What’s changed for importers

​Important changes to Australia’s biosecurity system came into effect on 16 June 2016 with commencement of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 (Biosecurity Act) replaced the Quarantine Act 1908, allowing for significant modernisation of the biosecurity system. The Biosecurity Act introduces new requirements that affect how the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources manages the biosecurity risks of goods, people and conveyances entering Australia.

We aim to make compliance with the new laws easy for you and your business. The information on this page provides a view of how the Biosecurity Act affects importers, including brokers and the cargo industry, by outlining key changes along the import pathway.

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Before you import​

Under the Biosecurity Act the jurisdiction has changed from 200 Nautical Miles (NM) to 12NM. Goods and conveyances from overseas automatically become subject to biosecurity control once they enter Australian territory, usually by passing through the 12NM limit.

Goods that are subject to biosecurity control are subject to assessment powers and management powers under the Biosecurity Act. It is important that you know what can and cannot be brought to Australia and that you understand the conditions that may apply.

Find out what is included in the definition of ‘goods’ under the Biosecurity Act.

Knowing what you can import to Australia

Under the Biosecurity Act, goods may be:

  • prohibited
  • conditionally non-prohibited
  • suspended.

Prohibited goods and conditionally non-prohibited goods are specified in the Biosecurity (Prohibited and Conditionally Non-prohibited Goods) Determination 2016.

The Determination replaces the prohibitions and import permit requirements for imported goods under the Quarantine Proclamation 1998.

Unlike the Quarantine Proclamation, determinations made under the Biosecurity Act are not subject to disallowance by the Australian Parliament. This provides greater flexibility in how the risks of imported goods can be managed - supporting more responsive regulation of new or emerging biosecurity risks.

Find out more about how Australia’s import conditions are changing

Prohibited goods

Prohibited goods are goods that must not, under any circumstances, be brought or imported into Australian territory. They present an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level.

Conditionally non-prohibited goods

Conditionally non-prohibited goods can be brought and imported to Australia where specified conditions are met to reduce biosecurity risk to Australia’s Appropriate Level of Protection. An example of a condition that may apply to conditionally non-prohibitedgoods under the Biosecurity Act is a requirement for an import permit.

The department’s Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON) sets out the conditions that apply to goods that can be brought into Australia.

With commencement of the Biosecurity Act the department revised some import conditions and removed the requirement for an import permit for specific goods referenced in the Goods Determination.

Suspended goods

The Director of Biosecurity may determine that goods, or specified classes of goods, are suspended from importation to Australia, if satisfied that the level of biosecurity risk associated with the goods is unacceptable.

Suspended goods must not be brought or imported into Australia for the period specified by the Director of Biosecurity in the determination (not exceeding six months). This new power acknowledges that the biosecurity risk status of Australia’s trading partners can change and provides a responsive mechanism to manage biosecurity risks to Australia.

Specific exemptions for goods sourced from the ocean or ocean floor

The Biosecurity Act changes the offshore boundary that defines Australian Territory. As a result, waters greater than 12NM from shore are considered as ‘international’ under the Biosecurity Act.

The change in jurisdiction to 12NM means that some goods not previously regulated under the Quarantine Act 1908 will be subject to biosecurity control under the Biosecurity Act and may be subject to import conditions under the Determination. Without an appropriate exemption these goods would be required to meet import conditions and may require an import permit.

Industries that could be affected by this change include:

  • researchers collecting samples from the ocean or the ocean floor past 12NM
  • fishers catching fish past 12NM.

The department has exempted all goods sourced from the ocean or ocean floor between 12 and 200NM (within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone) from import conditions, including import permits that would otherwise apply. This has been done under the Biosecurity (Prohibited and Conditionally Non-Prohibited Goods) Determination 2016.

Applying for an import permit

Importers will notice very little change in the processes associated with applying for, assessment of and granting of import permits.

Checking import conditions

BICON remains the department’s online source for import conditions and permit applications. Information in BICON has been updated to reflect new terminology and the legal framework of the Biosecurity Act.

Import permit fees do not change as a result of implementing the Biosecurity Act. Fees payable for permit applications lodged prior to 16 June 2016 are the same as those fees payable immediately following commencement of the Biosecurity Act.

Knowing where your goods can arrive

Under the Biosecurity Act, goods arriving from overseas that are subject to biosecurity control can only be unloaded:

  • at a place that has been determined to meet the requirements for a First Point of Entry
  • where the goods meet criteria and conditions relevant to their specified class as indicated in BICON.

Make sure you check BICON to ensure your goods can meet the Australian import conditions before you book your consignment for import, freight or postage.

Submitting an import permit application

Applications for an import permit are still made through BICON. The information that must be provided by an applicant is clearly indicated within BICON and supporting guidelines and policies published to the department’s website.

Fit and proper person

The Biosecurity Act provides the department with an option to apply a fit and proper person test to import permit applicants and their associates. The test supports the trust placed on importers who are granted import permits.

The department may require permit applicants to answer questions relating to their fitness and propriety, which will be subject to verification by the department. It is expected that this test will be used sparingly.

Securities

The Biosecurity Act provides new tools to manage the financial risks to the department that can arise from managing biosecurity risks. One example where the department may require a security or bond for conditionally non-prohibited goods is where there is a history of financial burden for the department to respond to and manage the biosecurity risks of a good arriving from overseas.

It is unlikely that the department will use this power from commencement of the Act. The department will engage directly with affected importers when it intends to use this power.

False or misleading information

Importers are still required to make declarations about the accuracy of information provided to the department to support an application for an import permit. The Biosecurity Act provides the department with a broad range of compliance and enforcement tools, including civil penalties and criminal prosecutions which may apply where false or misleading information is provided to the department.

Timeframes for when a decision will be made

Where goods require an import permit, the department has a maximum of six months (123 business days) to make a decision in relation to a permit application. This does not mean that every permit decision will take six months. The department will continue to apply existing service standards.

The majority of permit applications are processed and decided within 10 – 20 days, but there are some goods where the application for an import permit is inherently complex. The introduction of a six month maximum assessment period provides greater certainty to applicants around the closure of the administrative process for permit decisions and a pathway to review the decision efficiently.

This period may be extended when the department undertakes a prescribed activity such as:

  • determining whether the applicant is a fit and proper person
  • requesting and waiting for scientific advice, testing or expert review to assess the level of biosecurity risk associated with the goods
  • assessing premises or a facility used for a purpose relating to the goods
  • assessing a process used in relation to the goods
  • negotiating or liaising with government authorities of a foreign country in relation to the management of the biosecurity risk associated with the goods
  • waiting for fees associated with the application to be paid.

When the department has completed the assessment of an application, a permit will either be granted or refused. Where a permit application is refused, the applicant now has the right to seek a review of the decision.

Right to seek a review of a decision

The decision to approve, reject, suspend or revoke an import permit is a reviewable decision under the Biosecurity Act. Where an import permit is refused or revoked the applicant/permit holder can request the Director of Biosecurity to conduct a formal internal review of the decision. The decision of the Director of Biosecurity or the internal reviewer is also subject to further external review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Permit decisions and advice issued through BICON will indicate the contact point and criteria for requesting a review of a decision.

Permits issued under the Quarantine Act 1908

Under the Biosecurity (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2015 import permits granted under the Quarantine Act 1908 prior to 16 June 2016 will remain valid under the Biosecurity Act 2015 for the period stated on the permit.

Where an application was submitted under the Quarantine Act 1908 and a decision was not made before 16 June 2016, the applications will be assessed and a decision made under the Biosecurity Act 2015. The department does not anticipate applying new requirements to permit applications straddling the commencement of the Biosecurity Act.

Import permit fees have not changed as a result of implementing the Biosecurity Act. Any future adjustment in fees will be managed as part of a broader cost recovery review and adjustments managed by the department as part of normal business.

Packing and preparing goods for import

All goods from overseas become subject to biosecurity control once they enter Australian territory by passing through the 12 NM limit. Packing materials and non-commodity goods are also subject to biosecurity control.

Check the standard information on the importing section of the site for handy advice on how to pack and prepare goods for import.

Sending your goods

Goods from overseas arrive in Australia either by sea or air, meaning that the goods must be brought into Australian territory via a conveyance (aircraft or vessel). Under the Biosecurity Act all conveyances are required to arrive at a First Point of Entry, unless permission has been granted by the department in advance of the arrival at a non-first point of entry. This reflects previous arrangements for ‘first ports’ under the Quarantine Act 1908.

As an importer, you must ensure that your goods arrive at an air or seaport that is a first point of entry approved for that type of good. Check the list of existing first ports of entry to ensure that your specific class of goods can be received at your selected port.

Information about the application process to seek permission to unload goods at a non-first point has been updated and made available on the department’s website.

When your goods arrive

For most importers the information requirements, periods for notification and methods for providing information are similar to the experiences of our regulatory operations under the Quarantine Act 1908.

Similar to requirements under the Quarantine Act 1908, importers must ensure their goods arrive at a First Point of Entry or that they have appropriate permission from the Director of Biosecurity for the goods to arrive elsewhere.

There are some important changes to how the department assesses and manages the biosecurity risk posed by goods arriving in Australian territory. The Biosecurity Act provides flexibility in how the department can manage biosecurity risk. This means that there are changes in the way biosecurity officers interact with importers and the person in charge of the goods when the officer is assessing and managing biosecurity risk.

Unloading goods

All goods entering Australian territory are subject to biosecurity control, and notice is required for all goods, including transhipped goods, that are or are intended to be ‘unloaded’. This is different from the practice under the Quarantine Act 1908, where notice was required only for proposed importation of goods, or within a certain period after the landing or receipt of the goods if no advance notice is given.

The reporting of transhipped goods that are to be unloaded at a landing place or port in Australian territory enables the department to respond to and manage the biosecurity risks of goods contaminated with pests or diseases such as live insects – even where these goods might be in Australia for a short time and may not be unpacked.

How we assess the biosecurity risks of your goods

Under the Biosecurity Act, the department has additional powers to assess the level of biosecurity risk associated with goods and conveyances subject to biosecurity control. This includes the power to:

  • require a person to answer questions in relation to the goods or conveyance
  • require a person to produce documents relating to the goods or conveyance
  • secure goods or conveyances
  • inspect the goods or conveyance
  • take samples of goods.

How we manage the biosecurity risks of your goods

The Biosecurity Act introduces new mechanisms that provide protection for importers when the department is managing goods that pose an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk.

Where goods require treatment that is likely to damage, the biosecurity officer must request agreement from the person in charge prior to undertaking the treatment.

Agreement does not need to be sought if the biosecurity officer suspects, on reasonable grounds, that there is a high level of biosecurity risk and that the goods need to be treated as soon as practicable to reduce that risk to an acceptable level.

If the goods are high-value, and a biosecurity officer has made a decision that a treatment or destruction is required, the decision must be approved by the Director of Biosecurity or their delegate/sub-delegate before taking action.

Decisions relating to high-value goods, as well as a range of other decisions under the Biosecurity Act, require officers to be satisfied of or to consider certain principles prescribed by the Act. The aim of the principles is to ensure that any direction given or action undertaken is necessary, appropriate and adapted and does not impact on the person or their rights any more than is necessary to manage the level of biosecurity risk posed.

The Biosecurity Act also provides for internal and external merits review of certain decisions, including the decision to give approval requiring high-value goods to be destroyed.

Reportable Biosecurity Incidents

The Biosecurity Act recognises that importers have a shared responsibility to help manage Australia’s biosecurity system. The import industry has been reporting instances of potential biosecurity risk to the department for a number of years. Under the Biosecurity Act the Reportable Biosecurity Incidents Determination formalises this arrangement, conferring an obligation on persons in charge of goods that are subject to biosecurity control to notify the department of certain events that may pose a biosecurity risk to Australia.

Reportable biosecurity incidents include:

  • when prohibited, conditionally non-prohibited or suspended goods are lost or stolen
  • when prohibited, conditionally non-prohibited or suspended goods are not as described on the manifest or import permit
  • when goods are infested with live pests
  • a change to the intended use of conditionally non-prohibited goods.

The person in charge of the goods, or the person in charge of the conveyance carrying the goods subject to biosecurity control, must report the incident verbally or in writing to a biosecurity officer as soon as practicable after they have become aware of the incident. You are encouraged to read more about the requirements for reportable biosecurity incidents by downloading the Determination, or viewing the supporting material available from the Reportable Biosecurity Incidents page.

Releasing goods from biosecurity control

Goods are released from biosecurity control in a number of ways including:

  • verbally
  • in writing
  • electronically
  • by leaving the First Point of Entry (for travellers)
  • when mail items leaves the international mail centre.

There are exceptions to automatic release in the traveller and international mail pathways for conditionally non-prohibited goods:

  • used in research
  • for propagation purposes
  • used in a laboratory
  • required to undergo post-entry quarantine.

Check BICON for import conditions.

If at any point after the goods have been released from biosecurity control an importer suspects that a pest or disease may be present it should be reported to the department for investigation. View the page about on-shore powers to learn more about how these powers may affect you and your business.

Exposed Goods

Goods become ‘exposed goods’ if a biosecurity officer suspects on reasonable grounds that they have been exposed to other goods or conveyances that are subject to biosecurity control. Exposed goods are subject to biosecurity risk assessment in the same manner as if the goods had been imported and were subject to biosecurity control.

If a biosecurity officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the level of biosecurity risk associated with exposed goods is unacceptable, they can make an exposed goods order. An exposed goods order means the exposed goods are subject to biosecurity risk assessment and management, and unloading, reporting and release requirements the same as if they had been imported and were subject to biosecurity control.

Under the Biosecurity Act a person, good, conveyance or premises is taken to have been exposed to another person, good, conveyance or premises if they have been, or are likely to have been:

  • in physical contact
  • in close proximity
  • exposed to contamination, infestation or infection.

It is important that importers consider the management and potential separation of imported and domestic goods to limit the potential for goods to become exposed and reduce the need for regulatory intervention by the department.

Specific information on the application of exposed goods and conveyances is available to help explain the operation of the Biosecurity Act to importers and domestic operators interacting with installations.

Post entry quarantine management and requirements

Commercial importers often manage compliance with Australia’s biosecurity import requirements through the use of facilities and management schemes that are approved by the department as partners in biosecurity risk management.

Biosecurity facilities and premises managed by industry

Under the Biosecurity Act, approved arrangements replace Quarantine Approved Premises (QAP) and Compliance Agreements (CA). Existing QAP operators were invited to apply for an approved arrangement from April 2016, renewing their existing arrangement in context of the new Act to maintain continued operation from 16 June 2016.

Holders of existing Compliance Agreements will be invited to apply for an Approved Arrangement in the second half of 2016.

Under the Quarantine Act 1908 QAPs were required to renew their arrangement every 12 months and CAs were renewed as required under the terms of the individual agreements. To streamline and reduce the regulatory burden of renewal, all arrangements approved under the Biosecurity Act will be set with a common expiry date of 30 June 2022. This common expiry date will apply to:

  • existing QAPs that renew their transitional approved arrangement before 30 June 2016
  • existing CAs that renew their transitional approved arrangement before 16 December 2017
  • new applications that are approved by the department for an approved arrangement between 16 June 2016 and 29 June 2022.

Check what’s changing for arrangement holders’ page for more information.

Post Entry Quarantine facility managed by the government

Under the Biosecurity (Prohibited and Conditionally Non-prohibited Goods) Determination 2016 live animals and plants are classes of conditionally non-prohibited goods that pose a biosecurity risk when imported from overseas. These goods will generally be required to undertake a period of post entry quarantine to monitor and manage biosecurity risk once the live animal or plant arrives in Australia.

The government run Post Entry Quarantine Facilities in Mickleham and Spotswood, Victoria, and Torrens Island in South Australia, are classified as Biosecurity Activity Zones. Check out the onshore powers webpage to find out more about how the Biosecurity Activity Zones operate and how this might impact you and your business.

Compliance and enforcement

The department uses a differentiated approach to compliance management. This approach focuses on promoting voluntary compliance, and responding to non-compliance in a way that corresponds with the behaviours of those involved. Find out more about our approach to compliance and the specific compliance posture that supports existing clients in transitioning to the new laws.

Failure to comply with a requirement under the Biosecurity Act may result in penalties, including infringement notices, civil penalties or criminal prosecutions. Find out more about the range of new compliance and enforcement tools available under the Biosecurity Act and how the department proposes to use these in the future.