Environmental Biosecurity supports our long-term mental and physical health, economic prosperity, national identity and underpins our existence on Earth. Caring for our species, ecosystems, land, seas and aquatic environments benefits us all.
The 2017 report Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system: an independent review of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning intergovernmental agreement (IGAB review) made a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the national biosecurity system, including a need for greater effort and focus on environmental biosecurity.
In response, the Australian Government, with the support of all state and territory governments, appointed Australia’s first Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer (CEBO) in October 2018. The CEBO collaborates, partners and influences extensively across the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, as well as with state and territory governments, industry, non-government organisations, individuals and the community to strengthen environmental biosecurity outcomes and raise awareness of environmental biosecurity issues. The CEBO is supported by the Environmental Biosecurity Office.
Invasive pests, weeds and diseases are one of the top seven factors threatening Australia’s fauna and flora and their unique habitats (2016 State of the Environment Report). Fourteen specific Key Threatening Processes related to invasive pests, diseases and weeds are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), and all others are recognised by the overarching novel biota and their impact on biodiversity Key Threatening Process. Invasive species jeopardise provision of ecosystem services such as pollination, water purification, climate change mitigation and natural suppression of pests, diseases and weeds that underpin agriculture, fisheries and forestry production industries. They can also cause considerable cost and disruption to the way of life of all Australians, for example by damaging infrastructure or rendering public spaces unusable. The financial costs are also significant. For example, red imported fire ants would cost an estimated $1.5 billion per year if they became established.
The Australian Government has recognised these challenges require appropriate legislative and policy frameworks to manage invasive pests, diseases and weeds not only through the application of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), but also to ensure we meet our obligations as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and more recently with the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Environmental biosecurity addresses these challenges by ensuring the risks posed to the natural environment and social amenity by non-native pests, diseases and weeds are identified, prioritised and managed, including by preventing them from entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has primary responsibility for managing Australia’s biosecurity, including managing biosecurity risk to Australia’s environment. Managing biosecurity risk to the environment is not done in isolation, it is a key part of the biosecurity and environmental protection system which the department manages along with animal, plant and human health, and threats to our biodiversity by:
- improving community awareness and engagement in environmental biosecurity, including through Roundtables and Webinars
- developing and implementing the National Priority List of Exotic Environmental Pests, Weeds and Diseases
- contributing to prevention measures to stop environmental pests, weeds and diseases reaching the border
- early detection and surveillance for environmental pests, weeds and diseases as part of more comprehensive surveillance systems
- raising environmental preparedness and response capacity to the same level as for production animals and plants
- improving the coordination of environmental biosecurity research with wider biosecurity and biodiversity research
- assessing the risk of adding species to the Live import List under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), and
- working with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to develop and implement threat abatement plans and advices to mitigate the impact of listed key threatening processes.
Many of these activities are done in partnership with state and territory governments, environmental and community groups, and research organisations. Some investment is provided by the CEBO through the Environmental Biosecurity Project Fund to deliver stronger environmental biosecurity outcomes.