Biosecurity Bulletin - Edition 3, 2015


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

Image of Greg WilliamsonThis edition of Biosecurity Bulletin celebrates the significant achievements and ongoing work by the department to ensure Australia’s biosecurity system is modern, flexible and professional.

The most notable of these is the passing in parliament of the new Biosecurity Act 2015. The new act replaces the Quarantine Act 1908 and is the result of many years of work consulting with stakeholders, state and territory governments and clients to develop a modern regulatory framework to manage biosecurity risk.

Continue reading the message from the Deputy Secretary

The legislation is designed to provide more flexibility in the way biosecurity is managed, as well as improving our ability to adapt to changing technology and transport to manage biosecurity threats. Read more about the Biosecurity Act 2015 and how it will allow the department to adapt to changing technology and transport.

In another milestone, the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was launched on 4 July. The paper outlined a new pathway to strengthening Australia’s agricultural industry through a range of funded programs, including $250 million for biosecurity – some starting immediately.

We are continuing to improve our services to make it easier for you to do business with us. This edition provides you with updates on: the Cargo Online Lodgement System that provides a 24-hour service for customs brokers and commercial importers to lodge cargo documentation online; our new Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility currently under construction in Victoria, where we will manage biosecurity threats for high risk animals and plants arriving in Australia at one dedicated facility; and our move to online payments, invoices and receipts that will allow you to pay for services and receive receipts and invoices electronically.

This edition also highlights our redesign of our cost recovery arrangements for export certification and biosecurity services and how you can have your say.

Finally, in recognition of outstanding biosecurity effort, the department is calling for nominations for the 2016 Australian Biosecurity Awards are open until 30 September 2015. I encourage you to nominate members of the public, industry, business and government who have protected Australia from threats to our plants and animals.


Quarantine Act 1908 sails into the history books

Biosecurity officer conducting vessel inspectionThe Senate’s approval of the Biosecurity Act 2015 will result in the biggest overhaul of Australia’s biosecurity system in more than 100 years.

The new Act replaces the previous Quarantine Act 1908, dating from a time before air travel to Australia was possible – just one example of the huge changes that have transformed the Department of Agriculture’s work in regulating biosecurity threats.

The Act was granted royal assent by the Governor-General on 16 June 2015, but the changes will not take effect until mid 2016 to allow for a smooth transition to the new legislation.

Continue reading about the Quarantine Act 1908

Key changes contained in the Biosecurity Act 2015 include:

  • A strong legislative framework that clearly sets out the powers that can be exercised by officials as well as the requirements of those being regulated
  • New powers to manage risks onshore and in Australia’s marine environment
  • Flexible tools to target non-compliant activities, while reducing the burden on those who are compliant.

The framing of the new law follows years of work by Department of Agriculture staff in consultation with industry, state and territory governments, environment groups, health professionals, the general public and Australia’s trading partners.

Department of Agriculture Acting Deputy Secretary Greg Williamson said the Biosecurity Act 2015 would boost our ability to adapt to changing technology and transport needs, and protect our natural resources and primary industries from the ever-present threat of introduced pests, diseases and weeds.

“Staff across the department working in biosecurity roles, such as operational frontline staff at airports, in the field, at front counters, and our investigations and enforcement officers will have access to new tools and powers to help them get the job done more effectively than before,” he said.

“The new biosecurity legislation will provide more flexibility in the way that biosecurity is managed.” 

“It is also designed to support Australia’s biosecurity system in any age, regardless of advances in transport and technology or future challenges.”

While the Act will not take effect until 16 June 2016, the department has already started work on preparing for the changes in its crucial biosecurity work.

For more information on the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its supporting legislation, visit Biossecurity Act 2015 and supporting Acts or subscribe to the Biosecurity Act subscription list


Agricultural White Paper boosts Australia's biosecurity capability

Cover of Agricultural Competitiveness White PaperThe much-anticipated Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, released on 4 July 2015, lays out a plan for helping to shape the future of agriculture in Australia and provide better returns at the farm gate.
 
This White Paper is a landmark document that will help build a more competitive and profitable agriculture sector. It’s a $4 billion investment in the future of Australian agriculture—and the Department of Agriculture will play a key part in rolling out its initiatives.

The White Paper includes practical actions across five priority areas:

  • A fairer go for farm businesses
  • Building the infrastructure of the 21st century
  • Strengthening our approach to drought and risk management
  • Farming smarter
  • Accessing premium markets.

The initiatives are wide ranging—from major infrastructure projects to tax reform, biosecurity measures to drought support, and much more. The White Paper has a long term vision, so some of the measures will deliver benefits to farmers immediately, whereas others will roll out over the coming months or years.

Our Department will be leading in a number of biosecurity and trade related initiatives, including:

  • improving biosecurity surveillance and analysis—to prevent incursions which damage production and our market access ($200 million over four years). Australia has an enviable animal and plant health status and it’s important our strong biosecurity system is maintained to support this to enable access to overseas markets.
  • boosting our emergency response—so we’re better placed to tackle pest and disease incidents ($50 million). Preventing or stamping out new and emerging threats is far easier and more cost effective than managing pests or diseases that have already established.
  • giving farmers the tools they need to control established pests and weeds ($50 million). This benefits us all—it protects agricultural production and our environment and helps protect the natural resource for everyone.
  • improving access to trading markets by breaking down technical barriers so farm produce can be exported, including appointing five new agricultural counsellors in key markets ($30.8 million), and modernising our food traceability systems for product integrity ($12.4 million).

Other initiatives to be lead by the department of Agriculture include:

  • supporting drought preparedness and management to help farmers and their communities cope with drought and stress, including programmes to help farmers manage pests and weeds ($25.8 million)
  • reducing regulatory red tape streamlining approval of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, and working with Productivity Commission enquiry into cutting regulations for farmers and agribusiness
  • improving the effectiveness of Research and Development improving the efficiency of RDCs, prioritising levy funding to practical R&D to improve productivity and profitability, and introducing new agricultural production levies and matching industry R&D spending for smaller industries ($2.6 million).

There’s a lot happening—not just here but across other agencies as well. As the White Paper initiatives span a range of Commonwealth and state and territory agencies, to make it easier to find information about what’s involved and what this will mean for Australian agriculture, we’ve housed information about the White Paper in a dedicated website: agwhitepaper.agriculture.gov.au. There you’ll find the At a Glance (a summary of the key initiatives) as well as information about key initiatives grouped under the priority areas. There are also a number of factsheets on specific areas of action.

Over the coming months, we’ll keep you updated on progress in rolling out White Paper initiatives through the Biosecurity Bulletin and other means. If you have an enquiry, you can email us at White Paper.


Imported animals and plants to be quarantined at single national facility

Aerial view of the Department’s new PEQ facilityMost high risk imported animals, including horses, bees, dogs, cats, and plants will soon be managed at a single site in Victoria, when phase one construction of the Department of Agriculture’s new Post Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility north of Melbourne is completed in October.

In the past PEQ activities have been carried out at five (now four since 2013) relatively small locations around the country. The new site will consolidate government-owned post entry quarantine into one large facility, creating a hub for expertise and streamlined operations and services.

First Assistant Secretary, PEQ Build Taskforce, Dr Colin Grant, said the new PEQ facility was an example of staff benefiting from the department taking a modern, flexible and professional approach to designing and structuring work.

“A single PEQ site will support greater efficiencies in the department’s operations, and also bring staff expertise together in the one place,” said Dr Grant.

“The result will be a showpiece facility that has been designed to meet Australia’s long-term needs”.

Imported pigeons, poultry eggs, and some plants, dogs and cats will continue to be held at other government managed quarantine locations until phase two of the facility is completed in early 2018.

Once completed, the new facility will improve the way we manage biosecurity threats for high risk animals and plants arriving in Australia and also provide a more modern facility for our staff to perform this crucial work.

A diverse range of agricultural industries, from horticulture through to specialist animal breeders and pet importers will benefit from the new facility.

For plants, the facility has an increased glasshouse capacity, supported by a large modern diagnostic laboratory. The facility can house a wide range of plant species with different climatic zone settings in the glasshouses.

You can check out the progress of the new PEQ facility on our PEQ Govspace site, where you will find a range of images and videos that show the various compounds being built.


Department's clients welcome new online lodgement system

COLS main menuCustoms brokers and commercial importers are among those who have welcomed the Department of Agriculture’s new Cargo Online Lodgement System (COLS).

COLS provides a 24-hour service for customs brokers and commercial importers to lodge cargo documentation online for assessment and is another way the department is making it easier to use our services.

Using COLS, customs brokers and commercial importers can now:

  • Lodge documents for imported cargo online at a time that suits them, instead of using email or visiting an office.
  • Check the status of their lodgement in real time.
  • Provide additional documentation to their lodgement, if requested, without losing their place in the queue.

Mr Michael Cook, a Licensed Customs Broker with international freight forwarder Geodis Wilson Australia Pty Ltd, has been using COLS from the very beginning.

When asked how COLS had changed the way he does business with the department, Mr Cook said: “It has changed things fundamentally – the new system is much more streamlined”.

Mr Cook also emphasised the greater degree of consistency in the service his company has received from the department since COLS was introduced.

Another feature of COLS is the ability for clients to indicate if their lodgement requires an officer to assess the cargo’s documentation urgently due to the nature of the goods arriving.  Mr Cook has used the priority indicator for his lodgements of air freight and perishables that are always urgent/critical. 

“The new system is definitely a more flexible way of dealing with the department,” he said.

Mr Dino Spinelli, a commercial importer from Woolworths agrees, saying that being able to upload his documents in a secure environment using COLS has made his business transactions with the department more flexible and efficient.

Information to support users is available at Cargo Online Lodgement System (COLS).


Now's the time to nominate for the 2016 Australian Biosecurity Awards

Australian Biosecurity Awards web graphicIt’s time to recognise outstanding members of the public, industry, business and government who have gone out of their way to protect Australia from threats to our plants and animals. Nominations are open from 3 August till 30 September 2015.

The 2016 Australian Biosecurity Awards recognise those who show a commitment to working collaboratively with the Department of Agriculture to support and promote Australia's biosecurity and the systems that uphold it.

Continue reading about the 2016 Australian Biosecurity Awards

One of last year’s award winners, nominated by members of the public, was Nursery and Garden Industry Australia. This organisation designed a comprehensive hazard analysis for production nurseries that was a whole-of-farm pest, disease and weed management system to identify and manage endemic and exotic threats.

Another 2015 award recipient was Mark Engall, owner of Engall’s Nursery, who was recognised for his proactive response that mitigated the risk of exotic pests and diseases being introduced to Australia.

The department is calling for nominations for the 2016 awards from 3 August until 30 September 2015. The three award categories are:

  • Australian Biosecurity Award – Industry
  • Australian Biosecurity Award – Government
  • David Banks Biosecurity Lifetime Achievement Award

The nomination form can be downloaded from www.agriculture.gov.au/aba


International bodies recognise department's world-class expertise

Ms. Lois RansomThe quality of the Department of Agriculture’s expertise has been recognised with the election of two senior staff to international scientific forums.

The department’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp was elected as Vice President of the World Assembly of the Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in May.

Assistant Secretary Plant Import Operations, Lois Ransom was elected Vice-Chair of the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) in March.

Continue reading about our staff appointments

Acting Deputy Secretary Greg Williamson said both appointments demonstrated the department’s expertise in plant and animal science.

“Our people are highly skilled and widely respected on a world stage. They put these skills to use every day safeguarding Australia from biosecurity threats,” he said.

Dr Schipp’s new role puts him in the driver’s seat of an intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide. The OIE sets health standards for international trade in animals and animal products through its expertise in animal health and disease control. It is recognised as a reference organisation by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has a total of 180 member states.

Dr. Mark Schipp is elected as Vice President of the OIE

Dr Schipp's election to the President-Elect role of the OIE World Assembly means that he will assume the chair in 2018 for a three year term. His election recognises the important contribution that Australian expertise and engagement has made to this important international forum.

Ms Ransom’s role at the IPPC is an influential position in boosting international biosecurity. The IPPC is the body that sets science-based health standards to support international trade in plants and plant products, and also fosters cooperation between nations in protecting the world’s plant resources from pests and diseases. It has a total of 182 contracting parties.  Australia’s involvement in the IPPC is important in supporting international trade in plant products, while also protecting our industries and community from the spread or introduction of plant pests and diseases.

Following Ms Ransom’s election as Vice-Chair of the IPPC, Australia will assume the Chair in 2016. Her election recognises the important contribution that Australian expertise and engagement has made to this important international forum.

For more information on the OIE, visit www.oie.int. For more information on the IPPC, visit www.ippc.int.


Australia is ready to combat a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak

Participants at the Exercise Odysseus workshopRecent exercises to test Australia’s response to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) show Australia is in “a good place” to combat any future threat.

The Australian Government Crisis Committee (AGCC) has held the final Exercise Odysseus activity to work through a whole-of-Australian Government response to FMD.

Continue reading about Exercise Odysseus

Acting Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture Greg Williamson said that the AGCC exercise topped off the great work that had been done throughout Exercise Odysseus and puts Australia in a good place to combat an outbreak. 

“While an FMD outbreak in Australia would create an enormous challenge for government, industry and affected communities, we feel better placed to respond to an outbreak as a result of the exercise programme,” said Mr Williamson.

A report released by ABARES indicates that a widespread outbreak could cost Australia more than $50 billion over 10 years.

In a confirmed outbreak, Australian producers would lose access to overseas markets almost immediately. It would take several years to re-open markets, and would involve officially proving freedom from the disease, which usually takes 12 months. 

The response to an outbreak of FMD would be led by the Department of Agriculture but because the disease would have significant social, economic and trade impacts, other Australian Government departments would have a role in the response.  

“Unlike most major emergencies in Australia which are in response to natural disasters such as bush fires, the exercise highlighted the seriousness of an FMD outbreak and the long-term effort that would be required of resources, services, and expertise from departments to assist with national and local response activities,” said Mr Williamson.

Exercise Odysseus, a series of discussion exercises and field based activities, was designed to assess government and industry arrangements for the implementation of a national livestock standstill in the event of an FMD outbreak. Since early 2014 there have been 44 activities held across Australia at a regional, state and national level, with more than 1600 people participating.

The AGCC exercise was guided by the Australian Government Agricultural Incident Plan (AGAGINPLAN) which describes the coordination arrangements between Australian Government departments that would have a role in a major agricultural disease outbreak.


New safeguards to protect Norfolk Island

Cover of Norfolk Island Quarantine Survey 2012-2014Norfolk Island will soon benefit from a range of biosecurity measures to safeguard it against pests and disease.

The new measures follow a two-year survey which assessed the island’s plant and animal health status, confirming its unique environment – and the need to protect it into the future.

The Norfolk Island Quarantine Survey recorded the island’s plant species and invertebrates, and identified pests and diseases on the island. It showed Norfolk Island’s incredible diversity of fauna and flora. These include:

  • 430 introduced species of plants of which 52 are new records for the island
  • None of the plants surveyed are a significant weed threat to mainland Australia
  • 1192 species of invertebrates recorded of which 145 are not present on the mainland
  • Only one species of plant bacteria and two species of virus that are not present in Australia
  • 24 species of plant fungal pathogens known on Norfolk Island have not been recorded on mainland Australia
  • 7 species were identified as of significant plant biosecurity concern, with no animal biosecurity problems detected.

Continue reading about new safeguards to protect Norfolk Island

The Department of Agriculture’s Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Kim Ritman, said the results revealed the unique environment of the island.

“Only three pests and diseases were detected within the island’s honey bees, making them some of the highest health status bees in the world,” said Dr Ritman.

During the survey, border capacity and capability was strengthened to ensure survey results will remain relevant for as long as possible – including a trained detector dog who now calls the island home.

“Detector dog ‘Dawson’ has now joined Norfolk’s biosecurity staff, who have been trained as handlers,” Dr Ritman said.

“A new biosecurity laboratory which is in place to support the Norfolk Island biosecurity service, and a new fumigation and heat treatment facility to control pests and diseases are also being built.”

Several monitoring tools taken to Norfolk Island for the survey have also been left in place including bee pest monitoring, lures and fly traps for screwworm and fruit flies.

“We worked with the local growers to understand plant health issues. This helped the surveillance staff to understand what the issues were and actions that could help to resolve them,” said Dr Ritman.

The survey also allowed islanders to benefit from a new handbook of weeds of Norfolk Island, welcomed by growers and gardeners living on the island.

The survey work was conducted through a collaboration between the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the University of Queensland, Plant Health Australia, the CSIRO and consultants.

The project marks a successful collaboration between the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Norfolk Island Administration.

The report is currently not available.


Aerial view of cargo containersFrom September, you can pay for the department’s services online, and receive invoices and receipts electronically.

These will be clearer and easier to understand. A sample of the new invoice will be sent to you shortly to help you get ready for this change.

If you do a lot of business with the department, you will receive invoices and a monthly statement which clearly outline the services you used, how much you need to pay and when.

Continue reading about the new online payments

You will be able to make secure electronic payments for our services and check the status of your online lodgement in real time.

As we switch to the new system, we will send you updates and offer phone support if you need it. 

These improvements are just one way we are making it easier to use our services. Other improvements coming later this year will include the ability for you to request appointments electronically.

We’ll keep you up to date about these changes throughout the year.

You don’t need to do anything in the meantime, although you may be asked to provide an email address to allow the department to contact you electronically.


Border Finds

Before you travel or mail items to Australia check ICON to see if your goods can be imported into Australia. Some goods require an import permit, some may require treatment, and others are prohibited. When travelling to Australia you must declare all food, animal and plant material on your Incoming Passenger Card. In most cases your goods will be returned to you.

Shining a black light on illegal scorpion imports

A biosecurity officer escaped a sting or two after opening a package containing live scorpions at the Melbourne mail centre.

Once euthanised, Department of Agriculture entomologists identified the scorpions as Malaysian Forest Scorpions (Heterometrus spinifer).

Live invertebrate animals are not allowed to be imported into Australia without an import permit, therefore the scorpions were referred to the investigations team. The investigation determined that the package was incorrectly addressed and as such the intended recipient was not located.

Entomologists shone an ultraviolet black light to show the impressive fluorescence that all scorpions exhibit. The scorpions have been added to the department’s specimen collection.

Malaysian Forest Scorpion viewed under ultraviolet light 

Intention: deception

A book is a present that keeps on giving, but in this case what was found in this book’s pages was anything but a gift.

A biosecurity officer at the Sydney mail centre found the consignor had cut out a section of the book which concealed eight paper packets filled with seeds.

The seeds were identified as unhulled rice. As stated in the department’s Import Conditions Database (ICON), rice seeds for sowing require a valid import permit, must be packed in clean, new packaging, clearly labelled with the full botanical name (i.e. genus and species), and require growth in a post entry quarantine facility.

The department investigated the matter because this was an intentional concealment and uncovered that the intended recipient had a valid import permit for rice seeds from all countries but the parcel was unsolicited.

The recipient has since worked with the department to inform the sender that the way they packaged the seeds breached the Quarantine Act 1908. The consequences of such a breach can result in a maximum 10 years imprisonment.

Book containing concealed seeds 

Sniffing out sausages

Detector Dog Shady was on the ball when she sniffed out some sausages at the Gold Coast Airport.

Shady sat immediately next to a passenger’s bag and upon inspection a biosecurity officer found 1.6 kilograms of pork sausages.

The passenger from Hong Kong did not declare the food, nor did they admit to biosecurity officers that they had the sausages when they arrived in the inspection area.

Non commercial consignments of pork meat from Hong Kong are only allowed into Australia if they have been heat treated in an airtight container and do not require refrigeration.

The rest of their baggage was searched and no other undeclared or prohibited items were found. However, the passenger still received a $340 Quarantine Infringement Notice for not declaring the sausages.

Seized pork sausages in plastic bags 

Caught and in court - Can you import pork without declaring it? Pigs may fly

New South Wales business Naruone Pty Ltd has received fines totalling $100 000 for illegally importing pork dumplings, steaks, whole chickens, sausages and other products into Australia.

The company’s owner, Mr Hyung Park, received three years imprisonment, with the sentence wholly suspended, after pleading guilty for deliberately mislabelling the contents of shipping containers because he knew the products were not permitted in Australia.

The First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Agriculture's Compliance Division, Raelene Vivian, said Mr Park as owner of Naruone Pty Ltd, had received training and held quarantine accreditation, which comes with the responsibility for ensuring the integrity of Australia’s biosecurity system is maintained.

“The Department of Agriculture provides training courses to help importers comply with Australian laws and when they are ignored, we take decisive action,” said Ms Vivian.

“Mr Park has paid the price for failing to take his responsibility seriously.”

Mr Park and Naruone Pty Ltd were charged with offences under the Quarantine Act 1908 and the ImportedFood Control Act 1992.

Australia enjoys freedom from many harmful pests and diseases that occur in other parts of the world. One of the risks of imported pork products is foot-and-mouth disease which, should it become established in the country, is estimated to cost Australia around $50 billion over a decade.

This prosecution is one of a series stemming from Operation Hayride, which has resulted in seven individuals and five corporate entities receiving convictions and fines totalling $240 000 for offences relating to the illegal importation of food products to date. More prosecutions are on their way.

If you witness suspicious behaviour or come across any goods that you believe have been illegally imported, call the Department of Agriculture Redline anonymously on 1800 803 006.

Seized frozen chicken products in box 

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