Biosecurity Bulletin - Edition 4, 2015

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

Image of Lyn O'ConnellOur final edition of Biosecurity Bulletin for the year gives you a window into the range of biosecurity projects run by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources throughout 2015.

It includes the “inside story” of how the department was instrumental in getting actual sunflowers from the Ukrainian fields where the MH17 aircraft crashed in 2014. Thanks to the dedication of staff from our Plant Import Operations team, grieving families all over the world now have sunflowers with a direct link to the fields where their loved ones perished.

Continue reading the message from the Deputy Secretary

This edition also includes an article of interest to anyone who pays for the department’s biosecurity and export services – the redesign of our cost recovery fees and charges. Before finalising the new fees, departmental staff set out on a national roadshow to talk to exporters and importers across the meat, horticulture, grain and plant sectors. This gave us useful feedback that has been incorporated into the new fee structure, which will become operational on 1 December. You can read more about the new timetable for the launch of our fees.

In our last issue (August 2015), we outlined a new set of laws governing biosecurity regulation. The Biosecurity Act 2015 becomes law next year, but in the meantime we are seeking feedback on the regulations that will sit under the Act. Find out how you can make a submission by 16 December.

Also in our last issue we ran a story about our new Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility, which was under construction in Victoria. This state-of-the-art centre has now been officially opened, welcoming its first guests – cats, dogs and horses – who will be quarantined at one dedicated facility. 

Speaking of dogs, our detector dog Willow is turning her highly-tuned nose to the job of sniffing out browsing ants in Darwin. An introduced pest from Asia, browsing ants were recently found in the Darwin port area. Willow was originally trained to detect fire ants in Queensland – a job she performed with distinction – so her trainers have high hopes that she can thwart the threat of browsing ants making incursions to Australia’s north.

Another way the department is protecting Australia from introduced pests to our north is through a special partnership with the veterinarians working for the Indonesian Government. The vets who took part in a recent training program are now better equipped to spot and manage an animal disease outbreak or emergency, such as the spread of foot and mouth disease or rabies into our region. Read about how the government-to-government programme is taking shape.

This issue also gives us a graphic reminder of why biosecurity checks at our ports are so necessary. The transportation of excavators from nearby countries such as Papua New Guinea is common due to the high cost of buying machinery here. However, our story of one excavator we stopped at Townsville port shows how easily overseas pests could contaminate Australian soils if dirty machinery makes its way onto our shores. The picture speaks a thousand words in this case.

Finally, you may notice the department has a new name – this amalgamation offers an ideal pairing of two areas crucial to the Australian agricultural sector and the environment. Water policy is consistent with the department’s work on sustainable resource policy. Effective water policy can make a big difference to rural communities and the agricultural sector, especially in the long dry periods and droughts that many communities are now facing.

Inside story: Sunflowers from Ukraine crash site comfort grieving families

One of the sunflower plants propagated from the Ukrainian seedsIt was a gift from one person to another, or in this case, from two journalists to hundreds of grieving families. In 2014, Mr Paul McGeough, chief correspondent for Fairfax in Washington, and Ms Kate Geraghty, a Fairfax photographer, collected sunflower seeds from the fields of the MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Their plan was a simple gesture of compassion and remembrance – to distribute the seeds as a keepsake to families and friends of those who died in the tragedy.

When Mr McGeough’s article was published on 27 December 2014, their offer of seeds to family and friends started making its way around the world. Mr McGeough received emails from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Malaysia and Indonesia. He heard from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Assistant Secretary for Pathway Compliance, Nicola Hinder, who offered the department’s assistance to meet Australia’s biosecurity requirements.

Continue reading about sunflowers from Ukraine

“Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements mean that all seeds must be imported according to conditions set to manage biosecurity risk to guard against exotic pests and diseases,” Ms Hinder said.

Operational Sciences Services Regional Director, Mark Whattam, at Melbourne’s Knoxfield facility, received the seeds in late January and set about testing their viability, and pest and disease status.

“The seeds were very dry and of poor quality externally, poorly developed and shrivelled internally. It wasn’t promising,” Mr Whattam said.

The Plant Quarantine team propagated the seeds by placing them in 52°C water for 20 minutes to sterilise them. The treatment helps to eradicate and significantly reduce the incidence of seed borne pathogens that may affect growth. It also helps the seed germinate.

The team selected the healthiest seedlings and potted them into separate pots, placing 10 plants into one glasshouse and another 10 in a different glasshouse in case disease was detected in some.

The team conducted regular examinations for any sign of pests or disease in the next 12 weeks and no signs were detected.

By the end of March 2015, the plants were 1 to 1.5 metres tall and seed heads were developing that needed to be cross-pollinated by brushing pollen from plant to plant.

In May, the flower heads were harvested and seeds collected. 

The seeds were handed over to Ms Geraghty when she visited the department in Canberra in June for her to pass on to Mr McGeough.

Mr McGeough has summarised his and Ms Geraghty’s journey from the sunflower fields in Ukraine to the seeds being packed and sent to the families and friends of those who died in the tragedy, in a multimedia article that includes moving stories from the families who received this unexpected but treasured link to their loved ones.

Australia's new Post Entry Quarantine facility put to the test by local cats, dogs and horses

A cat, dog and a horse trialling the department’s new PEQ facilityThrough August and September, local cats, dogs and horses were the first animals to trial the new Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility at Mickleham Victoria.

The facility will modernise the way Australia manages post entry quarantine for the import of live animals and plants, better protecting the nation from biosecurity risks.

The trials were a success, and crucial to test the operations and function of the facility. For the animals, the trial stay would have been a pleasure with heated flooring in the cat and dog enclosures, dog exercise yards and spacious facilities for horses, just to name a few of the creature comforts available in the new facility.

Why do we need a new PEQ facility?

The new $379 million facility is part of the department’s efforts to improve and simplify the import process for high risk plant and animal imports, reducing biosecurity risks. Once fully operational, high risk plant and animal imports will come into Australia through this single entry point, streamlining the quarantine process and preparing Australia for the future.

The new facility consolidates and replaces the four ageing government-owned PEQ facilities, located in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, which are being progressively decommissioned. The PEQ facility is opening progressively, allowing imports of bees from 19 October, cats and dogs from 23 November, horses from 30 November and plants from 1 December 2015.  Staff expertise in plant pathology, animal husbandry, veterinary science and entomology will be at the facility, which is located close to an international airport and world-class research facilities.

Also importantly, the new PEQ facility was designed and built to keep the animals that are under inspection safe and comfortable.

Easy, new online process

Coinciding with the opening of the new facility, the department has designed a user-friendly and convenient online booking and payment system for post entry quarantine reservations, further simplifying the import process.

For more information on the PEQ facility visit the PEQ GovSpace website or the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

A cat, dog and a horse trialling the department’s new PEQ facility 

A cat, dog and a horse trialling the department’s new PEQ facility 

Indonesia's vets learn to spot disease threats to our north

Attendees at the AIP-EID workshops in IndonesiaVeterinarians from Indonesia are now better equipped to spot and combat animal disease outbreaks and emergencies, following the completion of the first phase of a successful bilateral partnership.

The Australia Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Diseases (AIP-EID) programme, which is funded by an Australian aid initiative and managed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, aims to strengthen Indonesia’s veterinary services to prevent the spread of threats such as foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease and rabies in the region.

Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, highlighted the importance of the department’s work with Australia’s neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

“If rabies became established in Australia, the toll on human and animal health would be profound, and the cost of response and recovery, immense,” Dr Schipp said.

“This makes our work with the AIP-EID program all the more vital.

“We are doing our part here and in our region to improve early preparedness, detection, response and recovery options for rabies and other emergency infectious diseases.”

The programme is based on the ‘One World, One Health’ concept which recognises the link between animal disease, the environment and public health.

‘One World, One Health’ provides a framework to address emerging infectious diseases at the animal-human-ecosystem interface where there is potential for epidemics and pandemics with wide-ranging impacts.

Central to this is the need to have robust and effective surveillance, response, and prevention and preparedness systems in place at national, regional and international levels.

The Australian and Indonesian governments recognised the importance of strengthening human-animal health systems and agreed for the program to focus on the following three priority areas:

  • Strengthen national planning and management for disease prevention and control
  • Strengthen operational issues in information systems, laboratories and quarantine
  • Strengthen decentralised veterinary services.

Under phase one, the programme helped to develop a manual on simulation exercises which has been used to plan, deliver and review FMD disease simulation exercises.

More than 450 representatives participated in exercises, resulting in greater awareness of the need for a clear organisational structure, with defined agency and staff roles and responsibilities, to enable a rapid and coordinated whole-of-government response to disease emergencies.

The programme also supported the advancement of diagnostic test methods for several high-priority diseases and the establishment of processes to assure the quality of test results.

The programme partnered with CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong to work with Indonesia’s national reference laboratories to embed standard test methods for the diagnosis of brucellosis, anthrax, avian influenza and rabies.

For more information, check out the programme’s phase one achievements reportPDF Icon PDF [1.3 MB], which is available on the department’s website.

Meet our new detector dogs - bye bye Beagles, hello Labradors

Leanne Larkin of the department’s Detector Dog Operations team, with detector dog AndyAfter more than 20 years protecting Australia from exotic pests and diseases, the much-loved biosecurity beagles at Sydney International Airport are retiring from duty.

Sniffer dogs TJ, Wally, Sharne, Axel and Andy are hanging up their leads as part of a succession plan which will see the long-serving breed retire from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s detector dog programme.

Beagles have served Australia well since the programme started in 1992, when the first two beagles were deployed at Brisbane and Sydney International Airports. 

As a technical supervisor in the department’s Detector Dog Operations team, Leanne Larkin has supervised all four of the retiring Beagles, and trained Andy for the first couple of years of his working life.

“Beagles possess many attributes that made them well-suited to the task of ferreting out any undeclared food, plants or animal products that could pose a threat to Australia’s biosecurity,” Leanne said.

“They have a great sense of smell and tracking instinct, they are highly driven and would do just about anything for a treat.

“Most are very tenacious and don’t let anything stop them from detecting target odour.” 

In total, TJ, Wally, Sharne, Axel and Andy have more than 200 (doggie) years of loyal service between them, and with their respective handlers are responsible for seizing 29,799 prohibited items from more than 100 countries and for the issuing of 91 Quarantine Infringement Notices to arriving passengers.

Passengers arriving at Australia’s international airports and seaport passenger terminals will now increasingly be greeted by a tail-wagging labrador for a friendly sniff-over, as the last remaining five beagles— located in Cairns, Adelaide and the Gold Coast—retire over the next few years.

The move to change breeds has been driven by a number of factors.

“Due to the change in screening methodology and the use of multi-purpose dogs, labradors are a better choice because of their dual drives of food and play,” Leanne said.

“We’re able to use the same dog across multiple locations and reward them with food for a passive response, such as sitting, at locations like the airport, then use a play reward at mail and cargo where the dogs are taught an active response, such as digging.

“Labradors also stand taller than beagles which is also a distinct advantage as it equates to much quicker processing of passengers as bags can stay on top of trolleys.”

Labradors also possess a third drive, retrieve, which provides greater flexibility in training and deployment options, making them more versatile than beagles.

Wally, Andy and Axel will now be using their vast experience to help train new detector dog handlers.

“These three dogs are all extremely proficient and will provide the new handlers with ample learning opportunities—being experienced they are also more forgiving when new handlers make mistakes.”

TJ and Sharne are now looking forward to some R&R as they retire into the safe care of a former handler and departmental employee.

As Andy’s original handler, Leanne is hoping to give him a home when he finishes his training duties.

Sniffing out browsing ants

Detector dog Willow ready to search for the scent of browsing antsDetector dogs with proven success in sniffing out fire ants in Queensland and New South Wales are about to be trained to see if they can also detect browsing ants, a new exotic pest recently found in the Darwin port area.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant and Electric Ant Eradication Program based in Queensland has successfully used odour detection dogs in Brisbane, Gladstone and Port Botany in Sydney to eradicateFire Ants. Detector dogs are also used in north Queensland for eradicating electric ants and the program is collaborating with Hawaii on its electric ant eradication program by offering expertise in using dogs for surveillance.

Continue reading about sniffing out browsing ants

Now they are offering a helping hand (or paw) closer to home – the team has been visiting Darwin with a black labrador detector dog called Willow and has been working with the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries to establish a browsing ant colony to produce odour that the dog can be trained to recognise.

Detector dogs are able to detect ants with great accuracy and two dogs from the fire ant program will be trained to also pick up on the specific odours of browsing ant. If successful, these dogs will help determine how far the Darwin incursion has spread and their help will be vital to check that the pest has been destroyed after treatment of the target area.

Browsing ants are exotic to Australia and have not established here. They pose a threat to our environment and, if allowed to establish, they have the potential to invade our domestic environments, such as backyards, and can damage plants and landscaping. They form supercolonies and eat and displace native ant species, as well as other insects in the infested area.

The Australian, Northern Territory and Queensland governments have joined forces to support the deployment and trial of the detector dogs in the fight against browsing ants.

This sharing of expertise and resources shows how Australia unites to get the job done and protect our environment and agricultural industries from exotic pests.

For more information go to Outbreak - Browsing ants

New biosecurity and export certification fees and levies from 1 December 2015

Many of the department’s clients will soon notice a change in the cost recovery fees and levies that they pay for biosecurity and export certification activities.

The department’s redesign of charges simplifies existing cost recovery arrangements. The costs that are collected through fees and levies and how the department charges for activities has also been standardised across imports and exports. This has improved the transparency and consistency of fees and levies.

Continue reading about new biosecurity and export certification fees and levies

New import fees and levies apply to:

  • air and sea cargo imports
  • plants and animals entering post entry quarantine, including cats and dogs
  • approved arrangements participants
  • vessel operators.

New export fees and levies apply to:

  • live animal and reproductive material exports
  • horticulture, grain and plant product exports
  • food exports, including meat, dairy, fish, egg and non-prescribed goods.

New Cost Recovery Implementation Statements (CRISs) and charging guidelines have been developed and are available on the department’s website at The CRISs explain how the department has developed its fees and levies and the new prices. The charging guidelines supplement the CRISs by providing information about how the new fees and levies are applied to biosecurity and export certification activities.

The department worked closely with industry consultative committees, held a series of stakeholder engagement sessions and sought public comments when redesigning the fees and levies—including on the draft CRISs and charging guidelines.

The new cost recovery fees and levies will come into effect on 1 December 2015.

For more information about the department’s redesigned fees and levies, please go the cost recovery webpage of the department’s website or email the Cost Recovery Taskforce at Cost Recovery.

Dirty digger fails the biosecurity test

The contaminated Sumitomo excavatorMasses of biosecurity risk material was discovered on an excavator arriving into the port of Townsville from Papua New Guinea recently.

Department officers found the grossly contaminated Sumitomo excavator during an inspection on the wharf, and prevented the excavator from entering Australia.

Continue reading about the contaminated excavator

All machinery imported into Australia must be free from contamination, such as plant animal materials, seeds and soil. Strict guidelines are enforced on all machinery entering Australia to protect our plant, animal and human health.

The excavator clogged with dirt and rubble was sent back to Papua New Guinea after consulting the importer. The importer agreed the machinery did not meet permit condtions.

If you import machinery into Australia you can find full import conditions, permits and cleaning guides on the department website.

Have your say on Australia's BIRA Regulation and Guidelines

Does Australia have the right level of protection from biosecurity risks?

The draft Biosecurity Import Risk Analysis Regulation (BIRA Regulation) and Biosecurity Import Risk Analysis Guidelines (BIRA Guidelines) are open for feedback until 16 December 2015.

The BIRA Regulation sets out and regulates the key steps of the BIRA process. It also includes specific timeframes, publication and consultation requirements, involvement of a scientific advisory group and the role of the Inspector-General of Biosecurity in the BIRA process.

As part of the consultation process for the BIRA Regulation, the department is also seeking feedback on the BIRA Guidelines. The new guidelines will replace the Import Risk Assessment Handbook.

Continue reading about BIRA Regulation and Guidelines

The BIRA Regulation and BIRA Guidelines will commence under the Biosecurity Act 2015 on 16 June 2016.

The consultation period for the exposure draft BIRA Regulation and BIRA Guidelines is open until 16 December 2015. This is your opportunity to put forward ideas on how the BIRA process will work when the new Act takes effect in June 2016.

More information on the consultation process is available on the department’s website

New Biosecurity Act 2015 – the countdown is on

As we get ready for Australia’s new regulations under the Biosecurity Act 2015, the departmenthas been working to ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities ahead of the Act’s commencement on 16 June 2016.

Until the new legislation starts, the Quarantine Act 1908 remains the primary piece of biosecurity legislation in Australia. The Biosecurity Act 2015 will then replace the Quarantine Act 1908.

The department has developed an implementation schedule to ensure that critical functions are in place from 16 June 2016.  However, the full implementation of the legislation will occur over a number of years with work to continue on introducing changes that are non-critical or require a phased approach to allow for stakeholder compliance.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 is framework legislation drafted to be flexible and responsive to changes in technology and future challenges.  In line with this approach, subordinate legislation will need to be drafted in the following areas:

  • prohibited and conditionally non-prohibited goods
  • information gathering
  • general goods
  • general conveyances
  • first points of entry
  • ballast water and sediment
  • post-border monitoring, control and response
  • approved arrangements
  • biosecurity emergencies
  • compliance and enforcement
  • governance and officials
  • cost recovery
  • application of the biosecurity legislation to the Torres Strait and Australian territories
  • Human health.

The department is consulting on the details of the delegated legislation and supporting administrative policies in preparation for publishing the draft regulations for formal consideration ahead of its commencement.

A range of workshops and forums are now underway across the country to discuss details of delegated legislation and allow stakeholders and clients to consider how the legislation will affect their industry. The department will continue to consult over the coming months.

Just like the Quarantine Act 1908, the biosecurity legislation will be co-administered by the Ministers responsible for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Health.

For more information

For up-to-date information on the new legislation and implementation process, visit the department’s website

Enquires can be directed to New Biosecurity Legislation or phone 1800 040 629.

Screenshot of Outbreak websiteWhere in Australia would you find current outbreaks of banana freckle, browsing ants and chestnut blight? Find out by clicking on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ new look Outbreak website.

The revamped website has a fresh new design that makes it easier to use on mobile phones and tablets. Key features include interactive maps, the ability to search by state and territory or a particular pest or disease, and links through to local information.

The Outbreak website also provides information on how to protect plants and animals from pests and diseases, and, importantly, how to report a suspected outbreak. The online resource is hosted and managed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and was developed collaboratively across state and territory and Australian government agricultural agencies.

Continue reading about the new look Outbreak website

Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Kim Ritman, emphasised that the Outbreak website wasn’t just for people involved in primary industries, and that even people who just kept a backyard vegetable garden could get valuable information from this online resource.

“It’s really a central hub right at your fingertips, and is worth bookmarking,” Dr Ritman said. “We all have a role in biosecurity to protect our agricultural industries, environment and economy and stop the spread of pests and diseases within Australia.”

Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Mark Schipp, said the online resource had long played an important role in keeping people informed about outbreaks that could have major impacts on agricultural production and markets.

“It is widely used by agricultural producers, exporters, trading partners, government agencies and the media,” Dr Schipp said. “It was invaluable during the equine influenza outbreak in 2007, and is capable of being the national go-to website if there is another large-scale agricultural emergency.”

You can view the new Outbreak website at

Border Finds

Before you travel or mail items to Australia, check BICON. Some goods require an import permit, some may require treatment, and others are prohibited. When travelling to Australia you must declare all food, animal and plant material on your Incoming Passenger Card. In most cases your goods will be returned to you.

Online seed sales a blooming problem

Online stores across the globe have made it easier for gardeners to buy a wide variety of exotic seeds. Unfortunately, many of these seed species pose high biosecurity risks and require import permits and seed testing before entering Australia. The costs incurred in meeting these conditions far exceed the value of the seeds purchased by most gardeners. Even those seeds that are technically permitted often do not meet import conditions as the sellers do not properly label the seeds, or the packages contain contaminants like dirt and plant material.  Far from being a cheaper option, gardeners find that their long awaited exotic seed purchases are seized and destroyed by the department.

The work of the department in detecting seed imports at the border is time consuming and expensive, but necessary to protect Australia’s biosecurity.  It is for this reason that the department is piloting activities that aim to better inform overseas seed suppliers about Australia’s biosecurity import requirements. The aim of this work is to reduce sales of prohibited and restricted seeds to Australian customers, and to assist suppliers to meet Australian import requirements for permitted seeds.

One of the activities being piloted involves working closely with eBay to address sales of prohibited and restricted seeds to Australian customers. To date this work has included blocking the sale of tomato and capsicum seeds, two species that have very strict import restrictions, from suppliers outside Australia. Data collected by biosecurity officers at international mail gateway facilities has also been used to target specific sellers who repeatedly send consignments of seeds that do not meet import requirements. eBay’s support of the department’s work in this area has been exemplary.

The department is continuing to monitor e-stores and liaise with overseas retailers to inform them about Australia’s biosecurity requirements, as well as looking for opportunities to pilot new and innovative ways of communicating Australia’s biosecurity requirements. If you have an idea about how the department can better communicate with suppliers, let us know at International Mail.

Before ordering seeds or any other plant, food or timber products online, make sure you check the import requirements first to avoid wasting your money and risking Australia’s biosecurity. 

Detector Dog River stops the bad seeds

While a biosecurity officer at Adelaide airport was inspecting the luggage of two passengers arriving from China, they uncovered fruit that had not been declared. When the passengers were asked whether they had any other items to declare, their mouths said “no”, but their body language said “yes”.

Detector Dog River was called, and after sniffing around the passengers, sat to indicate to her handler that the passengers were concealing a target odour. After the passengers had emptied their pockets, biosecurity officers found prohibited bean seeds and vegetable seeds for sowing.

The seeds were seized for destruction and both passengers were issued with a Quarantine Infringement Notice fine of $360.

Our detector dogs are an efficient and non-intrusive tool that are able to detect biosecurity risk items such as seeds and other plant materials that may be deliberately or inadvertently carried by passengers or sent through the international mail.

Detector dog River 

More than $47 million in drugs detected by biosecurity officers

Three suitcases that caught the interest of a biosecurity officer at Melbourne International Airport have netted one of Australia’s largest drug hauls.

After noticing the unaccompanied luggage on x-ray, a biosecurity officer inspected the first suitcase and opened a package marked as tea. Inside, a white crystal substance was found. The second suitcase was then opened and a rectangle object that contained some white powder was found. The third suitcase was not opened and all three were reported and sent for testing.

The substances were identified as 55 kilograms of methamphetamine with a street value of $36.8 million, and 18 kilograms of heroin with a street value of $10.1 million.

Australian Federal Police conducted a controlled delivery of the suitcases to a hotel in Melbourne and subsequently arrested three Malaysian nationals.

This seizure was one of the largest in Australian history at an Australian international airport.

Biosecurity officers commonly inspect packages that may contain hidden products of interest to Australian Border Force (ABF) and work with their ABF counterparts extensively at airports, sea ports and mail centres. 

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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