Biosecurity Bulletin - Edition 2, 2014

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Deputy Secretary Foreword

Image of Rona MellorGood biosecurity management protects our agricultural industries, environment and economy and enables market access.

Managing biosecurity is a big job, and we don’t do it alone – the Department of Agriculture works in partnership with industry, government and the community.

This month, I saw a great example of how we share this responsibility when I attended the National Biosecurity Roundtable in Melbourne with Secretary Paul Grimes.

Continue reading the message from the Deputy Secretary

The Roundtable was a good opportunity to share ideas about biosecurity and reflect on the benefits of reform with a range of industry and state and territory government representatives. You can read more about the National Biosecurity Roundtable in this issue of the Biosecurity Bulletin.

While in Melbourne, I visited our new post-entry quarantine site that will become Australia’s single facility for managing high risk plant and animal imports. Find out about progress made on this exciting project in this edition.

The decisions we make about what constitutes biosecurity risk are based on science. Read about how modern science is benefiting our stone fruit industry and our biosecurity system.

Australia’s biosecurity system is managed along a continuum—offshore, onshore and at the border. In this edition a glimpse of our offshore work and find out how the department is supporting veterinary leadership in Indonesia.

You can also be reminded of our regulatory role in a story about a recent biosecurity conviction of a passenger at Brisbane International Airport.

In addition to our long term plans for our robust biosecurity system, the Department of Agriculture is kept busy with our day to day border finds—this time around they include a not-so-quick fox.

I hope this edition gives you a picture of the foundations of our robust biosecurity system and some of the people who manage it so well.

Our email addresses are changing

To reflect the department’s new name, from 24 May 2014 emails sent from Department of Agriculture officers will appear as

Emails sent to individuals with addresses will continue to be received until 24 September 2014.

Group email addresses ending in are scheduled to be decommissioned on 24 November 2014.

There will be no changes to

  • email addresses ending in and
  • application emails (for example, AIMS, EXDOC and SAC).

Our National Biosecurity Roundtable an opportunity to set the scene for years to come

The Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Paul Grimes, addressing the National Biosecurity Roundtable in Melbourne recently.Protecting Australia’s plant and animal health is a critical role for the Department of Agriculture. Australian industries depend on good biosecurity management to protect the environment, agricultural productivity and maintain market access.

The department spends a large amount of time and energy on managing Australia’s biosecurity system, but it’s not something that can be done in isolation. Demonstrating the strength of existing partnerships, more than 140 people from industry and government attended the National Biosecurity Roundtable in Melbourne on 3 April.

Continue reading about the National Biosecurity Roundtable

Attendance was extensive, with representatives from dairy, grains, logistics, cattle, horticulture, flowers and aquaculture. It was a first for Department of Agriculture Secretary Paul Grimes, who took the opportunity to meet with the department’s many biosecurity clients and stakeholders.

In his opening address, Dr Grimes expressed the importance of working together to manage biosecurity risk and deliver real improvements to Australia’s import and export markets.

“Engaging with the people who rely on and use our regulatory services enables us to address inefficiencies, allay concerns and discuss improvements to how we manage biosecurity,” Dr Grimes said.

A wide range of issues were discussed at the 2014 Roundtable, including deregulation and reducing red tape, the new post-entry quarantine facility, managing and targeting risk and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

“It’s rare that such a wide cross-section of stakeholders are gathered in this way, and it was an invaluable opportunity for me to meet people and outline our directions and priorities for the coming years,” Dr Grimes said.

A great deal of work went into coordinating the event and there is still much to be done to summarise discussion notes and outcomes from the Roundtable. The department hopes to make this information available to attendees and the broader stakeholder base in the coming weeks.

Post-entry quarantine facility construction begins

Construction starts at the department’s new state-of-the-art PEQ facility in Victoria.The Department of Agriculture has embarked upon the largest and most exciting quarantine facility development in Australia.

Construction has begun on the Post-Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility in Mickleham, Victoria. This follows the successful completion of the extensive planning phase which encompassed significant stakeholder consultation.

Continue reading about post-entry quarantine facility construction

The single-site facility will replace the four existing plant and animal PEQ sites around Australia, providing contemporary facilities to accommodate imported high risk commodities, including plants, dogs and cats, horses, ruminants, bees, fertile eggs and pigeons.

Leighton’s Contractors Pty Ltd was appointed by the Department of Finance as the Managing Contractor in October 2013 and will oversee the construction of the facility. Sub-contractors are completing surveying work and starting to implement service connections on the 144 hectare site.

The new facility will be built in two stages. The first stage, to be operational by late 2015, will cater for horses, plants, bees, and half of the final cat and dog capacity. This stage includes the development of all relevant infrastructure, including mechanical plant, waste treatment, security infrastructure and the administration building.

The remaining facilities will be completed in 2018 and will support PEQ services for hatching eggs, live birds, ruminants and the remaining cat and dog capacity.

Fast tracking stone fruit plant imports bears fruit

Dr James Cunnington in the laboratory loading the PCR machine.A new way of screening for disease in imported stone fruit plants is benefiting industry and Australia’s biosecurity system.

The new testing protocol means that new varieties of stone fruit plants, such as apricots, peaches and cherries, could be released from post-entry quarantine (PEQ) facilities to importers in 16 months compared to 24 months under the old testing protocol.

Continue reading about fast tracking stone fruit plant imports

Given that 118 new varieties arrived at the Department of Agriculture’s Knoxfield PEQ facility in Melbourne this summer, the existing testing regime is quite a time and resource intensive exercise.

The department has used biological indicators to detect quarantine diseases in imported stone fruit since the 1970s. This process involves grafting the imported plant with local woody and herbaceous plants that are very susceptible to viruses and then monitoring for any signs of disease over time as the plants grew out. The plants had to be held for at least 24 months to verify that they were free from disease. Under the old protocol the department would have needed 1416 of these woody indicator plants just to screen this year’s imports!

The department’s scientists grasped the opportunity to use modern diagnostic techniques, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and electron microscopy, to improve the disease screening process for imported stone fruit plants. Some tests have been reduced while others have been enhanced to improve the testing process for industry and to safeguard our biosecurity system.

Department of Agriculture plant pathologists will complete 1700 PCR tests on imported stone fruit this year.

Plant pathologists Mahmood Nasir, James Cunnington and Mark Whattam, agreed that the efficiencies were good news for industry, as well as our biosecurity system.

“We now have better assurance over biosecurity risk due to more reliable and accurate detection of quarantine disease,” Dr Nasir said.

Using the latest diagnostic technology to refine Australia’s biosecurity testing regime for imported stone fruit plants will enhance the department’s capacity to detect exotic plant diseases and also create a more streamlined process for plant importers.

Thanks to science, we all get to enjoy a greater variety of locally-grown stone fruit much sooner.

Promoting vet leadership in Indonesia

Vets and animal health managers attended a pilot of the Indonesia Veterinary Leadership course earlier this year in Bogor, Indonesia.Australia is supporting a new training course to help strengthen the leadership and management capabilities of Indonesia’s veterinary officers, contributing to better biosecurity controls in the country and throughout the region.

Indonesia’s government vets wear many hats: they treat village livestock and provide animal health advice to farmers, manage disease risks at the border, monitor disease levels, implement disease control programs and promote veterinary health to the general public.

Continue reading about promoting vet leadership in Indonesia

The decentralisation of Indonesia’s vet services has also meant that staff at all levels of government need to contribute to policy development and implementation.

Organisational management, stakeholder engagement and communication are critical skills for meeting these challenges, but are not always emphasised because of a focus placed on developing the necessary technical skills.

The Indonesia Veterinary Leadership course aims to provide vets and animal health managers with the leadership skills they need to be able to develop and implement sound biosecurity animal health policies and programs.

The course has been developed through a partnership between the Institute of Agriculture Bogor, University of Gadjah Mada and the University of Sydney, with funding from the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Leadership Award Fellowship Program.

A pilot of the course was held in Bogor earlier this year, supported by the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Diseases Program (AIP-EID) in close cooperation with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture.

Based on the theme Better Human Welfare through Improved Animal Health, the first five-day residential course provided 25 participants with training in a range of leadership skills, including change management, team building, organisational structures and communications.

Dr Agus Lelana, one of the Indonesian academics involved in the development and piloting of the course, outlined its importance.

“Veterinary leadership training is important because it helps us consider a range of options and make sound policy decisions, and we become more skilled and confident at advocating our policy needs to our politicians and senior decision-makers,” Dr Lelana said.

The AIP-EID program is Australian–aid funded and managed by the Department of Agriculture. It aims to enhance the capacity of Indonesia’s animal health services to prevent, detect and control emerging infectious diseases and in doing so, minimise the risk of these threats reaching our shores.

Short term fee review

The Department of Agriculture is reviewing the cost recovery arrangements for; import clearance, seaports, live animal exports and a range of animals subject to post-entry quarantine.

Some of these arrangements have not been review since 2009 and we are approaching five years without a fee adjustment. Trade volumes have increased significantly since 2009. Last year, more than 30.9 million cargo items, 16 million passengers and 186 million mail items arrived in Australia from overseas.

Continue reading about short term fee review

New markets have also brought new risks to manage, new export requirements to certify, and the bottom line is more items crossing the borders that must be assessed. As a result, the existing rates of charge for a number of the department’s biosecurity cost recovery arrangements are either insufficient or fast becoming inadequate to cover the cost of services provided.

The review is necessary to return the department’s cost recovery arrangements to a sustainable footing and to ensure continued compliance with the Government Cost Recovery Guidelines.

Agriculture contributes more than $51 billion annual to Australia’s economy and employs some 334 000 people. We export in the order of $40 billion of agricultural products each year – off the back of strong biosecurity practices. Managing Australia’s biosecurity system is a big and important job. It requires responsive regulation and must be funded appropriately.

The short term review is expected to result in adjustments to the current fees commencing 1 July 2014. Consultation with affected industry and representative groups is already underway and has informed the development of draft Cost Recovery Impact Statements available on the Department of Agriculture website.

The feedback period for a number of arrangements closes 28 April 2014, however consultation with industry will continue in the coming months leading into implementation of any finalised adjustments.

Visit the Department of Agriculture website to check out the proposed changes to biosecurity fees and view those arrangements still under review and open for comment.

Targeting risk gets good returns

To meet the challenge of exotic threats reaching Australia through an increase in international travel and cargo, the department is allocating more resources to areas of highest risk.Most people are adverse to risk, but not the Department of Agriculture: our job is to be smarter and better utilise our resources to meet the growing challenge of managing the risk of biosecurity threats entering Australia.

There are many ways exotic pests, diseases and weeds can enter Australia. There are natural pathways, such as natural movement (particularly flight and the ability to swim) as well as movements associated with winds, tides and drifting marine debris, and there are human¿–assisted pathways, usually in the form of international passengers, mail and cargo.

Continue reading about targeting risk gets good returns

Given the department has limited resources and that the volume of international travellers, mail and cargo coming into Australia is growing dramatically, one of the strategies being employed by the department to good success so far has been to direct its resources to the areas of greatest biosecurity risk. The department calls this reform to how we do our work ‘risk based intervention’ (RBI).

Colin Hunter, First Assistant Secretary, Border Compliance Division, explained that reform is about doing things differently, not about doing the same with less.

“Reform is about working smarter and getting better outcomes. For example, working with our scientific areas to amend import conditions for low risk commodities, such as 3-in-1 coffee and egg noodles, has seen a reduction in seizures for these products by 92 per cent, allowing our officers to focus on the highest biosecurity risk.”

Mr Hunter said that irrespective of a continued increase in passenger and mail volumes, there remained some challenges ahead for the reform process that is being addressed.

“Even though over 99 per cent of passengers and users of international mail comply with biosecurity requirements we still have 40 per cent of passengers declaring items that still require inspection.”

“For the one per cent who still do not comply, we are building our detection capability through intelligence and data analysis to better target them,” Mr Hunter said.

“The department’s work with the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis will help to identify better indicators for targeting high-risk non-compliance and reduce the department’s intervention with compliant passengers.”

Mr Hunter said that the ability to profile passengers using automated systems will allow the department to better target high-risk non-compliance.

“Analysis indicates the benefits of automating current manual systems will reduce the effort required to identify non-compliance, increase correct decision making and improve the detection of high risk items. Achieving these benefits clearly supports our push to do our business in a smarter way.”

Passenger smuggling plant cuttings caught...again!

Bags of bulbs, cuttings and seeds intercepted at Brisbane International Airport.Plant smugglers beware! Deliberately concealed cuttings, bulbs and seeds have led to a conviction and a $7000 fine for a woman returning to Australia through Brisbane International Airport.

The woman was charged with attempting to illegally import exotic plant material after a baggage inspection at the airport uncovered five bags of deliberately concealed plant cuttings and bulbs, as well as 21 bags of seeds.

Continue reading about passenger smuggling plant cuttings caught...again!

Colin Hunter, First Assistant Secretary, Border Compliance Division, said the conviction reflected the serious risk involved with an attempt to circumvent Australia’s import requirements.

“The Department of Agriculture assessed the plant cuttings and found that a number of them had exotic plant pathogens that aren’t present in Australia,” Mr Hunter said.

“Australia is free from many of the pests and diseases found in other parts of the world and in this circumstance the pathogens presented a real risk to Australia’s agricultural industries.

“This case demonstrates the effectiveness of our biosecurity system and the work of our officers who again did a great job in identifying biosecurity risk items, even when they have been deliberately concealed.”

Plants and seeds are a biosecurity risk to Australia because they could devastate Australia’s agriculture and horticulture industries by introducing serious plant diseases or pests, such as Karnal Bunt, which has the potential to damage Australia’s grain industry worth more than $10 billion.

The conviction was not the first time the woman had been caught red handed; she was previously convicted and fined $4000 for attempting to import plants illegally in 2008.

Information on what can and can’t be brought into Australia is available on the department’s website.

Border finds

The Border Finds stories are drawn from the work of the Operational Science Program (OSP) within the Department of Agriculture.

OSP has entomologists and plant pathologists across Australia who work to identify pests and diseases detected by frontline biosecurity officers and provide practical advice and training.

Read all about the interesting discoveries this month.

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Nothing quick, maybe a little foxy

Mr Fox has to undergo treatment before he can call Australia home.There was nothing quick about a fox which arrived stuffed after its long journey to the international mail centre in Sydney.

Biosecurity officers were surprised when X-ray revealed a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), which the importer had rightly declared.

While this furry item was stuffed, untanned hides and skins sent from overseas could harbor pests and diseases not present in Australia such as parasites, foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax. The stuffed fox was also mounted on a wooden base with bark and sphagnum moss attached – each of which present their own biosecurity risks.

Exotic pests and diseases pose a significant threat to Australia’s agricultural industries, environment and economy.

This foxy find is being treated at the importer’s expense and will be sent to the importer once the treatment has been performed and the necessary fees paid.

Agency cooperation results in prickly find

Some of the 100m vials of prickly customers recently intercepted at the Melbourne Gateway Facility.Department of Agriculture and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officers bumped into some prickly customers recently at the Melbourne Gateway Facility.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service identified a package they screened by X-ray and referred it to a Department of Agriculture officer.

Though declared as shoes and gifts, inside were some rather less comfortable goods; 100 vials of live cactuses in key chains with moss.

All live plants need to have an import permit to be imported into Australia regardless of plant type.

Moss (for non-commercial use) contained in the vials does not require an import permit but must be heat treated or fumigated, and this information was not available on the declaration label.

The succulents have been seized pending further investigation of this now cactus import.

Driving an exotic spider out

Larinioides cornutus, hitched a ride on an imported used car.An exotic spider tried to hitch a ride to Australia in an imported used car from the United States this April. Biosecurity officers in Brisbane found the live spider during a routine inspection of second hand vehicles.

Department of Agriculture entomologists identified the spider as Larinioides cornutus, commonly known as the furrow spider.

The car underwent full fumigation to ensure that no other spiders or their eggs, made their way past the border.

Used cars must be free of biosecurity concerns such as soil, mud, leaves, insects and seeds before they arrive in Australia. Used vehicles that arrive in Australia without being treated offshore are subject to a full inspection on arrival.

The vehicle was inspected after fumigation and is on its way to its new owner – creepy crawly free!

Yachts hosting hungry guests

Frass (termites’ faecal pellets) found on an imported yacht.Drywood termites (Cryptotermes sp.) were spotted in the structures of two imported yachts by a pest controller at Airlie Beach in Queensland recently. The pest controller spotted frass (termites' faecal pellets) on the yachts.

Drywood termites are a major timber pest causing millions of dollars worth of damage around the world each year. Timber yachts make ideal homes for termites because of the easy access to the timber and areas prone to dampness—favourable conditions for termites.

Termites can be active inside timber without revealing their presence and can feed on wood until only a thin shell of timber or paint remains. For yachts, this can mean an expensive repair bill and major structural damage to the vessel.

The yachts were fumigated to exterminate the damaging pests.