Biosecurity Matters, Edition 1, 2020

​​​​​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.

New department offers better links for biosecurity and sustainable resources


Andrew Metcalfe AO has been appointed as the new head of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

The new year brings with it a new decade. For the department, it also brings a new name and a new department head, Andrew Metcalfe AO.

On 1 February the Department of Agriculture merged with the environment functions from the Department of the Environment and Energy. We are now the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Mr Metcalfe said the integration offers the ideal opportunity to drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges.

‘We’ll be improving outcomes across agriculture, water and the environment for all Australians. The work that we do today has far-reaching impacts now and for future generations,’ Mr Metcalfe said. 

The department also has a new corporate website and new department crest. But rest assured, this will have no impact on our ability to continue providing effective and valuable biosecurity services.

Continue reading about new department offers better links for biosecurity and sustainable resources

The new website is, but links to access the online systems and services you use remain the same for now.

‘This new structure strengthens the Australian Government’s ability to deliver effective sustainable resource policy outcomes across agriculture, water and the environment,’ Mr Metcalfe said.

‘This is important for regional areas and the agricultural sector, with many communities facing long dry periods and drought.’
Find out more about the new department at

Celebrating a year of plant health


Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, Chief Plant Protection Officer, presents at the Australian launch for International Year of Plant Health.

For the first time in history, the United Nations General Assembly has focused global attention on plant health by declaring 2020 the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH).

IYPH provides a unique opportunity for the international plant health community to work together to combat emerging plant pest threats on a global scale.

Governments, industries, researchers and international ambassadors came together at Parliament House to mark the launch of Australia’s IYPH’s program of plant health events and activities.

Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, said Australia’s economy, environment and food security relies on the health of our plants. 

‘In recent months, unprecedented fires have ravaged the Australian landscape, destroying natural plant communities, productive pastures and croplands.

‘This devastating loss of bush and farmland has underscored the critical role healthy plants play in supporting biodiverse ecosystems, supplying food, fodder, fibre and providing services such as oxygen production, shade and carbon storage.

Continue reading about celebrating a year of plant health

‘Just as scorched landscapes have begun sending out new shoots, this year we set out with a renewed resolve to prevent, prepare for and respond effectively to pest threats in Australia and assist others in our region and beyond to benefit from our knowledge and expertise,’ Dr Vivian-Smith said.

In his opening address, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, also highlighted the need to foster new collaborations to meet today’s biosecurity challenges.

To find out how you can support IYPH visit the International Year of Plant Health website.

Would be budgie smugglers thwarted


Whole dried birds, cat food, cat supplements and unknown veterinary therapeutics could carry avian influenza (AI) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

Biosecurity officers at Sydney Airport recently averted cat-astrophe, intercepting luggage full of illegally imported whole dried birds, pet food and unknown veterinary supplements.

Head of biosecurity, Lyn O’Connell, said the items could have exposed Australia to the risks of avian influenza, a serious biosecurity threat to our animal health status.

‘Sydney biosecurity officers were conducting routine luggage checks when an X-ray revealed anomalies in a passenger’s bag,’ Ms O’Connell said.

‘Officers found whole dried birds, cat food, cat supplements and unknown veterinary therapeutics—items that could have carried avian influenza (AI) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). 

‘The presence of dead birds is particularly troubling due to the threat of avian influenza, a virus we’ve worked hard to keep out of Australia.

Continue reading about would be budgie smugglers thwarted

‘If a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak were to occur in Australia, it would have devastating effects on our poultry meat and egg industries, which contribute enormously to our economy.

‘The pet supplements contained goat’s milk, a possible carrier of FMD. FMD is recognised as being one of the world’s most serious livestock diseases.

‘Recent testing of animal products confiscated at our borders have returned positive results for FMD, demonstrating the importance of keeping these prohibited items out of Australia.

‘There is no excuse for risking Australia’s agriculture industries and the livelihoods of thousands. If you have biosecurity risk items, just declare them.’

The undeclared food items were destroyed and the passenger was issued an infringement notice.

For more information on items that should not be brought to Australia, visit Travelling or sending goods to Australia.

Originally appeared as a media release, would be budgie smugglers thwarted.

Importers benefit from optimised intervention approaches: 5 new plant products added to CBIS


The Compliance-Based Intervention Scheme (CBIS) optimises our approach to managing biosecurity risk at the border.

The Compliance-Based Intervention Scheme (CBIS) has proven to be a smarter approach to managing biosecurity risk at the border. The scheme rewards importers who continually comply with Australia’s import conditions through risk-based intervention.

The scheme expanded in 2019 to include a total of 37 plant products. Several new commodities will be added to CBIS in the first part of 2020 including:

  • fresh immature corn
  • some species of fresh, chilled mushrooms
  • dried onions
  • fresh chilled Agaricus mushrooms from New Zealand
  • fresh blueberries from New Zealand.

The benefits of the scheme for importers include a smoother, more efficient clearance of compliant goods through the border—in short, less red tape. 

Since its introduction in 2013, the CBIS has saved compliant importers over AU$11.1 million in inspections, and enabled the department to reallocate its resources to areas of highest risk and non-compliance.

Continue reading about importers benefit from optimised intervention approaches: 5 new plant products added to CBIS

By transforming the way the department manages compliant imports and shifting our focus to managing non-compliant pathways, Australia’s plant industries and environment are better protected.

Protecting plant health is in the spotlight this year, given 2020 is the International Year of Plant Health.

Find out more about the Compliance-Based Intervention Scheme, including whether your plant product is eligible.

Bee imports create a buzz at the PEQ


Importing queen bees will give the bee industry access to important genetics.

A trial is underway at the department’s Post entry quarantine (PEQ) facility in Melbourne to prepare for imports of live queen bees from around the world.

Newly appointed biosecurity apiary officers have been working with industry partners since December to test PEQ operations for managing bee imports.

Head of the PEQ, Dr Peter Finnin, says the Queen bee domestic trial will provide huge benefits to the bee industry. This includes access to important genetics, particularly around preventative resistance to the devastating bee mite, Varroa destructor (an exotic National Priority Plant Pest not currently present in Australia).

‘The trial complements other genetic improvement programs aimed at improving the sustainability of local bee populations.’

‘Our new biosecurity apiary officers have had to learn about bee related functions including how to support the colonies, the inspection process, the hibernation of the queen, introduction of queen to nucleus hives, mite inspections and ongoing daily monitoring.’

Continue reading about bee imports create a buzz at the PEQ

‘It’s an exciting opportunity for the PEQ. We’re working closely with our industry partners to identify any risks and considerations during the trial.’

‘This industry-partnership model has worked well for us in other areas of post-entry quarantine—including horses and avian imports,’ Dr Finnin said.

The trial is a partnership between:

  • Hort Innovation
  • Wheen Bee Foundation
  • Queen Bee Breeders Association
  • Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.

PEQ staff are also working with an apiary specialist from the NSW Department of Primary Industry and the leading apiary officer from Agriculture Victoria.

Imports are expected to start Spring 2020.

Learn more about post-entry quarantine.

Taking the bite out of exotic mosquitoes with the vector monitoring program


Asian Tiger Mosquito

Mosquitoes are among the world’s most deadly animals. Their bite alone is unlikely to kill—but the diseases they spread could.

Mosquitoes are the vector for many diseases including dengue and zika virus disease which are exotic to Australia. Some mosquitoes are a higher risk than others. The Asian tiger mosquito, for example, is able to spread over 22 viruses to humans.

The impact of these diseases on society and the economy is unimaginable for people living in countries like Australia that enjoy a high standard of health and well-being.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 390 million cases of dengue each year, causing at least 25,000 deaths.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment coordinates a vector monitoring program—one of the largest entomological surveillance programs in Australia. The program protects Australia from exotic mosquitoes and the potential diseases they could carry.

Continue reading about taking the bite out of exotic mosquitoes with the vector monitoring program

National Vector Coordinator, John Nielsen, is an entomologist with 15 years’ experience working on invasive insects with the department.

‘The program operates nearly 600 traps across Australia and catches up to 1 million mosquitoes every year, all of which are carefully identified to screen for exotic species,’ Mr Nielson said.

John’s work as coordinator has seen him work with an unusual entomological partner for the department—the United States Army.

‘The US Army has entomologists that have a similar mission to us, trapping mosquitoes to understand the potential disease risks of a region,’ Mr Neilson said.

‘They have to be able to trap mosquitoes under harsh and challenging situations and be able to reliably identify any of the world’s 3000-plus species of mosquito at the drop of a hat.

‘Working with them allowed us to revise our procedures, improve our program’s capability and ensure our program is the best possible standard.’

You can report exotic pests or biosecurity concerns online.

Keeping the DAWE closed to coronavirus (COVID-19)


Head of biosecurity operations Emily Canning and head of inspections group (west) Jim Simpson supporting biosecurity efforts at Sydney Airport to prevent the entry of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) is treating coronavirus (COVID-19) seriously for passengers arriving in Australia.

Head of biosecurity operations Emily Canning and head of our inspections group (west) Jim Simpson recently gowned up to lend a hand providing information pamphlets to incoming passengers at Sydney Airport.

Our biosecurity officers are working diligently to screen incoming passengers and referring those of interest to health professionals for assessment.

We are also providing travel information in English, Mandarin and Cantonese via airport and in-flight announcements. Along with fact sheets, explaining what to do if experiencing symptoms.

Further information on additional requirements and risk reduction measures is available from the Department of Health.

Find out more about the critical biosecurity function provided by our inspections group.


Inspections group profile: let’s take a closer look…


Inspection group performs critical inspections.

Comprising around 1,220 staff, Inspections Group has a commanding national footprint in the department with a presence in all capital cities, key regional locations and ports, Australia’s offshore territories and are also involved in offshore pre-shipment inspection work in various overseas countries.

Biosecurity officers perform regulatory screening and inspections for compliance with Australia’s biosecurity and export market requirements and for assurance purposes. In addition to physically inspecting goods, vessels and arriving international passengers, biosecurity officers use a range of technologies such as 3D X-ray and automated profiling, ands Detector Dogs to target and delineate biosecurity risk. Supporting this front line work are other officers working in collaboration with other areas in the department to analyse data to inform and target areas of highest biosecurity risk and to ensure our intervention and response remains contemporary.

Continue reading about inspections group profile: let’s take a closer look…

Rick Hawe, who co-leads the group across Australia, emphasizes the importance of this work.

‘Our biosecurity officers work diligently to risk assess, inspect and clear international travellers arriving by air and sea—they board vessels to inspect galleys and the ships structure for season pests and verify that waste and ballast water is managed and complies with Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements,’ Mr Hawe said.

‘They screen and inspect incoming mail and cargo, food consignments, animal and biological products as well as plants, seeds, grains, fresh produce and horticultural products.’

‘Our team responds to evolving biosecurity and human health risks as emphasised recently with the enhanced border measures in response to African swine fever and coronavirus.’

By 2030, Australian airports are expected to handle almost three times the number of international passengers compared to 2011, while containerised imports are also projected to almost triple over a similar period. This changing environment presents challenges for our biosecurity system.

‘Our integrated operating model which sees biosecurity officers performing inspections across multiple pathways, fosters more diverse exposure, capability building and experience for our staff and enables us to better respond to variable workload demands,’ Mr Hawe said.

Jim Simpson who has just taken over from Kerri Russ as the other co-lead for Inspections Group, agrees with her views around technical training being key to supporting the function both now and into the future.

‘Our Technical training services team provides training and on-the-job coaching and support for our officers—they also assess technical competence,’ Ms Russ said.

‘Ongoing training and support is provided through formal training and on the job support with an experienced buddy,’ Ms Russ said.

Make sure you are subscribed to Biosecurity Matters to find out more about our specialist biosecurity groups in the future editions.

Connecting communities: New Peri-urban Environmental Biosecurity Network website launched


The Peri-urban Environmental Biosecurity Network helps stakeholders protect their environment from biosecurity risks.

The Peri-urban Environmental Biosecurity Network (PEBN) provides a platform to connect small landholders in peri-urban communities and experts in environmental biosecurity.

The purpose of the platform, led by New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, is to work together to protect the environment from exotic pests and diseases.

The network will publish and post seasonally relevant articles on how to look for and identify pests and diseases, as well as guidance on the tools and steps to report them.

The network will also share resources on emerging and important biosecurity issues through its Facebook page.

The PEBN hopes to raise awareness and preparedness in reporting unusual pests and to increase community participation in general surveillance of environmental pests in peri-urban areas.

This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Environmental Biosecurity Project Fund.

The department is also supporting two other pilot projects—the Victorian Urban Plant Health Network and the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network.

Learn more about the Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer.

Learn more about the Peri-urban Environmental Biosecurity Network (PEBN).



Working with industry to co-design an onshore biosecurity levy


The onshore biosecurity levy will help fund our complex and challenging biosecurity system.

We have been working collaboratively with an industry working group to co-design a new onshore biosecurity levy.

This levy will help fund our increasingly complex and challenging biosecurity system. Funding from the onshore biosecurity levy will support programs that cannot be cost recovered.

The government has remained committed to a biosecurity levy since it was first recommended in 2017 as part of the independent review of the capacity of Australia’s biosecurity system.

Last year an independent industry steering committee was appointed, who consulted widely with potentially affected parties and delivered recommendations on the proposed levy. Based on their recommendations, the government decided against progressing the levy in its original form.

In December last year the former Minister for Agriculture, Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie announced that the government would be proceeding with a biosecurity levy that would be developed in consultation with the importing industry and applied onshore.

Co-designing the levy with the industry working group has been a great opportunity to explore levy design options, better understand the issues that industry faces and ensure a solution is developed that best meets the needs of both government and industry.

We will be consulting more broadly once we have further developed the design of the levy.

Learn more about upcoming consultation opportunities.


See the latest Import industry advice notices or Export industry and market access notices.

Last reviewed: 10 March 2020
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