Northern Australia biosecurity initiatives

Northern Australia is mainly considered as a biosecurity ‘buffer’ for southern Australia, but it is a unique environment and a growing source of agricultural wealth in its own right. North Australia’s 183million hectares of agricultural activity1 represents 46% of Australia’s total agriculture area and is at risk from pests and diseases arriving from all directions. Wind, water and animal threats are increasing as our region faces growing biosecurity pressures from pests, weeds and a range of high risk plant and animal diseases.

Biosecurity risks in southern Australia are generally temperate climate pests and diseases arriving through ‘regulated’ pathways such as vessels, freight and travellers. However, biosecurity threats to northern Australia include novel tropical pests and diseases arriving in and through remote areas including a sparsely populated 10,000km northern coastline.

The northern Australia projects which have been funded under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper are practical, cooperative and future-looking actions including: improved animal/plant/aquatic surveillance (eg. using new technology); modern diagnostics (using new equipment, modern methods and highly skilled diagnosticians from around Australia); better data (moving from manual to digital systems – even in remote areas); community engagement (sharing information and listening to what people need); and Indigenous Rangers (recognising the skills and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rangers to undertake a wide range of biosecurity work across northern Australia especially in remote areas).

The following projects are just some of the practical activities happening across northern Australia thanks to the shared commitment of Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland governments, Animal Health Australia, Plant Health Australia and other Australian government stakeholders.

ProjectWhoHow this will make a difference
Projects benefitting farms/farmers/aquaculture and other industries

New ‘sentinel’ herds in in Merapah (Qld),
Gunbalanya (NT), Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste

DAWR/QLD/NT/PNG/ Timor LesteMore sites to regularly test blood of cattle to prove absence of livestock diseases and detect any
new local and exotic diseases
New arbovirus (molecular) testingDAWR/CSIRO (Australian Animal Health
Laboratory)/NSW Elizabeth MacArthur
Agriculture Institute/NT (Berrimah Labs)
New molecular/DNA testing technology will allow detection and identification of viruses (such as
blue tongue) in animal blood or insects in hours rather than days
Rabies preparednessUniversity of Sydney, Charles Darwin UniversityPreparing material, and practices for immediate and effective community response to rabies if it
arrives in Australia
Joint industry/government plant surveys in the Ord (WA),
Darwin, Katherine (NT), Atherton Tablelands and Cape
York (QLD)
Citrus/mango/sugar industriesTransferring knowledge, sharing expertise, data and costs
Tropical pest and disease emergency response training DAWR/WAPreparing Rangers and their communities for potential incursions (particularly animal diseases)
Plant, aquatic and animal biosecurity Industry Liaison OfficersPlant Health Australia/Animal Health AustraliaLiaison officers will translate effective biosecurity practice into daily operations across industries
across northern Australia
Aquatic biosecurity planDAWR/WA/NT/QLDShared commitment & resources to watch for, avoid, and respond to the worst 5 marine pests and
10 aquatic diseases
Aquatic biosecurity surveillance training in Torres Strait
Islands, Darwin and Broome on aquatic pest identification
DAWR/WA/NT/TSRAPooling resources to monitor for new and existing aquatic pests and diseases across northern
Australia
Remotely operated vehicles for underwater surveillanceTorres Strait Regional Authority
Rangers
Saves staff from sharks/crocodiles and will test whether this technology is better than existing
monitoring methods
New diagnostic laboratory facilityDAWR/TBCLocal, timely and expert tropical biosecurity diagnosis of pests and diseases should be locally
available in northern Australia
Projects increasing awareness / scientific knowledge
Tropical aquatic pest exhibitionCairns Aquarium (QLD)Provides information to the public about aquatic biosecurity risks and what to look for
Community-based education and awarenessDAWR/Media/Community groupsOffers practical information for farmers, the general public and other targeted groups on ways to help reduce biosecurity threats
Web-based informationDAWRProducers, Rangers and the general can report (and get feedback) more easily and more accurately about high risk pests and diseases
Digital photo imaging of tropical biosecurity pestsDept Agriculture & Water Resources, CSIRO, WA/NT/QLDOn-line identification of tropical pests and diseases should be available anywhere in the world rather than relying on physical insect collections
Modern diagnostic equipment including more powerful microscopes, cameras, DNA analytical machines, culture incubators and autoclavesDAWRProvides faster and more accurate diagnostic results to help decide whether something is a threat
Specialist diagnostic training eg. fungi from the Botyrosphaeriaceae family, Begomoviruses, whitefly, slide mounting and entomology skillsDept Agriculture & Water Resources, CSIRO, WA/NT/QLD USQ/QDAF/CSIROIncreases skills and provides a pool of specialists around Australia to undertake high quality diagnostics as and when needed
More accurate and modern diagnostic tools for high priority threats including fruit fly, Downy Mildews, Tetranychid mite, Chrysomelidae beetles, Acrididae grasshopper, Cucurlionidae weevilsUniversity of Southern Queensland, Australian Museum, Queensland MuseumDifferentiates exotic from domestic species to allow accurate identification of key pests and diseases threatening agricultural industries in northern Australia. These ‘keys’ will be available to industry, researchers and government scientists
Projects benefitting Communities through better biosecurity
28 more Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Ranger groups working in biosecurity (total now 68 groups)DAWR/WA/NT/QLD, Kimberley, Northern, Carpentaria Land CouncilMore biosecurity surveillance across northern Australia, particularly in remote areas
Equipment for Ranger biosecurity work including weed spraying units, water tanks, satellite phones, vehicle recovery kits, computers and surveillance dronesDAWRField equipment allows greater access to more remote areas, more varied work, better quality samples etc.
Training syllabus for Rangers in tropical biosecurityNorth Australia Indigenous Land & Sea Management Alliance / Batchelor Institute of Aboriginal Studies (NT)Offers more technical skills to Rangers and showcases the quality training capability of a number of Indigenous organisations
Virtual reality tool for biosecurity awareness and trainingEnVizion (QLD)Increases awareness of biosecurity, engages communities in practical biosecurity actions and illustrates various career and skills opportunities
Upgrade Torres Strait communication and office infrastructureDAWR / Torres Strait Regional Authority / Telstra / Torres Strait Island Regional CouncilMobile telephone/data and office refresh across Torres Strait Islands to improve biosecurity coverage across Australia’s closest frontline border
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander traineeships (currently 5 trainees at Seisia/Bamaga and Thursday Island)DAWR/QLDDAFOn the job and formal training in biosecurity with collaboration across Australian, state and local government agencies to encourage school retention, provide careers and support economic development particularly in remote locations.

1 ABARES Agricultural Commodities