Biosecurity Matters, Edition 5, 2017

​Biosecurity Matters


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Biosecurity is the management of the risk of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading in Australia and causing harm to animals, plants or human health, the economy, the environment and the community.

Importers undergo 'carrots and sticks' trial

CEBRA’s Dr Susie Hester (centre) recently joined the department’s Bo Wang (left) and Lee Cale (right) to talk ‘Carrots and Sticks’, a project looking at ways to encourage compliant behaviour among importers, at a seminar in Canberra.

Predicting human behaviour is never easy but new research is providing useful insights into ways the department can motivate importers to comply with our biosecurity requirements. 

Encouraging importers and others in the import-supply chain to follow biosecurity protocols is increasingly important, as the biosecurity landscape continues to change, bringing new challenges and risks.

Stakeholders recently gathered in Canberra to hear researchers from the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) and the department talk about ‘Carrots and Sticks’ — a project which aims to design and trial biosecurity inspection protocols that encourage compliant behaviour.

CEBRA’s Dr Susie Hester said that it was vital to understand and incorporate the strategic behaviour of stakeholders in inspection rule design, to prevent individuals from undermining Australia’s biosecurity, putting our agricultural industries, environment and population at risk.


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“We need to consider how clients will respond to a change in the biosecurity inspection rules and make sure the rules don’t trigger unintended responses,” Dr Hester said.

“CEBRA has been working closely with the department’s Plant Import Operations section to better understand how importers and those involved in the import-supply chain respond to inspection rule changes.

“Taking an ‘incentive regulation’ approach, we looked at the expected behaviour of these clients and opportunities to incorporate incentives for them to comply along the import pathway.

“For example, we’re now working with the department to trial new ‘Compliance Based Inspection — also called CBIS — Rules’ for imports of selected vegetable seeds.”

Under the trial, importers will qualify for the reduced inspection rate —the carrot — once they have established a history of compliance by successfully importing and passing 10 consecutive inspections and document assessments.

Once qualified, future consignments will have a 25 per cent chance of randomly being selected for inspection to verify ongoing compliance. If a consignment fails, the importer will return to a 100 per cent inspection rate — the stick.

Once complete, the impacts of the trial will be measured to see if they have influenced importer behaviour, resulting in more positive compliance rates.

This research aligns with the department’s recently established biosecurity research, development and extension priorities, which provide a shared vision for biosecurity research in our department.

CEBRA is a world class research organisation based in Melbourne. Its mission is to provide the department and the Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand with innovative, effective and practical research in biosecurity risk analysis. Find out more about CEBRA.


Biosecurity makes a splash at new Cairns Aquarium

The department’s Alicia McArdle (left) and Lyn O’Connell (right) were at Cairns Aquarium for the unveiling of the new display, designed to educate visitors about the importance of biosecurity.

Among the tanks of tropical fish, sharks, other underwater life and collections of rainforest animals at the recently opened Cairns Aquarium, is a new display putting the spotlight on some of northern Australia’s most unwanted marine pests.

The new display is a partnership between the department and the Cairns Aquarium to highlight the importance of marine biosecurity to visitors.

Aquatic Biosecurity Surveillance Project Officer from the department’s Science Services Group, Alicia McArdle, said the display of 3D models of five priority pests—four mussels and a crab—are accompanied by a video showing their destructive impact on marine environments.

“We’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to use this tourist attraction to build community awareness of priority invasive marine pests which could significantly impact northern Australia if found here,” Alicia said.


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“We’ve partnered with the Cairns Aquarium on this community engagement project funded under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.”

Opening day attracted over 2,000 visitors and the Cairns Aquarium expects more than 700,000 visitors per year to file through the front door.

The three-level, 7,800 square metre aquarium houses 71 live exhibits displaying around 15,000 fish and aquatic organisms in 5.5 million litres of water onsite.

“With so many visitors passing through, it’s the perfect home to display our important marine biosecurity messaging up north,” Alicia said.

Find out more about other projects funded under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.


Horse team springs into September

Spring Carnival Runner Tiberian.

Our horse clearance team has had a busy few months welcoming 59 so-called shuttle stallions into Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport during July and August. The lucrative fly-in-fly-out horses arrived on six flights from the northern hemisphere in time for the southern hemisphere breeding season, which runs from September through to December.

The horse team is made of individuals from various parts within the department who share a passion for biosecurity and horses. In teams of five or six people per flight, they work long hours to ensure the stallions undergo strict biosecurity controls on arrival. The stallions undergo a range of procedures including testing, vaccinations and pre-export and post-arrival quarantine to make sure they don't harbour any pests or diseases of biosecurity concern.

Just some of the challenges the horse team has to handle as part of its duties include changing flight arrival times, unsettled horses and Melbourne’s notoriously unpredictable weather.


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Luckily the brand new indoor loading facility at First Point Animal Services in Tullamarine has made the team’s job much easier because the horses are now loaded and unloaded completely undercover and protected from the elements.

Horse Coordinator Alyce Adams explained that the new facility had resulted in a far more comfortable and calm experience for everyone involved in the arrival process. “The horses were very relaxed in the new indoor facility, which is great for everyone’s health and safety,” said Ms Adams.

Since the start of the year Alyce and her team have welcomed more than 300 horses arriving at Tullamarine, including the Spring Carnival runners that began arriving at the end of September.

With both an expert team and a new and improved indoor facility, horses flying into Tullamarine can now look forward to a more serene and comfortable arrival experience whilst international buyers can be assured that exporting horses from Australia is a safe option.


Australia forges robust relationships in strengthening Solomon Islands biosecurity

(Left to Right) Nicola Bauman (Plant Division), Dr Catherine Mathenge (Plant Division), Solomon Islands High Commissioner Collin Beck, Sabina Pelomo (Biosecurity Solomon Islands), Solomon Islands Deputy High Commissioner Fiona Indu, Chris Dale (Plant Division).

When it comes to protecting Australia from the top 40 unwanted plant pests and diseases​ working with our Pacific neighbours to build a strong regional surveillance system is critical.

Since the launch of the Agricultural Competiveness White Paper​ in 2015 Australian biosecurity staff have been working with their counterparts in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste to improve regional surveillance (see Biosecurity Matters editions three and four 2017).

Even before the launch of the White Paper capacity building work was already underway with another near neighbour, with the establishment of the Solomon Islands Biosecurity Development Program (SIBDP) in 2013.
For Manager of International Surveillance, Biosecurity Plant Division, Chris Dale, building offshore biosecurity expertise is of benefit to local and Australian producers.

“Through the Solomon Islands Biosecurity Development Program Australia is helping to build an effective biosecurity system, creating a capacity for improved agricultural production in that country, and creating an avenue for early detection of unwanted pests and diseases that could threaten Australia’s industries and environment,” he said.


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Mr Dale said phase one of SIBDP (2013–2016) focused on developing the skills and capacity of Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI) middle management staff, with Australian and BSI staff delivering over 60 training capacity development activities.

The second phase of the program is now underway. Using cocoa, coconut and coffee as primary commodity case studies, it will test the effectiveness and sustainability of the Solomon Islands biosecurity systems.

The Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia, Mr Collin Beck, and Deputy High Commissioner Ms Fiona Indu, recently attended a seminar in Canberra that showcased the achievements of the first phase of the SIBDP.

Amongst the speakers was BSI officer Ms Sabina Pelomo, who recently completed a SIBDP sponsored Graduate Certificate in Plant Biosecurity through Murdoch University.

For the High Commissioner, strengthening biosecurity will help the Solomon Islands trade with more confidence. He welcomed the opportunity to increase collaboration in Canberra.

“We look forward to increased communication with the department,” Mr Beck said.

The SIBDP is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


Helping hands across the South Pacific

Cassava tree infected with cassava bacterial blight.

Recent cooperative work between the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI) and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries has allowed the identification and notification of a high priority regional plant disease - cassava bacterial blight.

The bacterium blight Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. manihotis (Xam) occurs in many parts of the world where cassava is grown, but has never been officially recorded before in the South Pacific.

The bacterium was originally cultured in a field survey. The DNA was then extracted from the cultures at the Solomon Islands Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock laboratory in Honiara. The DNA extracts were then tested at the Australian government department’s plant pathology laboratory in Cairns and, using molecular biology tools, the samples tested positive for Xam.


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For the findings to be published, live cultures were necessary to prove the precise identity. However, live cultures pose significant biosecurity risks.

As Richard Davis, Senior Plant Pathologist with the Science Service Group explained, this was a highly disciplined operation to protect both Solomon Island and Australian biosecurity.

“Cassava is of great importance to Solomon Islanders as a tropical staple crop and the disease appeared to be confined to just one island, where research facilities do not exist. Transporting the pathogen to the plant pathology laboratory in Honiara to be cultured, multiplied and used to infect cassava plants was not an option”.

“The import of viable material to Cairns in Australia was also not acceptable because cassava is grown in numerous small domestic plantings in towns and remote communities in Australia’s northern tropics” Richard said.

This is where Dr Rob Taylor of the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries’ Plant Health and Environment Laboratory stepped in to help. His laboratory was able to receive leaf material under secure biosecurity protocols where they conducted biochemical and molecular tests on living cultures under carefully controlled containment conditions.

This collaboration and publication of these findings has a number of benefits – it has helped bolster Solomon Islands’ science cooperation, it provides confidence in international trade and helps planning for both Australian and Solomon Islands’ plant surveillance.


Border finds: Imported seeds risk invasive weeds

The parcel contained goods from the Chelsea Flower Show, including seeds for sowing and fertiliser.

Our biosecurity officers recently intercepted a gardening related parcel containing seeds and fertiliser posted from France.

The parcel was found to contain a number of items that had been collected at the famous Chelsea Flower Show in the United Kingdom by the sender. These items included several different varieties of seeds for sowing, a fertiliser sample, as well as pamphlets and gardening books from the show.

One of the seed packets was for a permitted seed and was released to the importer. The gardening books and pamphlets were also released as they did not present a biosecurity risk.

Unfortunately, the three other seed packets and a small sample of fertiliser could not be released, as they did not meet Australia’s import conditions.  All items were destroyed.

Pests and diseases associated with imported seeds pose a high risk to Australian agriculture, flora and fauna. Unidentified seeds can potentially introduce invasive plant species that do not occur in Australia. The full botanical name must be provided for imported seeds to ensure that any required testing or treatment is applied to manage this risk.

If you’re travelling overseas, it’s important to check that items comply with Australia’s biosecurity requirements before mailing them, or bringing them home in your luggage.

For further information, please go to Travelling or sending goods to Australia



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