Biosecurity Bulletin - Edition 1, 2015

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Deputy Secretary Foreword

Image of Rona MellorThe Christmas and New Year break means time away from work for many Australians who focus on family and enjoy the festivities, but for the department, December and January are just as busy as the rest of the year.

During the holiday period approximately 1.7 million passengers and crew arrived at Australia’s international airports. More than 14 million letters and over 5 million parcels were assessed for biosecurity risk through international mail inspection facilities in December 2014.

Continue reading the message from the Deputy Secretary

This edition of the bulletin profiles some of the weirder biosecurity finds discovered over Christmas at our border, as well a story about a special biosecurity clearance organised ahead of the Sydney festival.

Find out how we’ve managed biosecurity risks that make it past the border, like the green mottle mosaic virus affecting cucurbits in the Northern Territory and the successful containment of fire ants at Botany, NSW.

This edition also highlights some of the key work ahead of us in 2015, with information on how we propose to reduce regulation for complaint vessel operators through the development of a new Vessel Compliance Scheme.

Managing Australia’s biosecurity system is a big and complex job. We can’t do it on our own. It’s vital that we involve our clients and stakeholders when we design and implement changes across our business.

There are many opportunities to provide us with feedback including through the Biosecurity Roundtable which will take place in March.

This year we are making changes to the way we manage post entry quarantine, through improvements to our services and the construction and commissioning of the new Post Entry Quarantine Facility in Mickleham, Victoria.

It’s shaping up to be a big year and you’ll be hearing from us on key service delivery changes and legislative reforms as the year progresses.

Rapid response stops ants in their tracks

Image of a red imported fire ant under the microscope. A rapid response to a detection of red imported fire ants in Port Botany in November appears to have kept the pests localised to the initial detection site. 

The detection at a port facility in Port Botany is the first confirmed detection of Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) in New South Wales, which was made by the Department of Agriculture during routine biosecurity surveillance.

Samples of the ants were sent to Brisbane and once confirmed the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) quarantined the area, set up a control centre and emergency personnel started thorough surveillance and eradication activities.

Continue reading about rapid response

Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said the rapid and coordinated response from the Department of Agriculture, NSW DPI and Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was crucial to containing the ants before they could spread and cause significant damage.

“This incident demonstrates the importance of governments, industry and the community working together to recognise and tackle exotic pests.  It’s a good example of our biosecurity system at work,” said Dr Ritman.

NSW DPI officers conducted surveillance activities within a two kilometre radius of the detection site, which includes residential areas, golf courses, parks, beaches and other port facilities.  

RIFA odour detection dogs were on loan from the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program in Queensland.  These specially trained dogs and their handlers are assisting with the ongoing surveillance activities.

Dr Ritman said that while this detection is not related to any of the RIFA incursions in Queensland, the need for vigilance and compliance with biosecurity requirements when moving goods out of RIFA infested areas is critical. 

“These really are a nasty pest that we are working very hard to eradicate from Australia,” said Dr Ritman
RIFA can inflict painful stings on people, pets and livestock.  They pose a significant social, economic and environmental threat by attacking animals and invading food and water sources.

For more information on RIFA, including how to identify them, visit Any suspected RIFA sightings must be reported to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Learn more about Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer in this short Youtube video.

A new vessel compliance scheme for improved maritime compliance

Australian biosecurity officers about to undertake a vessel inspection.The Department of Agriculture is developing a new Vessel Compliance Scheme (the scheme) which will improve maritime compliance resulting in more vessel operators qualifying for reduced intervention and faster clearance times.

The scheme will be supported by a major Information Communication Technology reform, the Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) portal, which is currently under development and will make it easier for vessel masters and operators to meet their obligations under Australian biosecurity laws.

Most non-compliance occurs when vessel masters, crew, or shipping agents are unaware of Australia’s biosecurity requirements. The scheme aims to promote ‘informed compliance’ for clients through improved understanding of what biosecurity officers look for when they board a vessel, what constitutes a breach and the consequences associated with non-compliance.

The Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Pathway Compliance, Nicola Hinder, expects to see greater consistency in the department’s vessel inspection process once the scheme is finalised and implemented across Australian ports.

“This will support more vessels to comply with Australian biosecurity laws and we should see faster clearance times as more vessel operators qualify for reduced biosecurity intervention” said Ms Hinder.

“Improved compliance in the maritime pathway will also allow the department to reprioritise resources to other risk pathways and focus on operators who display opportunistic or deliberate non-compliant behaviour.”

The department is working closely with Shipping Australia Limited and the Australian Shipowners Association to design the scheme and establish implementation strategies.

For more information about the vessel compliance scheme and MARS.

ABARES Outlook 2015 conference - know where your industry is heading

2015 Outlook Conference LogoThe ABARES Outlook 2015 conference is rapidly approaching, with 16 sessions over two days set to examine the key issues that will drive the profitability of the Australian agriculture sector – opportunities from increasing global food demand, access to international markets and improving the business environment for agricultural producers through innovative financing solutions and reductions in regulatory burden.

The conference theme of The business of agriculture: producing for profit flows through sessions including the economic overview, cutting red tape in agriculture, investing in agribusiness, global growth, future technologies for future profitability plus a range of commodity focussed sessions.

Outlook 2015 is on 3 – 4 March in Canberra. It is Australia’s premier economic forum for the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries. For full program details and information on registration options visit Outlook 2015 website.

Important information for cucurbit growers in response to virus

Image of healthy watermelonsA nationally coordinated response to the detection of Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic Virus (CGMMV) in the Northern Territory is continuing.

CGMMV is an exotic plant disease that was first detected in September 2014 in watermelon crops on properties near Katherine and in the Greater Darwin Rural Area. The virus was also found in pumpkin crops on two infected properties.

The virus has the potential to also infect other cucurbit species including cucumber, melons, zucchini, squash, bitter gourd and bottle gourd. 

The Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPI&F) is the lead agency responding to the virus and has imposed quarantine zones around infected properties.  Other states and territories are working together through the national Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests in response to the virus. 

Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said that some states have put in place entry restrictions on product sourced from the Northern Territory. Growers should contact the Northern Territory Quarantine hotline on 08 8999 2118 for further information.  

“All cucurbit growers within the Northern Territory who plan to send produce interstate now require a Quarantine Plant Health Certificate issued by the Northern Territory DPI&F before it’s transported,” Dr Ritman said.

“Certificates will be issued to growers outside of the current quarantine areas once their properties have been surveyed and the samples have returned negative results for CGMMV.”

Stronger measures are being implemented at Australia’s international border. Only seed that has been tested and found free of the virus will be allowed entry into Australia.  In addition, imports of tissue cultures and nursery stock have been suspended until further notice.

“We are also asking all cucurbit growers to request a statement from their Australian seed suppliers that seed imported prior to November 2014 has been tested and found free from CGMMV, for both cultivars and rootstocks,” Dr Ritman said.

While there have been no positive detections in crops in other states, it is critical that all growers implement and maintain good biosecurity practices, including regularly inspecting their crops for signs of the virus. 

Growers can download a copy of the Melon Industry Biosecurity Plan from the Melon Industry Association website.

For Territory growers and the public who would like more information, or suspect their plants may have the virus call the DPIF hotline on 1800 466 722 or visit Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries website.

Growers outside of the Northern Territory need to report any suspect signs of the virus to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

Potential quarantine disruption to Sydney Festival averted

Unpack and final set up of the Aurora SpeigeltentFlexible but nonetheless rigorous biosecurity inspection procedures have allowed a key installation to be erected in time for the 2015 Sydney Festival.

Delays in shipping the Aurora Speigeltent in two containers from the Netherlands to Australia could have left a large gap at the start of the 2015 Sydney Festival programme, had the importer run up against very rigid biosecurity inspection processes.

Continue reading about potential quarantine disruption

A further issue for the importer was the arrival of the shipment coinciding with the Christmas/New Year holiday period, potentially adding pressure to a fast-tightening timeline.

Spiegeltents are large travelling tents built of wood and canvas, usually ornately decorated with mirrors and stained glass and used for a diverse range of public entertainment. They originated in northern Belgium as mobile dance halls in the late 19th century.

Naturally, a spiegeltent’s wood and canvass construction and its interaction with soils and vegetation outside of Australia brings it to the attention of the Department of Agriculture as a potential biosecurity concern. Items contaminated with soil can carry some of Australia’s most unwanted diseases such as Foot and Mouth disease, while the facade of a spiegeltent could conceal exotic wood boring insects.

Logistics were becoming tight when the importer received news of the delay just before Christmas. An expert team of tent builders would require three days to erect the spiegeltent and the importer anticipated that a day for each imported container would be needed to complete the biosecurity inspection.

At this point, the importer approached the Department of Agriculture and requested that the inspection take place on-site in the middle of the ‘Festival Village’ located in Sydney’s Hyde Park, on Sunday, 4 January 2015. 

Having provided the department with a site occupational health and safety plan and understanding that the containers would remain “seals intact” until biosecurity officers were present, the importer set up the necessary hard sealed deconsolidation area and the contingencies for inclement weather that allowed the inspection to take place.

The Sunday on-site inspection did incur additional fees for the importer, who was above all things appreciative of the flexibility and responsiveness of the department in organising the specialised biosecurity clearance. 

Inspection of the spiegeltent did not reveal any biosecurity concerns, thanks in part to the contents being thoroughly cleaned prior to its departure from the Netherlands.

Three days later, the Aurora Speigeltent was open to the Festival of Sydney public and hosted an extraordinary array of entertainment and cultural performances for the next 18 days.

Department of Agriculture mobile inspecting officer, Craig Walsh, said the inspection operation was well coordinated between the department and the team of tent builders who travelled with the tent.

“Every component that came out of the container was inspected and moved straight to build the tent like a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ with no waste of time,” he said.

“A clear understanding of both parties’ needs allowed the biosecurity requirements to be upheld and the speigeltent to be installed in time.”

Unpack and final set up of the Aurora Speigeltent Unpack and final set up of the Aurora Speigeltent

Capturing progress for post entry quarantine

Image of the bee compound, under construction at the new Post Entry Quarantine FacilityWork is continuing on the Australia’s new Post-Entry Quarantine facility in Mickleham, Victoria. Construction started in May 2014 and the site is quickly taking shape.

A new time-lapse video showing daily images of the development of the site from May through to November 2014 is available at Post Entry Quarantine Govspace site or on YouTube.

Continue reading about capturing progress

The purpose built facility is a key element in modernising the way the Department of Agriculture will deliver post-entry quarantine services in Australia. The new facility will see all animal and plant imports accommodated at a single site where the department will continue to streamline operations and services.

The first completed compound for bee imports will be handed over to the department this month and will undergo a setup, testing and monitoring stage before being ready to accept bee imports.

The bee compound has six flight rooms allowing for the quarantine of up to twelve queen bees at a time.

Protecting Australia’s bee population from exotic pests and diseases is crucial for Australia’s agriculture sector and environment.  Bees contribute directly to the Australian economy through the honey industry and the packaged bee products and propolis sectors. Honey bees also contribute to the productivity of many food crops, by providing essential pollination that improves crop yield and quality. The Australian honey and bee products industry is valued at approximately $90 million per year and this new facility will further support the industry.

More information on the transition to the new post entry quarantine arrangements is on the Post Entry Quarantine Govspace website.

The 2015 Biosecurity Roundtable – bringing government and stakeholders together

Department of Agriculture biosphere Hosted by the Department of Agriculture on Thursday 5 March at the National Convention Centre from 8.30am to 2.00pm.  This year’s roundtable brings biosecurity stakeholders and government together on the importance of our Australian biosecurity system and the key measures of its health.

Please register your interest in attending at Conferences

Due to practical considerations, attendance is by invitation and for one delegate per organisation only.

Customs makes returning home easier with Can I bring it back?

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Officer displaying an item that can’t be brought into Australia Travellers can now find information on what they can and can’t bring into Australia much easier with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service’s (ACBPS) Can I bring it back? web application.

Can I bring it back? features more than 40 prohibited or restricted items routinely taken from travellers when they return to Australia, including a range of items commonly found for sale in Asia-Pacific tourist hot spots.

The ACBPS has worked closely with the Department of Agriculture to include relevant biosecurity content. The first phase of the release will allow users to download a PDF containing the full application content.

Continue reading about Can I bring it back?

ACBPS National Manager Troy Czabania said “the application is expected to provide enormous benefits for Australian travellers, providing quick and easy access to information so travellers can make informed choices about what to buy (and what not to) at tourist spots.”

“The long-term goal of the Can I bring it back? application is to improve compliance at the border and reduce the number of prohibited and restricted goods being brought to Australia,” Troy said.

As traveller awareness improves we should start to see a reduction in the volume of commonly seized items.

Travellers are becoming increasingly tech savvy and they expect the Australian Government to provide access to information in the platforms that are easy to use in their everyday lives.

The handy PDF ensures that users can still check if an item is prohibited or restricted even if they are in a location without internet access such as a market in Bali.

The Can I bring it back? web app is available on the ACBPS website.

Border Finds

It has been an interesting New Year period for our biosecurity officers around Australia. Have a look at the more unusual and very surprising biosecurity finds over the December/January period.

Feeling badgered

An unusual find was made by a biosecurity officer at Sydney international mail centre when opening a parcel from Germany.

The parcel contained a stuffed European (Melinae) Badger.

The Badger’s taxidermy did not pose a biosecurity risk as it was fully tanned, free of adhering fat, muscle, blood, bone and evidence of decay, however the log mount was stuffed with moss and a soil-like substance.

The client declined gamma irradiation treatment and as an alternative, the Detained Goods Office offered to remove the quarantine risk material – the bark and moss from the log. The badger was referred to Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and was found not subject to the Convention on Internal Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and therefore could be released.

Monkey business

When opening a parcel from Indonesia, biosecurity officers at the Sydney Gateway Facility were startled when they found a wide eyed monkey staring up at them. There was no declaration attached to the outer packaging.

The monkey was inspected to ensure freedom from contamination and infestation. It did not pose a biosecurity risk and was referred to Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

They identified the monkey as a Macaque Monkey, genus Macaca. Macaques are of interest to human researchers for their intricate social structures and their usefulness in testing, particularly for eyesight. The monkey was released when it was found not subject to CITES.


Flying snakes!

Unsuspecting employees at the GrainCorp terminal at Fisherman’s Island, Port of Brisbane, were on guard when a number of sightings of a snake in the garden of their premises were reported.

An employee captured the snake and went online to determine a tentative identification and then contacted the Department of Agriculture. A biosecurity officer collected the snake the same day.

A confirmed identification of golden flying snake, Chrysopelea ornata (Reptilia: Colubrida) was made. They are considered to be mildly venomous, although not to humans and are found widely across southern and southeast Asia.

The snake was male and was euthanised, however the department conducted surveillance in and around the terminal to make sure no other snakes of the same species were present.

The GrainCorp terminal at the Port of Brisbane is mostly used as an export facility, it is in close proximity to other wharves that are used to offload various international and imported break-bulk and containerised cargo.


Cruising beetles

On 4 January the cruise ship, ‘Europa’, sailed into Sydney where she was met by biosecurity officers for a routine inspection. They discovered one live burnt pine longicorn beetle along with three dead beetles. The specimens were collected and all beetles were destroyed.

The burnt pine longicorn beetle would have a devastating effect on our forest and construction industries if it became established in Australia. The larvae cause damage to pine timber used for construction by tunnelling in the wood and reducing the quality of the timber.

The Europa then set sail for Brisbane where, on arrival, an extensive inspection was performed targeting deck areas and the mooring stations. A live burnt pine longicorn was detected in a deck storage area within close proximity to raw timber branches, being used as Christmas decorations, which they are attracted to.

The raw timber was sprayed with insecticide, plastic-wrapped and then stored below deck. The timber would normally have been removed from the vessel and disposed of in a biosecurity approved facility, however due to the short time frame to departure the removal could not be facilitated.

Brisbane officers alerted the department’s Cairns office, Europa’s next port, to the biosecurity risk aboard the vessel so another inspection could be organised.

When Europa arrived in Cairns she was thoroughly inspected and found free of both live and dead specimens and the treated timber was contained. As the ship was departing for overseas the company was given the option to take the treated timber with them, which they decided to do.

Cruising beetles
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