Deputy Secretary Foreword
As we continue to progress the delivery of a modern and sustainable biosecurity system for Australia, new initiatives introduced in the 2014-2015 Budget will see an increased focus on safeguarding Australia and onshore biosecurity.
Preparedness for a disease outbreak is not a role that people always associate with the Department of Agriculture.
The department’s onshore biosecurity efforts and safeguarding work are key components to keeping Australia free from exotic pests and diseases.
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In this year’s budget, $20 million has been allocated to build on the department’s existing preparedness and response capabilities to further decrease the likelihood of incursions, and minimise the impact of any disease outbreaks.
Many of you may have heard of the department’s plans to establish a ‘biosecurity flying squad’. The department will implement a rapid response capability for urgent biosecurity issues. It will be used to fund immediate activities in the event of an incursion, such as sourcing specialist technical advice or technology.
This work complements planned increases in surveillance of targeted pests, weeds and diseases in coastal areas of northern Australia, and quarantine operations addressing the risk of people, cargo, and vessels moving south from the Torres Strait.
Rapid response capability will also assist in urgent market access issues, for example where export consignments are under threat of rejection overseas.
These initiatives, as well as many others, will help us to maintain Australia’s clean, green biosecurity status and our international reputation as a reliable producer of high-quality food and fibre.
Naturally, we can’t do this work in isolation. We rely on industry, the community and other government agencies to do their part and work with us to help safeguard Australia.
It’s vital work with outcomes that benefit us all, both as a nation and as individuals.
Our ground-breaking start to post-entry quarantine construction
Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has turned the first earth at Australia’s new post-entry quarantine (PEQ) facility in Victoria, with Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Michael McCormack.
From 2015, the new PEQ facility in Mickleham will consolidate the department’s existing PEQ operations into a single site.
Importers will have access to a safe, efficient and modern PEQ facility for importing high-risk live animal and plant commodities.
Continue reading about our ground-breaking start to post-entry quarantine construction
Strong and effective PEQ arrangements are critical in protecting our agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries which are worth $52 billion annually. The Department of Agriculture tests and monitors plants and animals while they are in quarantine to ensure any signs of disease or pests are managed and do not become a threat to our industries or environment.
Post-entry quarantine also delivers other benefits to industry—without effective PEQ arrangements, producers would not have the same safe access to genetic material from overseas.
Our robust biosecurity system including PEQ helps satisfy international markets that we are a country from which they can safely import agricultural products, without many of the pests and diseases found elsewhere.
Australia’s PEQ arrangements are critical to our agricultural industries remaining competitive. The strawberry industry is just one example of where imported genetic material has boosted productivity. Minister Joyce noted that 90 per cent of strawberry varieties grown in Australia were initially bred by researchers overseas, and this industry is now worth more than $170 million.
The new PEQ facility will continue to help our agricultural industries to remain productive and competitive into the future.
The build is a huge task and will be delivered in stages to accommodate quarantine material as existing facilities in Eastern Creek (New South Wales), Knoxfield and Spotswood (Victoria) and Torrens Island (South Australia) close between 2015 and 2018.
We’ll keep you posted as the site develops.
A stronger biosecurity system
The government has reaffirmed its commitment to a stronger biosecurity system for Australia in the 2014-15 Budget.
A range of new priorities for the department acknowledges the important role it plays in maintaining Australia’s favourable disease status to ensure future productivity and market access opportunities.
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In addition to existing biosecurity work, the path to a stronger biosecurity system is supported by new measures such as preparedness and response capabilities, a review of invasive marine pest management, and support to small exporters.
The government has allocated an additional $20 million over four years to build on our existing preparedness and response capabilities as part of a national approach to biosecurity.
- ensuring there are resources immediately available to respond to and reduce the impact of pest and disease incursions
- a review of the import risk analysis process and quarantine arrangements
- the development of a centralised database for information on sectoral pest and disease incursions, surveillance and response activity.
A review of how we manage invasive marine pests will help to ensure Australia is well-placed to protect our marine industries and environment and strengthen our marine biosecurity.
The 2014-15 Budget also supports existing and continuing biosecurity measures, including:
- a review of the department’s cost recovery arrangements
- a review of Australia’s existing quarantine legislation
- a new, modern Post-Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility in Mickleham, Victoria
- improving biosecurity management through risk-based interventions, service delivery modernisation and national service delivery arrangements.
The existing and new funding provided in the 2014-15 Budget will help to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system, which lies at the heart of our position as a trading nation.
Exercise Odysseus achieving more than standing still
How do we stop the movement of livestock across Australia to combat disease? This challenge has been taken up by governments, industry groups and emergency service agencies as part of
Coordinated by the Department of Agriculture,
Exercise Odysseus is a series of field activities and discussion exercises to test and improve Australia’s arrangements for implementing a national livestock standstill in the event of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak.
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Exercise Odysseus achieving more than standing still
Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, said that Exercise Odysseus activities to date had provided opportunities to assess emergency response plans and arrangements for implementing a nationwide standstill.
“We’ve been able to look at the specific issues that will affect various industries, including stock in transit and at saleyards, triggers for declaring the standstill, and being able to get the right information out to the people who need it,” Dr Schipp said.
In February 2014, communicators from government and industry got together to look at public messages that are needed, and how to get them out quickly and consistently across all jurisdictions.
The Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries held activities in four of the state’s regional saleyards, including a three-day exercise at the end of May. These activities have also involved members of the national Rapid Response Team—a group of government representatives with specific skills in emergency animal disease response.
Dr Schipp said Victoria’s saleyard exercises had been useful to help identify where response plans were effective and where improvements could be made. Elements of the response plans that were assessed included managing stock that had already left the saleyard, the capacity to hold returning or additional stock, animal welfare, and the public’s understanding of, and compliance with the standstill.
“It’s a big ask to stop all affected livestock from moving for three days, but this is a critical disease response activity,” Dr Schipp said.
“A standstill essentially buys us time and gives us the best chance of eradication and reducing the overall economic impact on Australia in the event of a significant livestock disease outbreak.”
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Northern Territory nursery grows export success
The Department of Agriculture’s Authorised Officer (AO) programme is saving Australian exporters time and money by empowering them to undertake specific export inspections.
Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Vanessa Findlay, said the AO programme provided greater flexibility to export businesses.
“Plant and plant products for overseas markets must be inspected to ensure importing country requirements are met,” Dr Findlay said.
Continue reading about NT nursey grows export success
“This programme allows authorised people to carry out these export inspections on behalf of the Australian Government, while providing the same assurances.”
As newly registered AOs, Karen and Josef Perner of the Northern Territory nursery Cycad Enterprises are looking forward to greater flexibility and efficiency when they send cycad and boab trees into overseas markets.
The Perners have completed an extensive training programme, theory and practical assessments as part of becoming AOs.
“As AOs, Karen and Josef can now undertake inspection tasks in-house, applying the same high standards of assessment which give importing countries assurance that their requirements have been met,” Dr Findlay said.
Ms Perner said having their business based in a remote area presented some logistical issues when participating in government inspections.
“Rather than waiting for a departmental officer to travel from Darwin, we can complete inspections at times that suit us while ensuring the integrity of our products,” Ms Perner said.
“All of our inspection records are carefully cross-checked by the Department of Agriculture before they issue the certification needed for exporting products from Australia.”
For more information on the AO programme, visit
Training our front-line officers
Staff training is an essential element in maintaining the Department of Agriculture’s capacity for effective biosecurity services.
But when our people are spread throughout Australia’s most remote locations, including an island chain, training presents unique challenges.
The department tackled these challenges recently when Outer Torres Strait Islands (OTSI) and Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) staff participated in a program of face-to-face and online training activities on Thursday Island.
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Team members spent an intensive week developing new and enhancing existing skills including first aid, coxswain’s verification, plant and animal health surveillance, cross agency coordination and mandatory online learning.
The training ensured they were up-to-date with the latest procedures, safety requirements and operational policies relating to their important biosecurity roles.
Biosecurity officers said that the training workshops provided a valuable opportunity to work and learn together, building their skills and knowledge.
Hazel Meikle, the department’s Northern Region Learning and Development Training Manager, said one of the most important things was being able to put the information into an island context.
“It was great to be able to work through the material with the OTSI staff - we had lively debates on the content, and they enjoyed the interaction.”
The Border Finds stories are a snapshot of the many detections made by the department’s officers around the country at international airports, seaports, and mail centres.
Read all about the interesting discoveries this month.
The Easter period is a particularly busy time for our staff at Australian airports but biosecurity officers remain vigilant when dealing with high volumes of passengers.
At Melbourne International airport, in the week before Easter, an undeclared package of meat landed a traveller in trouble with the Department of Agriculture.
While inspecting luggage belonging to a passenger who had arrived from Vietnam, the officer found a large amount of strange frozen meat.
After opening several boxes, the officer discovered the passenger had brought in four kilograms of frozen frog meat. The frozen meat was not concealed but the passenger had not declared it.
Frog meat that is fresh or frozen is not permitted to be imported into Australia (unless it is canned).
The frog meat was seized and the passenger was issued with a Quarantine Infringement Notice.
Now that’s a big esky
In Australia, it’s not uncommon to see an esky on a beach. But a large esky container found on an isolated beach on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula posed a potential biosecurity threat.
The container, possibly of foreign origin, contained rotten fruit.
The Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council/Apudthama Land and Sea Rangers, Lawrence Pablo, Tolowa Nona and Ausi Waia found the container on a stretch of coastline close to the northern tip of mainland Australia.
Many northern Australian ranger groups and isolated communities act as the eyes and ears of the department who monitors for biosecurity risks across almost 10 000 km of coastline, inlets, rivers and islands, stretching from Cairns in Queensland to Broome in Western Australia.
On close inspection of the esky it was determined that the fruit was not a biosecurity concern.
Like northern Australia’s ranger groups, if you’re visiting northern Australia and you see something you think could be of biosecurity concern, call the department on 1800 020 504. For more information visit the department’s
Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy website.
Stink infested caravan
A flash, retro-styled streamliner caravan from the United States (US) arrived in Australia recently with some unexpected travellers.
The unwanted hitch hikers were an infestation of brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys).
The bugs were reported by a stevedore at the Brisbane wharf while preparing the caravan for inspection. He alerted a Department of Agriculture biosecurity officer immediately and the caravan was secured and fumigated to exterminate the pests.
The stink bug is native to Asia but has spread to parts of the US. It feeds on a wide variety of plants and crops, including soybean, apple, peach, fig, mulberry, citrus and persimmons.
It usually spends winter in large numbers in homes, but in this case they preferred a mobile home!