Biosecurity Matters, Edition 4, 2018

​​​Biosecurity Matters

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Biosecurity is the management of the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia and causing harm to animals, plants or human health, the economy, the environment and the community.

Working with NZ to build traveller biosecurity capabilities

Deputy Secretary, Lyn O’Connell, and Head of Biosecurity New Zealand, Roger Smith, agree to collaborate on innovation and technology to tackle our comparable biosecurity challenges.

A unique and valuable biosecurity system is something Australia and New Zealand have in common. Now we also share an agreement that will help protect it. Last month both countries announced an agreement to cooperate on trials of innovative technologies to improve both countries’ biosecurity operations.

Deputy Secretary responsible for biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, said the Trans-Tasman Cooperation on Biosecurity Risk Detection Technology will mean that new X-ray technologies being trialled in Australia could be used both here and in New Zealand.

‘Our department inspects millions of passengers, mail parcels, baggage and cargo consignments every year—these new technologies could allow us to do this faster and more effectively,’ Ms O’Connell said.

‘Through this collaboration with New Zealand, we are developing and trialling the next generation of X-ray technology, which has the potential to automatically detect biosecurity risk material in baggage, mail and air cargo items.


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‘This would be a first for both our countries and will increase our ability to swiftly identify risk material and better target high risk items, individuals and entities to safeguard Australia from pest and diseases.’

The Trans-Tasman Cooperation on Biosecurity Risk Detection Technology will support ongoing collaboration between Australia and New Zealand in areas that provide promising opportunities to improve biosecurity.

This includes jointly trialling the new X-ray detection technologies, as well as potential detector dog initiatives, which will see them trained in different capabilities and deployed in new environments.

Roger Smith, head of Biosecurity New Zealand, said the commitment to cooperate reflected a shared understanding of the importance of building future biosecurity capabilities.

‘Detecting biosecurity risks at the border is becoming increasingly complex for both Australia and New Zealand, with more diverse risks, and volumes of passengers, mail and cargo also expected to rise significantly in coming years,’ Mr Smith said.

‘Working together to explore emerging technologies and innovative use of technologies will be mutually beneficial and help both our countries anticipate and meet future challenges.

‘This is a great initiative and the next step in an ongoing conversation.’

Find out more about Australian Government biosecurity priorities.

White Paper funding makes a beeline for Asian hornet invaders

The Asian hornet threatens the health of Australia’s honey bees.

Its name suggests something out of a B grade science fiction movie, but when it comes to threatening the health of Australia’s honey bees, the Asian hornet is a real life super villain.

Through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is funding enhancements to the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, including the nation’s first ever trial of Asian hornet traps.

The year-long trial will investigate the effectiveness and ease of use of traps for Asian hornet and other wasp species at seaports.

Departmental staff monitor traps in Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

Continue reading about White Paper funding makes a beeline for Asian hornet invaders

Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) Bee Pest Surveillance Coordinator, Dr Jenny Shanks, coordinates the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program on behalf of the department and other government and industry supporters. She said the trial highlights the variety of threats facing bees.

‘When it comes to bee pests we immediately think of the Varroa mite, but Asian hornets also feed on and kill bee colonies,’ Dr Shanks said.

‘This exotic pest is incredibly aggressive and invasive, it is spreading throughout Western Europe, and the UK, and could rapidly adapt to the Australian climate.’

Dr Marion Healy, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Biosecurity Plant Division, said the Asian hornet trapping trial illustrates efforts to better target the nation’s most unwanted exotic plant pests and diseases.

‘There can be no higher priority than pests that threaten not only our honey bee and pollination dependent grains and horticulture industries, but our environment and future food security,’ Dr Healy said.

‘Keeping Australia free of exotic bee pests is a critical focus for our White Paper investment in strengthening surveillance.’

This project is supported by funding from the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

Big bucks to boost biosecurity

An extra $18.1 million has been allocated for more boots on the ground at international ports.

Australia’s frontline biosecurity activities just got a boost following the Australian Government’s announcement of $137.8 million in additional funding. The investment will fund new biosecurity initiatives as well as strengthening some existing programs.

Some of the new measures include a $25.2 million Biosecurity Innovation Program that will invest in new smart technology, such as underwater drones to check for exotic pests on the undersides of ships and X-ray technology to scan passenger baggage more quickly at airports.

A further $36.5 million will be allocated for a team of biosecurity analytics specialists to help pinpoint which passengers, countries and imports are likely to bring in pests and diseases.


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$7.6 million will fund an ongoing Environmental Biosecurity Protection Officer and staff, within the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. The officer will prepare plans and invest in projects to keep out environmental threats—such as the Asian black spined toad, which is similar to the cane toad but could potentially spread further throughout Australia.

The existing Indigenous Biosecurity Rangers program will receive a further $33.5 million over the next five years to employ 69 groups of Indigenous Rangers across some 10,000 km of northern Australian coastline. The amount includes training for an additional 13 Torres Strait Islander groups. These rangers are a frontline defence for our agricultural industry and environment by keeping out invading pests and diseases.

And should an exotic threat get in, we have also set aside $35 million in contingency funding, ready to go if we do face an incursion we need to stamp out.

This new funding comes on top of the $145.9 million of funding already allocated to biosecurity investment over five years in the recent budget.

This funding included $107.8 million for:

  • enhanced assurance and verification activities to strengthen the enforcement of our strict standards
  • monitoring overseas pests and diseases to reduce the risk of them getting to Australia
  • more surveillance, monitoring and response around our ports
  • keeping our vaccine bank ready for the risk of foot and mouth disease
  • the Australian Animal Health Laboratory and its vital testing for exotic pests and diseases.

The department has also allocated $18.1 million for more boots on the ground at international ports over the next five years, with around 35 extra officers inspecting passengers’ baggage and performing other tasks.

An additional one-off amount of $20 million has also been allocated to support Tasmanian fruit growers impacted by the fruit fly outbreak.

These new and existing funding measures increase the government’s commitment to biosecurity to a total of $313 million over the next five years.

Find out more about the Australian Government’s biosecurity priorities.

Hay Point pilots ship garbage recycling program

Department officers in Mackay worked with AMSA and North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) during a trial of recovering recyclables from international vessels.

Every year, millions of tonnes of waste is generated in Australia.

A pilot program, testing the feasibility of recycling garbage from international ships at Port Hay Point and Port Brisbane, is helping to tackle the problem.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) conducted the pilot in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) and Mackay Regional Council.

During the pilot, arriving ships had the option to separate recyclables from other waste—protecting local industries, native wildlife, human health and the environment in the process. And, ultimately, reducing waste.

The department’s biosecurity officers were on hand to inspect the material on board the ship before releasing it from biosecurity control—provided it was free from biosecurity risks, such as animal or plant material.


Continue reading about Hay Point pilots ship garbage recycling program

Clean recyclables were then disposed of free-of-charge. Collectors accepted glass, aluminium and steel cans as well as hard plastic containers.

Dean Merrilees, Assistant Secretary of Compliance Controls, celebrated the program saying it was a great initiative that would ensure biosecurity risks associated with international ships continue to be managed while also improving recycling arrangements.

‘Rubbish brought to Australia on ships can carry a range of exotic pests and diseases that can impact our agricultural industries, environment, plant, animal and human health—so it’s important we continue to manage the risks,’ Mr Merrilees said.

‘During the pilot, recyclables that arrived on international ships were still required to undergo the usual biosecurity clearance, but they were be able to be disposed of and recycled in the same way as any domestic or municipal recyclables.

‘It is a fantastic initiative and we were proud to be part of it. It will allow ships’ waste to be managed more sustainably, while still protecting our biosecurity status.’

Currently, ships’ crews separate recyclable garbage on board, but they have limited opportunity to offload these materials at Australian ports for recycling.

At the moment, any garbage that is separated on board is combined when collected in Australian ports and it has to be incinerated, autoclaved (high temperature-pressure treatment) or deep-buried to meet Australia’s biosecurity requirements.

While these treatments address biosecurity risks, the opportunity for recycling is lost. It also creates a disincentive for ships to discharge garbage in Australian ports.

Lessons from the pilot program will help identify opportunities and obstacles for ships to recycle waste when they arrive in Australia.
Find out more about biosecurity for arriving vessels.

Building communication capacity for emergency incidents

A recent workshop in Canberra brought together communication officers from around the country.

Around 50 people from across Australia travelled to Canberra in June to attend the ‘Delivering public information in a biosecurity incident’ training workshop.

Melissa Brown, Assistant Secretary for the Parliamentary, Communication and Portfolio Business Branch said the two-day workshop was an opportunity to get communication officers, from each of the jurisdictions, across national response arrangements that are in place for biosecurity incidents and importantly, across the communication and engagement tools and processes.

‘It was also great to see policy and operations people attend, along with representatives from plant and livestock industry groups,’ Ms Brown said.

The workshop stepped through the national response arrangements that are in place for biosecurity incidents, including AUSVETPLAN, PLANTPLAN and the respective emergency response deeds.


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It then drilled down into the supporting communication mechanisms including the National Biosecurity Communication and Engagement Network (NBCEN) and the recently revised Biosecurity Incident Public Information Manual.

Hands-on activities prepared participants to deploy to another jurisdiction to help out with a response.

‘The lack of personnel available to help out in long-term biosecurity incidents continues to be an issue for most jurisdictions. People continue to be deployed interstate to help out with responses.

‘Citrus canker in the Northern Territory is a current example.

‘Many people have been or will be deployed to Darwin to work in the Incident Management Team for Citrus canker, as did many when White Spot Disease occurred in Queensland.’

Along with the Planning and Operation functions within an Incident Management Team, the Public Information function always needs more people to step up.

‘The nature of community engagement requires a lot of personnel with specialist skills. Hence the need for this workshop—to get more people trained up in the Public Information function.’

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp and the Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman presented at the workshop. David Inall from Australian Dairy Farmers also presented a case study from his time in the United States, responding to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak. 

Queensland Public Information managers presented local case studies, including the successes and lessons learnt from recent responses to White Spot Disease, Banana Panama disease and Hendra Virus.

Participants put their new found knowledge and skills to the test during an exercise scenario that simulated an incursion of Lumpy Skin Disease alongside a detection of Giant African Snail. The exercise challenged their thinking around how to deliver a nationally consistent communication approach to several incidents running across a number of jurisdictions simultaneously. 

Ms Brown said that the workshop achieved its objectives and the feedback received was very positive. 

‘Hopefully during the next major incident our participants will be willing to put their hand up to help out the Public Information team.’
The workshop was a NBCEN initiative, funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources through its Stronger Biosecurity and Quarantine Initiative.

You can find out more about NBCEN on the Outbreak website.

Clearing our Thailand cave heroes

The cave rescue heroes were processed quickly and smoothly upon their arrival home.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources recently coordinated with the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to bring home a team of Australian specialists from Thailand following their successful mission in rescuing 12 young boys and their football team coach who were trapped in an underground cave system for two weeks. Our cave rescue heroes were processed quickly and smoothly upon their arrival home.


Sowing the seeds for an international movement system

Participants take part in the International Clean Seed Pathway Workshop.

Australians import large volumes of seeds, particularly vegetable seeds, every year. Seeds are a potential pathway for introducing a number of diseases that are not present in Australia. Their impact could be devastating. Clean seed is the foundation for healthy, vigorous crops.

Managing the safe movement of seed is critical. Promoting and enhancing the global movement of clean seed was the aim of the recent International Clean Seed Pathway Workshop on 7-8 June 2018 in Brisbane.

The workshop was hosted by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. It provided a forum for seed producers and users, importers, exporters, researchers and regulators to discuss the concept of an integrated system for regulating the phytosanitary health of seeds.


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There were 61 participants from 12 countries; Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand and the USA.

Participants had positive feedback. They said the workshop was well organised and they were impressed that such a broad audience was involved. It was a great collaboration between government and industry.

The group showed overwhelming support to develop a single system to facilitate the global movement of clean seed. And they thought the International Plant Protection Convention was a logical forum for global adoption of the system.

The workshop took place right after the World Seed Congress, organised by the International Seed Federation (ISF). The department gave a presentation at this congress on an ‘Overview of Australia’s activities related to a systems approach for seed’.

The Quadrilateral Seed Health Working Group (QSHWG) also met prior to and following the workshop. QSHWG comprises representatives from the National Plant Protection Organisation of Australia (the department), New Zealand, the USA and Canada. QSHWG members agreed to undertake collaborative projects that could significantly contribute to establishing a global clean seed systems approach.

Leading up to the workshop the department organised a Global Integrated System of Seed Production Workshop in April with the Australian Seed Federation to discuss the current and potential systems of seed production, process and biosecurity risk management.

The department also presented Australia’s work on a systems approach for seed at the ISF Systems Approach Workshop in Rome in April this year.

Find out more about importing seeds for sowing to Australia.

Upskilling in northern Australia

Participants learning the fundamentals in helping keep Australia safe from aquatic pests and diseases.

Having a well-trained team and industry stakeholders in northern Australia is essential to protecting Australia from many exotic pests and diseases which threaten our biosecurity status. As part of the capability training initiatives, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has provided training opportunities for key partners, stakeholders, staff and Ranger groups.

The aquatic biosecurity capability project, in collaboration with Animal Health Australia, have recently hosted a series of aquatic biosecurity awareness workshops across northern Australia. The workshops were run in various locations from Broome to Mackay, including the Torres Strait, outlining the fundamentals in helping to keep Australia safe from aquatic pests and diseases.

Continue reading about upskilling in northern Australia

Although the workshop series was targeted towards aquatic industries, biosecurity officers and anyone working in the aquatic space looking to upskill, the department also invited fisheries officers and those working in the aquatic space to come and learn about the main threats to Australia’s unique marine environment.

Conducting these workshops in remote and regional towns ensures our partners all across the north are prepared in the event of a marine pest incursion.

The department has also been working with Indigenous Ranger groups to facilitate new training opportunities to build on existing capability and expand the scope of the work undertaken by rangers across northern Australia.

Over 60 Indigenous Rangers have completed our Emergency Response Training, providing skills for Rangers to deal with biosecurity emergencies—ultimately helping to prevent the spread of pests, weeds and diseases. These skills in emergency management are also essential in other situations such as natural disaster management and large scale security threats.

This training aligns with our goals of capacity building in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and provides more practical employment opportunities for Rangers in remote areas.

Find out more about the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).

New education tools help stop pests at our seaports

To help seaport workers identify and report any biosecurity concerns, the department has released a new cargo pests education video.

Stevedores, wharf workers and truck drivers who work with imported cargo have a key role in protecting against exotic pests that can arrive at our seaports.

Many pests can hitchhike their way into Australia on or in shipping containers, or hidden in break bulk cargo like cars and machinery.

To help seaport workers identify and report any biosecurity concerns, the department has released a new cargo pests education video​ and pocket-sized cargo pests guide. 

A number of organisations have opted to include the video as part of their training for port workers.

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Head of Biosecurity Operations at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nico Padovan, said the video and cargo pest guide uses a simple SEE. SECURE. REPORT. message to encourage stevedores and truckies to promptly report any biosecurity risk materials—such as bugs, snails, birds, bees, moths, soil and plant matter.

‘We are not asking people to be experts on exotic pests and diseases, but if you do happen to see something in or on a container it’s probably not meant to be there, especially if it’s alive,’ Mr Padovan said.

‘Prompt reporting allows us to put containment measures in place quickly to prevent these potentially devastating pests, diseases and weeds from escaping or being transported out to our rural areas.

‘Once a pest or disease makes it past the border it has the potential to harm our natural environment, food security, human health and economy.

‘Everyone who works around goods that have been imported from overseas has an important role in protecting Australia from the threat of pests and diseases. 

‘Many reports of suspected biosecurity concerns come from wharf workers, truck drivers, ship’s crew, stevedores and depot staff.

‘If you work at a seaport or you transport imported goods, remember to keep an eye out for anything that might be a biosecurity concern, and if you spot something, try to secure or isolate it.

‘This could be as easy as closing the doors on a shipping container—then letting the department know you’ve found something.’

Report your find to an onsite biosecurity officer, online at Report a biosecurity concern or call the SEE. SECURE. REPORT hotline on 1800 798 636.

Passenger puts $63 billion agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries at risk

X-ray reveals plants, bulbs and seeds that a man attempted to smuggle into Australia.

Biosecurity officers at Perth airport recently thwarted a significant biosecurity threat.

A man was found to be carrying plants, bulbs and seeds, despite telling officers that he only had honey and oregano to declare.

Head of biosecurity operations at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nico Padovan, said the officers found a large amount of plant material in the passenger’s suitcases and pockets.

‘Officers used an X-ray machine to help find fresh plant material hidden in shoes and rugs in the passenger’s suitcase.

‘A sniffer dog search indicated that he was hiding more organic material in his pants pockets including seeds and fresh plants with roots and soil still attached.


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‘In total, 844 individual plants, bulbs and seeds were found, as well as eight packets of undeclared flower seeds and two packets of undeclared rice. 

‘Bringing plant material into Australia provides a pathway for exotic pests to arrive in the country and it’s a serious offence.

‘It puts our $63 billion agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries and environment at risk.’

The man was convicted and fined at the Northern Territory Local Court.

In addition to the fine, a criminal conviction was recorded which he will need to declare when applying for visas or jobs.

‘All international travellers carrying foods, plant material or animal products in their luggage must declare them on their incoming passenger card.

‘This case shows that those who intentionally try to thwart our systems by not declaring biosecurity risk material will be appropriately dealt with.’

The department’s biosecurity officers work around-the-clock to enforce Australia’s strict biosecurity border controls and safeguard the nation from pests and diseases present in other countries.

Find out more about Australia’s biosecurity conditions and what can and can't be brought to Australia from overseas.

Boosting biosecurity to keep out stink bugs

Brown marmorated stink bug is not found in Australia and is a pest of considerable biosecurity concern to our agricultural industries.

We love our seasons in Australia. Summer down the beach, winter in the snow, trees ablaze with colour in autumn and regeneration in our gardens during spring. Seasons subtly dictate a lot of our life here in Australia.

But there’s one season we don’t look forward to—Brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) season.

For goods shipped between September each year to April the following year, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is on high-alert for the possibility of these unwanted pests making their way into Australia through imported goods.

The BMSB season coincides with late autumn and winter in the Northern Hemisphere, where these pests are likely to seek shelter in shipping containers, general freight and break-bulk cargo, such as machinery and cars.


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BMSB is native to a number of Asian countries, recently established in the United States, and is now spreading through Europe.

Deputy Secretary for Biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, said we work closely with industry to put in place stronger biosecurity management for imported goods each year to manage the seasonal threat of BMSB.

‘During the BMSB season, importers of certain goods and vessels arriving from specific countries are required to comply with seasonal measures, including mandatory treatment and increased intervention before the goods arrive in Australia,’ Ms O’Connell said.

‘All of these goods must adhere to conditions outlined in Australia’s import conditions database, BICON.

‘Recently we hosted industry seminars in Sydney and Melbourne to discuss expanding BMSB measures.

‘To increase awareness of BMSB and assist industry in reporting detections of BMSB and other major exotic pests, we’ve recently produced a biosecurity awareness video and Cargo pests guide specifically for use by the stevedore and transport industries.

‘Industry has a vital role to play in keeping this devastating pest out of Australia—we all share the responsibility of protecting our shores from biosecurity threats.’

If established in our country, BMSB could have a huge impact on our $63 billion agricultural industries.

Both juveniles and adult bugs feed on, and severely damage, a wide range of fruit and vegetables crops—and they build up into plague proportions, entering homes, businesses, schools, factories and even vehicles when they seek shelter during winter.

Details of the final BMSB seasonal measures for 2018–19, including the applicable goods and specific treatment rates, are on our BMSB web page.

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Last reviewed: 29 September 2020
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