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Biosecurity Bill 2014

 

Madam/Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity today to speak on this Bill.

 

The Biosecurity Bill which seeks to replace the Quarantine Act 1908 is extremely important and relevant for Australia, as we enter into an unprecedented level of trade and globalisation.

 

When the original Quarantine Act was legislated and passed over 100 years ago, global trade has since significantly evolved. Where lawmakers once faced possible outbreaks of the small pox, leprosy, yellow fever and the bubonic plague, they are now alerted to numerous modern complex infectious diseases that are viral and can be transferred amongst animals as well as animal to human transmissions and of course, human to human interactions. On top of this, the previous legislation cannot account for the vast changes in technology now available to businesses.

 

Where trade once primarily occurred through ocean and sea voyages, modern technology and demand has led to an increase in logistic choices via air travel, air cargo and ocean deployment. It is an understatement to say that means of trade has shifted.

 

As such, it would be irresponsible for the legislation not to catch up to ensure the safety of our employees, residents and animals, as well as protect the myriad of businesses involved.

 

The Bill today is indeed the most substantial change to our biosecurity framework. This is essential considering the volume of goods being exchanged in Australia.

 

Not only is this Bill much needed to strengthen our existing system, it must be implemented in a manner that allows a simplified and streamlined process so that it does not hurt Australian businesses and allows flexibility in which biosecurity risks can be managed.

 

The world has advanced in the way in which it transports animals, goods and people, and as such, our legislation must ensure they are protected and any risks mitigated accordingly. In addition, the new Bill will allow for any enforcements to have scientific grounding and for those who have breached the rules to fully understand the implications for their wrong doings.

 

Furthermore, recent global events have demonstrated that we must be proactive in managing our biosecurity risks and that this should always be at the centre of our nation’s best interests.

 

Infectious diseases such as the SARS outbreak, the foot and mouth disease outbreaks in the UK coupled with threats of bioterrorism such as the threat of anthrax convey that prudence in our border security and quarantine is more important than ever.

 

Madam/Deputy Speaker, we may appear geographically isolated given that we are the world’s largest island, we are never removed from any of the aforementioned threats since air travel and global mobility is at its world peak. Given that Australia is a major player when it comes to commodity exports, retaining a safe, secure and therefore favourable biosecurity status allows for lower food production costs for our producers and continued access to export markets whilst supporting our nation’s contribution to a secure global food supply.

 

A reformed, stronger biosecurity system also means that our environment and our standards of living can be protected from biohazards and other infectious diseases. Increased global travel and tourism demonstrate the significant impact of existing and emerging infectious diseases affecting trade, animal production, public health, wildlife conservation and economic growth.

 

Moreover, since 1994, there have been more new animal disease viruses identified in Australia than any other time. The risks that our country faces are noteworthy given that transmission of disease affects tourism and trade, increasing movement of people and products, an evolution of infectious diseases against a backdrop of shifting climates, changing ecological patterns, and current limitations in surveillance and response capabilities especially with unstable movement patterns in neighbouring regions like Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia.

 

As our nations become increasingly borderless and our trade wholly dependent on globalisation, it is vital that we have the resources and regulatory framework in place to ensure the safety of our people and businesses. Institutions like the CSIRO that are at the forefront of Australia’s research are continuously finding solutions to evolving biological hazards and

infectious diseases that can affect millions of lives and destroy agriculture. These solutions must be part and parcel within an updated legislative reform.

 

The Bill today seeks to introduce a range of enforcement powers not simply criminal penalties as the Quarantine Act did so that those who are wilful in their negligence are dealt with accordingly, compared to those who have unintentionally broken the law.

Very importantly, today’s Bill will allow appropriately qualified and trained biosecurity enforcement officers to apply for and execute a range of warrants to enter premises (including buildings and vessels) and carry out certain activities to risk management biosecurity hazards. This is increasingly needed and appropriate given the scope of our trade and tourism levels. 

 

Madam/Deputy Speaker, to reiterate why we are doing this and the need for this Bill, I will refer to some statistics. For example, in the financial year ending 2013, the Department of Agriculture cleared approximately 186 million international mail items, 1.7 million sea cargo consignments and 26 million air cargo consignments. This is on top of the 16 million international passenger arrivals to our borders.

 

It must also be noted that for the past two decades, 75% of emerging infectious diseases have been infections transmitted from animals to humans, mostly wildlife in origin.

 

IAS, short for invasive alien species is believed to cause the greatest financial losses to agricultural production. The CSIRO has reported that IAS is the largest biological threat to global food security and one of the top two international threats to biodiversity.

 

This cannot be underestimated given that IAS costs Australia approximately $8b a year in agricultural damage and lead the way in destroying our native species. This is an extraordinary figure when our agricultural export market is worth $60b.

 

Not only does IAS cause crop damage, it has serious ramifications for humans as well because it carries serious allergens and other disease vectors.

 

As I mentioned briefly before, transmission of disease do not just occur between animals, but can be passed from animal to human. Any outbreak of disease whether human or animal, ultimately affects our supply chains including tourism, trade and national health.

 

The primary focus of this Bill is to strengthen a regulatory framework that enhances our biosecurity without negatively impacting on the businesses that Australians trade with. Every year, Australia has seen an increase in animal, goods and vessel movements through our borders and this is only going to increase further.

 

The past 10 years has seen an increase of air travellers by 80%, sea container movement by 82%, and bulk cargo increase by 16% thus, the legislation must encompass the necessary protection for our primary industries as well as our environment.

 

Today’s Bill is an opportunity to improve our system and the development of new legislation will alleviate existing burden on Australian farmers and businesses. We have consulted with these stakeholders extensively who have informed us time and again that they want something simple and effective, not further red tape and bureaucracy. This Bill will now provide them with this.

 

I am pleased to report that today’s Bill will see a reduction of more than $6.9m a year in business compliance costs as a result of a clearer and more user-friendly framework; new powers to allow the Commonwealth to respond to biosecurity risks within Australia and assist state and territory counterparts with nation-wide pest and disease management including marine ecosystem.

 

Another significant change this Bill brings is the ability to assess the compliance history of a business, a background check if you will, to fully risk-manage the likelihood of an organisation breaking quarantine rules. Under the old Quarantine Act, assessments were only made for goods themselves. Thus, businesses could breach their obligations, intentionally or not without suffering appropriate penalties. The bigger issue is the risk this would pose on biosecurity.

 

By having legislation which sends a strong and clear message to those wilfully negligent ultimately protects Australian commodity exports.

It further allows goods to be transported without unnecessary delay and that in the event of biosecurity risks, that they can be appropriately and effectively managed.

 

For our farmers, and consumers, a strong biosecurity system as a result of improved legislation means agriculture is safer from exotic pests, IAS, and livestock also better protected from diseases such as the foot and mouth outbreak in the UK. It will prevent Australia businesses from losing out on their bottom line from invasive diseases and pests, and will allow them a simpler framework to use, without unnecessary red tape. Better business outcomes for them ultimately mean bigger contribution to our national economy.

 

Today’s Bill also allows appropriate transitional periods so that ports, vessels and landing place operators can upgrade their facilities where necessary and undertake any amendments that may be required. As discussed previously, a substantial amount of commodities arrive via sea and air, than ever before, thus any biosecurity risks must be immediately managed.

 

Industry participants can also voluntarily enter into an arrangement with the Commonwealth to have their operations managed in an efficient and effective way.

 

Madam/Deputy Speaker, the Biosecurity Bill 2014 is absolutely necessary to sustain current Australian export trade and cultivate further growth into the future. Whether a business is primary industries, wholesalers, or export based, strengthening our biosecurity legislation will lead to increased capacity for continuous domestic production, and sustained international exports with domestic and international businesses.

 

For Australians, it means increased opportunities for commercial markets operating in a reliable system that affords them confidence, dependability and protection.

 

Losing close to $7b a year to compliance costs coupled with a further $8b in agricultural loss is far too much for any economy. This Bill is the first step in mitigating further losses so that Australian businesses can harness and cultivate all opportunities whilst minimising preventable financial losses.

 

Moreover, we have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of our wellbeing, from the food and livestock we consume or breed, to the goods that import and export.

 

I commend the Bill to the house.