2015 Biosecurity Roundtable – 5 March, Canberra

Event summary

Introduction

The Department of Agriculture hosted the 2015 Biosecurity Roundtable on Thursday 5 March 2015 in Canberra.

The purpose of the roundtable was to hear from biosecurity stakeholders about what constitutes a healthy biosecurity system and share some information from the department on emerging issues.

Representatives from forty-five organisations participated in the event (Attachment A).

Action items

  • Record key issues raised at the Biosecurity Roundtable and report progress on action items at subsequent roundtables.
  • Better engage industry on identifying priorities to align the department’s work on import and export trade and market access.
  • Develop effective measures of success for a healthy biosecurity system for consideration by the National Biosecurity Committee.
  • Consider opportunities for a national biosecurity forum involving the National Biosecurity Committee and industry members of Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia.

Summary by agenda item

Secretary’s opening

Rona Mellor, Deputy Secretary, offered an Acknowledgement of Country, welcomed participants and apologised on behalf of the Secretary, Paul Grimes, who was unable to attend.

Deputy Secretary Mellor talked about the importance of the biosecurity system – it touches us all – and gave an update on the progress the department is making against key priorities. The department has commissioned a review of its progress against the reform agenda set out in the Beale Review recommendations.

Q&A panel discussion

A brief summary of matters raised during the panel discussion follows:

  • Status of issues raised at past forums – more feedback is needed on issues raised at past forums and the state of progress. The department agreed to report back in future on issues raised.
    • Passage of Biosecurity Bill – the Bill has passed through the House of Representatives and has been introduced in the Senate. It has been referred to a committee which is due to report in mid-March.
    • Doing more offshore to reduce costs for exhibition imports – the cost to importers can be high when there are many suppliers and multiple imports.
      • There are opportunities to do more offshore – for example, certification of ornamental fish offshore – but there is the need to balance cost to importer with effective regulation.
      • The end use of a product does not necessarily change the import conditions as there are many considerations to be weighed.
  • Better coordination when declaring weeds – Weed declaration is problematic because of Australia’s diverse geography, many land holders and several jurisdictions.
    • National Biosecurity Committee is considering the arrangements for dealing with established weeds and pests.
    • A review of the National Weeds Strategy will seek comments from stakeholders in the middle of the year.
    • There are opportunities to improve the way we declare weeds nationally, while dealing with Australia’s geographical diversity.
  • Trade and non-trade barriers to export – there were differing perspectives; some expressed frustration that even with new trade agreements barriers to exports remain – particularly non-tariff barriers. Exporting is made more difficult when we are slow to action a risk assessment for another country’s imports. Little progress appears to have been made since raised at the first Biosecurity Roundtable. Trade considerations seem to trump biosecurity considerations – the standard for exports seems to be higher than for imports.
    • Free trade agreements do not address non-tariff barriers and phytosanitary safeguards stand separately from the agreements because biosecurity must not to be compromised.
    • Technical issues and recognition of mutual systems are a challenge and can be a barrier.
    • The government requires Australian exporters to meet the requirements of importing countries and has arrangements in place to help exporters.
    • The requirements for imports are set based on an assessment of risk.
    • Industry could be engaged better on priorities to better align the department’s import analysis and export market access work.
  • Increased focus on raising public awareness – concerned that the AQIS branding – acronym and slogan – has been lost but there hasn’t been any investment to rebuild the same level of brand awareness for biosecurity under the department’s DAFF or Department of Agriculture identity.
    • Feedback well noted.
    • A high level of public awareness of biosecurity is an important compliance tool.
    • The Government had a clear agenda to simplify the names for a number of departments. The department is committed to integrating biosecurity functions across the department and using the Department of Agriculture brand as the vehicle to manage biosecurity in the future.
    • Currently using targeted campaigns on specific issues – for example, importation of seeds – to raise community awareness.
  • Meaning and focus of equivalence – equivalence is a difficult concept as it means different things to different people and not every country has the same capacity as Australia. Focus needs to shift away from process to outcome.
    • There are a number of industry user guides available on how to use testing effectively and any feedback on issues or reliability of testing would be welcomed by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia.
    • It was noted that industry shouldn’t wait for government to undertake capacity building in relation to testing – if there is a need, industry should take action to address it.

Measures of success for a healthy biosecurity system

Ian Thompson, First Assistant Secretary Sustainability and Biosecurity Policy Division, talked about the challenges of measuring the effectiveness of the biosecurity system; an item which is on the National Biosecurity Committee work programme.

Llewellyn Roberts, New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to Australia talked about the shared interest New Zealand and Australia have in healthy biosecurity systems given the volume of trade and travel between the two countries. As an international trading partner, New Zealand expects Australia’s biosecurity system to have the following features:

  • good border systems – holistic systems that include the public and industry who play a key role in ensuring compliance with the rules
  • risk-based decision making supported by scientific evidence – critical if resources are to be focused on risk and closing research gaps
  • assurances that New Zealand can trust the Australian system which is backed by solid evidence – systems need to be regularly tested against performance measures
  • excellent communication – sharing reliable information quickly to enable integrated responses to incursions.

Participants discussed the features of a healthy biosecurity system. A transcription of the notes taken by each table group is at Attachment B. Key themes included:

  • collaborative, shared responsibility and community confidence
  • holistic, consistent, aligned and leveraged
  • flexible, responds to changing conditions
  • efficient and effective surveillance
  • evidence-based, risk-based and transparent
  • appropriate funding and effective use of resources
  • range of shared metrics to measure performance.

Key discussion points included:

  • The need for a national ‘true partnership’ forum to exchange ideas between industry and government on the biosecurity system – for example, the idea of a biosecurity levy and how this might work could be discussed.
  • The need to do more on clearly articulating what shared responsibility actually means, having more consistent standards across states and the Commonwealth and improving communication with stakeholders in Australia so they can easily understand the differences between states.
  • Shared responsibility is an abstract and difficult concept. We should learn from the work done by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre’s (CRC) Sharing Responsibility Project on the Victorian bushfires. 
  • The need for improved metrics on the Import Risk Assessments and market access improvements.
  • Improving awareness of biosecurity – making it easier for the broader community to access simplified versions of the Industry Working Group on Biosecurity’s information packages on biosecurity.
  • Potential impact that ‘unsolicited’ mail being used as a plausible excuse will have on mail as a pathway for legal importers. It was noted that the department is taking a number of steps to address this issue including working with internet providers to include appropriate messaging, targeted campaigns and looking at ways of improving profiles to detect illegal imports.

Ian Thompson thanked everyone for sharing their perspectives. The information gathered will be used by the National Biosecurity Committee to progress its work on key measures for a healthy biosecurity system.

Over the horizon – a plant and environmental scan

Dr Kim Ritman, Chief Scientist and Chief Plant Protection Officer, gave an overview of the current context for plant biosecurity in Australia and talked about the following emerging issues:

  • Hitch-hiker pests on non-plant pathways will increase as trade increases – research has shown that the brown marmorated stink bug spread in the US from one breeding pair.
  • Diversion from intended use – people using imports and exports in different ways that you wouldn’t expect for example, garlic imported for human consumption being grown in a purchaser’s garden.
  • Expansion of northern Australia – increased movement of goods.
  • Seed imports via mail – not just consumers but also within industry (small and large operators).
  • Timber pallets.

Dr Mark Schipp, Chief Veterinary Officer, talked about emerging issues from an animal health perspective:

  • Global spread of porcine epidemic diarrhoea which has a 100 per cent mortality rate – the disease hasn’t been eradicated anywhere in the world and there is a need for increased preparedness in Australia. Australian Pork Limited has approached Animal Health Australia to look at cost sharing under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement.
  • Foot and mouth disease in northern Africa – no single virus and vaccine does not provide protection against all strains of the virus. Queensland FMD programme is good, key challenge for Australia is selecting the appropriate vaccines. 
  • Development of northern Australia – growth is outpacing emergency response preparedness capability and capacity, need to manage new and unknown risk pathways.
  • Animal Health Committee has agreed that Australia should request a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) performance of veterinary services (PVS) evaluation and have a small group trained by OIE so they can participate in overseas assessments.

Participants identified the following emerging issues not covered in the above:

  • Diseases being spread by animal welfare activists who do not practice biosecurity protocols.
  • Increased use of e-commerce – niche products going to Asia but also increased risk for Australia.
  • Micro biologicals.
  • Consumer confidence.

Other topic discussed included:

  • International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 15 and the extent to which the standard is effective in managing risks associated with timber pallets. This is an international standard which should work if complied with. Asia and Pacific Plant Protection Commission (APPPC) are working on improving compliance. Industry also has a role in insisting on sound certification from suppliers or use of alternative materials (e.g. plastic or metal).
    • Lessons from responding to incursions – there are challenges – for example, deeds focus on eradication when other strategies such as management may be more appropriate. Deeds are split across industries unlike the New Zealand approach of a mandatory levy across all industries for eradication. We know early detection, rapid response and working together is what is required. Examples of where we have done this well include chestnut blight in Victoria, banana freckle in NT and red imported fire ants in NSW.
    • Decline in focus on endemic diseases by government – there has been a change in resourcing from state/territory governments and the concept of shared responsibility does mean that industry will need to pick up some capacity. Need national surveillance program and strategy and engagement of stakeholders such as vets. Doing an audit of preparedness against the deeds would be a challenging but useful exercise. It would help government and industry to identify the gaps so we can work on how to close them. NT is never going to have the capacity it needs given the development of northern Australia and we need to take a national whole of system approach to closing the gap.
    • Transparent approach with the national interest in mind – industry is not always open and honest between sectors and there is a tendency to want to lay blame. Need to encourage transparency when talking about preparedness and act quickly in the national interest when there is an incursion. The system is strained and it can’t be left to one state/territory to respond when there are implications for the whole industry. Not enough time at the roundtable to deal with this adequately – encourage different groups to continue the conversation.

Closing comments

Jo Evans, Deputy Secretary:

  • Thanked everyone for attending – the department recognises the importance of engaging with stakeholders and values the contributions made.
  • Acknowledged the frustrations expressed by industry representatives about the need for:
    • more transparency about what is being done to progress issues raised at events
    • more genuine engagement with industry at a national level
    • improved communication between the department and industry about relative priorities for import analysis work to better align the department’s priorities across both import analyses and market access for exports.
  • Acknowledged there are a number of significant challenges for a healthy biosecurity security system including raising awareness of biosecurity, clearly defining what shared responsibility actually means in practice and having the capabilities in place to see risks as they are emerging and respond to incursions quickly.

Attachment A - Organisations represented at the event

Animal Health Australia
Apple & Pear Australia
Association of Biosafety for Australia & New Zealand
Auspex Strategic Advisory
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Camel Industry Association
Australian Chicken Growers Council
Australian Chicken Meat Federation
Australian Federation of International Forwarders
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council
Australian Industry Working Group on Biosecurity
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council
Australian Orchid Council
Australian Pork Limited
Australian Shipowners Association
Australian Sugar Milling Council
Australian Veterinary Association
AUSVEG
Cherry Growers Australia Inc
CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australian Government
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Victorian Government
Department of Environment, Australian Government
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government

Department of Primary Industries, NSW Government
Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Tasmanian Government
Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Northern Territory Government
Emerald Grain
Ernst & Young
Feed Ingredients & Additives Association of Australia
Flemings Nurseries
Grain Producers Australia
Grains Research and Development Corporation
Horticulture Innovation Australia
Keep Australia Beautiful
National Aquaculture Council
National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia
Neil Walls Consulting
OceanWatch Australia
Office of Agricultural Affairs, US Embassy
Pet Food Industry Association of Australia
Pistachio Growers Association Incorporated
Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre
Primary Industries and Regions, South Australian Government
QMIR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
Shipping Australia Ltd
Sugar Research Australia

Attachment B - Features of a healthy biosecurity system

A transcription of the notes taken at each table is set out below against some broad themes.


Collaborative, shared responsibility and community confidence

Widespread understanding of what biosecurity means and a [consistent?] commitment to adoption of biosecurity measures. Currently a lack of understanding of what biosecurity is and individual roles and responsibilities.

Knowing what biosecurity is. Farmers know about the benefits (BBQ benefits).

  • What are the benefits? Hidden upstream – regional employment, market access, infrastructure costs and tourism impacts. World biodiversity – iconic – logging, weeds, pest incursions.

Shared responsibility is understood and practiced. Need concrete examples so everyone knows what biosecurity is and what their role is. We can measure community understanding on a consistent basis e.g. every 2 years.

Partnerships – government and industry.

Greater consistency and trust – good track record of carrying out responsibilities, not just certification and regulation.

Mechanisms and incentives that encourage positive feedback and compliance. There are a lot of players with different interests – how do we get the desired behaviour?

Having the networks in the communities.

Community (global) awareness programme – community is our biggest asset and they need to understand biosecurity and the role they play.

Effective public communication processes for community on biosecurity.

Communication.

Effective branding of Biosecurity Australia.

Establish confidence with domestic stakeholders.

Biosecurity messaging is often about failure but there are many successes but how do we communicate these to our domestic and international stakeholders (trade and tourism). Single events of failure dominate.

Strengthen postal surveillance and raise public awareness of issues associated with the increase in postal imports.

True partnership – equals early engagement between governments and industry including interchange of ideas.

National forum for interchange of ideas between industry and government.

Holistic, consistent, aligned and leveraged

Biosecurity needs to operate consistently regardless of political agendas.

Consistent standards and coordination across and between states. Stakeholders can go to one place to see what is required to move between states/territories. Preferably same requirements where possible.

Consistency of approach across all jurisdictions and entry points – consistent responses to the needs of stakeholders.

Integrated i.e. animal, plant AND human health – need to include human.

Recognising industry system for reducing risk for importation (IKEA).

More effective offshore clearance for shipping imports.

Looking past the border, what is offshore?

Pushing offshore – consequences, some countries will not be able to cope.
Opportunities to link biosecurity to programmes in other countries. Having the ability to integrate, having partnerships with countries.

Cooperation between international partners.

International and interstate clarity and consistency in risk-based decision making incorporating all the different pathways.

Flexible, responds to changing conditions

It is responsive. Not just for incursions (incursions are important) but other needs as well e.g. IRAs. A group of measures should be developed.

Ability of the system to cope and respond.

Flexible enough to respond.

Responsive, flexible, adaptive.

People in the field with ability to respond fast – not centralised to government.

Training of officers to undertake response.

Having the capability, skills and capacity to deliver.

Preparedness and emergency response program.

Develops and adapts technology e.g.:

  • testing at crush side/plant side so we get quick results
  • information and data collection and dissemination all with the aim to speed up the provision of accurate, timely information/data.

Incursions are seen as negatives but Beale saw the onshore response as part of a normal system that is performing well. How you respond to the incursion is the test, not the fact that there was an incursion. Need to see incursions as part of a properly functioning system i.e. a health system has preparedness.

How well are we prepared for prevention and mitigation to minimise likelihood and impact of an incursion?

Efficient and effective surveillance

Fit for purpose surveillance.

Surveillance integrated into the biosecurity system.

Surveillance at a national to local level for high risk pests and diseases – networks and skilling people are important, need to make sure the system is working well.

People in the field understand surveillance, training of officers to surveillance.

Evidence-based, risk-based and transparent

Evidence based – linked to data analysis.

Risk-based decision making at all levels – international, between states and Commonwealth and across pathways – with consistent principles.

Strong scientific basis – understood by participants, stakeholders and community.

Credibility and transparency of the expert scientific body.

Credibility and transparency at state and national level to understand what risk-based decision making means and how to apply it.

Modern and consistent risk-based approach to assessment of facilities used for containment e.g. laboratories.

Decisions about imports/exports and QAPs need to have strong science to back them up and everyone needs to understand what it means.

More ability to access and evaluate the biosecurity system – risk assessments on imports and export and negotiating systems.

Thorough transparency through the system from government to industry.

Transparency across all industry and between departments and industry – minutes/action items and updates.

Range of shared metrics to measure performance

There is a lack of information on the extent to which exports and imports are stopped at borders. Need indicators to determine if it’s a healthy system – competency. Examples of metrics include:

  • number and extent of incursions
  • timeline of incursions (Tas and NT)
  • number of incursions over time
  • successful eradications
  • number of rejections of our exports at our borders
  • number of rejections of our exports at foreign borders
  • number of rejections of imports at our borders
  • metrics for market access, IRAs and PRAs – numbers, duration, outcomes
    levels of participation by all players.

Appropriate funding
and effective use of  resources

Adequate and appropriate resourcing. Are resources allocated correctly now?

Increasing demands on industry due to decreased government funding and industry is struggling to find money.

Flexibility in funding arrangements e.g. levy system in peach industry is inflexible. Need to allow for resources to be spent on biosecurity and enable government and industry to work in true partnership across the continuum to leverage resources.

Other

Reliable and affordable.

Facilitates trade and travel.

A check/audit of Beale recommendations – implementation of these recommendations should reflect a healthy biosecurity system.

Making sure market access gains are not compromising biosecurity:

  • science and RA [risk assessment?], diligence of IRA
  • science is debatable but measures are diligent.

Learn from others:

  • learn about bushfires – what was saved, good news
  • AFP harm index – total impact on the community, threat to industries
  • cost/benefit and trust within states/country (golf course – red fire ants – broader community, lifestyle, may be difficult to do with numbers).