the quality and structural validity of the timber.

Listen to the audio MP3 [571 KB]

Beetles larvae Timber buffet that longicorn beetle larva was found in

Toad told to hit the road

Introduced toads have a reputation in Australia, so when an exotic toad showed up at a Quarantine Approved Premises (QAP) in Western Australia, people acted swiftly to contain and manage this environmental threat.

Staff at Wheatstone Project QAP north of Perth contacted the Department of Agriculture after spotting a strange looking toad that appeared to have come from a set of containers imported from Thailand.

The toad was located near a wash bay on the premises and, in line with their biosecurity training, QAP staff secured the toad, reported the find to the department and waited for a biosecurity officer to arrive.

Biosecurity officer Steve Milne identified the toad as the exotic species commonly called the black spined toad.

The black spined toad is a close relative of the cane toad, and given its reputation there is no wonder why it's one of Australia's top biosecurity concerns.

In 1935, cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in an attempt to control a native beetle causing havoc to sugar cane crops.

The toads quickly multiplied and the population now numbers more than 200 million, causing extensive environmental damage.

The black spined toad is potentially more damaging than the cane toad and could become established in the cooler parts of Australia.

Being a carnivore, the black spined toad could cause significant damage to Australia’s natural environment. It competes with native frogs and toads for food and habitats, and is likely to carry exotic parasites or disease.

Given the risks, Steve conducted a further inspection of the area and no more toads were found.

The toad was transported back to Karratha and euthanised by a local vet.

Black spined toad Black spined toad

Sydney shopper's concerns allayed

A Sydney shopper demonstrated a keen eye for potential biosecurity risk when they spotted a wooden chair showing signs of infestation.

The shopper was not satisfied with the store assistant's response to simply spray the borer and decided to call the Department of Agriculture.

In response to the concerns raised by the caller, the department contacted the store and directed staff to remove the chair from display immediately and isolate it from other furniture.

A biosecurity officer attended the store to contain any potential biosecurity risks by wrapping the chair in plastic and ordering the item into quarantine.

Biosecurity officers visited several other stores from the same company but found no further signs of infestation and the infested chair was removed for analysis.

A specimen was found on the chair and later identified by a departmental entolomologist as a common domestic insect.
Although the insect was found not to be exotic, the chair was cold treated for 10 days as a precaution and returned to the store after treatment.

The shopper was contacted and advised of the outcome and thanked for bringing it to the department’s attention.

Wooden chair showing signs of infestation Arm of the wooden chair showing signs of infestation
Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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