Australia’s biosecurity officers seized nearly 260,000 items of biosecurity concern—some of which were deliberately concealed—from air passengers travelling to Australia in 2013–14, resulting in fines totalling $860,540.
Department of Agriculture’s Assistant Secretary for Pathway Compliance, Nicola Hinder, said biosecurity officers actively target deliberate concealment and non-compliance with Australia’s quarantine laws using the best science, analysis and intelligence.
“Biosecurity officers are at our airports every day targeting people who deliberately conceal high-risk items like plant material that contravene our biosecurity requirements,” Ms Hinder said.
“They use science, risk analysis and body language analysis to target passengers who might be bringing in prohibited items that they haven’t declared.
“In Brisbane recently, one passenger—despite declaring three times they had no plant or animal material—was found to have concealed 2.1 kg of corn, a bag of seeds for sowing, as well as other seeds stitched into the lining of a purse.
“In the past three months other passengers have attempted to smuggle in beans and tobacco; wheat, melon, papaya and capsicum seeds; live plants with roots and soil attached, as well as live bamboo plants and more.
“People who intentionally conceal high-risk biosecurity items are putting our environment, agricultural productivity and economy at risk.
“ABARES recently demonstrated the value of Australia’s biosecurity system is up to $17,500 each year for the average farmer.
“Live plant material could carry plant diseases like Citrus Canker or Karnal Bunt which could devastate our $53 billion agricultural sector.
“When people wilfully attempt to conceal items that could cause Australia harm, they are punished accordingly with fines and quarantine infringement notices.”
The new Biosecurity Act 2015, which recently received royal assent, will increase the range of powers of our biosecurity officers.
Ms Hinder said it will allow them to apply a range of new enforcement options that better match the offence including civil penalties, enforceable undertakings and criminal sanctions.
“In 2013–14, our biosecurity officers assessed and cleared more than 17 million international passengers, 180 million international mail articles and 17,000 international sea vessels—it’s a big job,” Ms Hinder said.
“The onus is on people to do the right thing—the Incoming Passenger and Travel History Cards filled out by all international travellers arriving in Australia are legal documents—and anyone who is found to have intentionally broken the law will be punished accordingly.”