INCREASED funding for biosecurity via the introduction of a levy on imports has been identified as a key priority for the Australian Government to pursue, following a six month long Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry.
The multi-party committee has handed down 29 recommendations from its inquiry into the adequacy of Australia’s biosecurity measures and response preparedness, with a particular focus on foot and mouth disease and varroa mite.
The inquiry attracted over 100 submissions and involved six public hearings in Canberra, Rockhampton and Newcastle.
The wide-ranging recommendations include the need for Australia to secure an adequate and long-term mechanism to fund biosecurity.
‘Profound and widespread impacts’
The final report warns that the failure of prevention and detection measures through inadequate funding “would have profound and widespread impacts” on the entire Australian economy and unique ecosystem.
The senate committee has urged the government to increase “real base funding levels” through the application of a biosecurity import levy.
The freight sector – as “the creator of a major biosecurity risk” – should also contribute funds to biosecurity control measures, the committee said, while emphasising that such a levy must be applied fairly and in a way that is proportionate to risk profiles.
That the Australian Government has recommenced consultations to explore sustainable and long-term biosecurity funding options was encouraging, the committee said.
Biosecurity workforce capacity slammed
The committee also wants to see urgent attention paid to developing a national biosecurity workforce strategy.
“Based on the evidence received by the committee, it is clear the current biosecurity workforce has neither the capacity nor the full capability to address the current risks, with no surge capacity should there be multiple incursions across multiple jurisdictions.
“The committee supports the development of a national biosecurity workforce strategy to identify skills needs and bolster capability and capacity, and supports the inclusion of an audit of existing capabilities and training to inform the development of the strategy.”
Rural veterinary crisis must be addressed
It also singled out the pressing need to address a “crisis” in the rural veterinary profession, especially in remote areas.
“Veterinarians are an essential part of Australia’s biosecurity system— holding key front-line defence roles in monitoring and surveillance, disease detection, EAD preparedness and response and animal welfare.
“Veterinarians bear significant pressures in any EAD response, and there needs to be sufficient capacity to meet initial and potentially extended response measures.
“Attracting and retaining rural vets is clearly challenging and complex, and will require a coordinated response between government and industry to address shortfalls in the medium-long term.”
Recommendations also include calls for:
– a national response to control and manage feral and invasive species, including on crown land;
– more funding to appropriately maintain compensation arrangements for impacted entities, including livestock transporters;
– a review of national livestock traceability funding,
– the establishment of a separate authority responsible for managing Australian livestock traceability,
– the extension of NLIS to include individual sheep and goats, and
– a long-term funding mechanism specifically for biosecurity research.
Border measures ‘largely effective’, but under pressure
Based on the evidence received during the inquiry, the committee concluded that Australia’s pre-border measures and at-border measures have been “largely effective”, but it also noted that it saw evidence the system is “under pressure and fragile” .
The Department’s decision to impose further import restrictions on the import of unregulated meat products potentially carrying diseases “should have been made earlier”, the committee believed.
“Decision making by the Department needs to be better consider (sic) the competing interests of importers against those of Australia’s producers and consumers.”
The committee acknowledged the work being done by the Department to address highly complex and increasing biosecurity challenges, including the development of Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030 and the release of the National Biosecurity Strategy.
It also recognised the Department’s progress and increased transparency through its annual action plans, and welcomed further increased penalties for biosecurity noncompliance.
However it noted “with concern” the slow progress and in some cases lack of progress of the implementation of recommendations from previous biosecurity reviews.
“This lack of urgency appears to result from insufficient governance measures, organisational culture, and insufficient staff and financial resources within DAFF,” the committee said.
It also expressed concern that DAFF “does not appear to be utilising the full suite of regulatory, compliance and enforcement tools it has available”.
Greater focus on surveillance
Recommendations also call for a greater focus and investment in on-shore surveillance, monitoring and early detection activities, particularly in northern Australia, and including the development and action of the National Lumpy Skin Disease Action Plan.
“These measures will help safeguard the country’s trade and status and clean, green reputation, the natural environment and the livelihoods and lifestyles of Australian producers and residents.”
The committee said it is “satisfied” that the current vaccine bank arrangements in place would meet Australia’s needs for vaccines in the event of an FMD incursion, and it supports the establishment of a similar vaccine bank for LSD.
Australian Government should also negotiate with the United Kingdom Government the ability for researchers from the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness to access and conduct research on Australia’s bank of foot-and-mouth virus vaccine in the UK, the report recommended.
Several recommendations also called for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and freight, shipping, port and biosecurity stakeholders, including Australia Post, to review its food import frameworks and enhance biosecurity screening.
Full list of recommendations
(To view the full report on the APH website click here)
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, publicly report on findings from their investigations into the origin of the varroa mite incursion in the Williamtown area.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry review its food import risk frameworks to ensure that they are fit for purpose and that decisions under the frameworks are accelerated where required.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry prioritises the enhancement of screening and assessment systems to facilitate the timely processing of mail and cargo entering Australia.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government consults with freight, shipping, port and biosecurity stakeholders, including Australia Post, to develop priorities for the implementation and funding of new and emerging technologies into mail and cargo biosecurity screening systems.
The committee recommends the Australian Government, in partnership with industry and state and territory governments, commits to long-term and sustainable funding to the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government reviews the balance between sentinel hives and bait hives as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program.
The committee recommends the Australian Government, in partnership with other stakeholders, ensures that adequate funding is provided to the National Bee Biosecurity Program.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry coordinate a national response to control and manage feral and invasive species to safeguard Australia’s biodiversity and environmental biosecurity.
The committee recommends that Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia broaden their consultations to include all stakeholders from across the supply chain, including transport and livestock transport industries and the retail sector.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with agencies and industry bodies to ensure appropriate governance and reporting structures are in place to ensure that recommendations arising from simulations and exercises are implemented in a timely way.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government increase funding to Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia to enable them to appropriately maintain, review and develop funding and compensation arrangements.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry consults with the honey bee industry to consider the inclusion of pollination services under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed Levy guidelines and legislation.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review of national livestock traceability funding and co-funding mechanisms, to ensure they are sustainable, comprehensive, and equitable.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a statutory or regulatory authority responsible for managing Australian livestock traceability.
The committee recommends the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in partnership with state and territory governments and the honey bee industry, conduct a feasibility study for a commercial bee hive traceability system.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government and Animal Health Australia establish a lumpy skin disease vaccine bank for use by Australia in the event of an incursion.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government negotiate with the United Kingdom Government the ability for researchers from the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness to access and conduct research on Australia’s bank of foot-and-mouth virus vaccine in the United Kingdom.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government coordinate the implementation of a national approach to interstate border control and permitting, and use of a national movement permitting system.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government coordinate the development of a national network plan and sustainable funding for the establishment of livestock transport infrastructure at rest stops on key livestock freight routes around Australia.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government conduct industry consultation to determine the feasibility of a Road Transport Management Deposit Scheme.
The committee recommends that the Australian federal, state and territory governments commit to a sustainable biosecurity funding model to reflect the changing risk profile of pests and diseases to Australia’s agriculture and environment and overall way of life.
The committee recommends the Australian Government, in partnership with animal, plant and environment biosecurity stakeholders, conducts a review of how biosecurity funding is allocated to ensure that it is adequate and equitable.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry incorporate an audit of existing skills and gaps in the development of the national biosecurity workforce strategy.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government support and prioritise biosecurity officers’ capacity and capability development to improve border responses and reduce delays for passengers and importers, and improve Australia’s overall biosecurity readiness.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with relevant industry bodies to design and implement measures to improve the capacity and capability of production animal veterinarians, particularly in rural and remote areas, including:
enhancement of veterinarian attraction and retention strategies and initiatives such as graduate and rural practice incentives;
compensation paid to veterinarians in the event of their involvement in an EAD response; and
increased utilisation of rural and remote veterinarians in surveillance and monitoring activities.
The committee recommends that government departments, Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia consult a wider range of stakeholders from across the supply chain, including the transport and livestock transport sectors and the retail sector.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in consultation with stakeholders, coordinate the development of a strategy for biosecurity research development and extension which includes:
a long-term funding mechanism for biosecurity research;
approaches to identify research, development and extension gaps and national priorities across the biosecurity continuum;
strategies to develop better integrations between industry and research organisations; and
mechanisms to support the commercialisation of research, development and extension outputs.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry coordinate the development of national data and information standards, and sharing protocols in relation to biosecurity.
The committee recommends that Plant Health Australia in partnership with the bee industry and other stakeholders of AUS PestCheck, consider the platform’s capability and data sharing arrangements for tracking varroa mite should it become endemic.