House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

10:08 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | Hansard source

There are 873 million reasons that this government has continued and will continue to support biosecurity. The $873 million has also been targeted around ASF, African swine flu. There was $66.6 million was put into surge capacity. That was about putting more paws on the ground, boots on the ground, and about X-ray machines—and we will continue to invest in not just boots on the ground but also technology. That CSIRO report you mentioned clearly articulates the importance of technology in protecting biosecurity in this country, and we will continue to invest in that—in fact, we already have. We now have scanners that are actually in many containers that help us identify any insects or pests that are in there. We have underwater drones that go underneath ships to ensure there is nothing that has hitchhiked its way across the seas to Australia. Those investments will continue over the forward estimates as we work with the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. It's important that we do that, because he plays a pivotal role in making sure that the regulatory approach is firm and the guiderails are kept—and the department undertakes that.

With respect to human biosecurity, I think it's important that the shadow minister delves a little further into the Biosecurity Act, because the agriculture department only looks after the biosecurity of plants and animals. The Biosecurity Act clearly goes further, where the health department then intercepts and human health biosecurity plays in. When we talk about the reports, particularly into the Ruby Princess, it is quite clear that Mr Walker laid the blame at the feet of NSW Health. It was very clear. He was very strong in his language. I have to say that the New South Wales government has been very mature in accepting the recommendations and moving on. In fact, we work with them in ensuring that protocols are tightened. The granting of pratique is formalised at NSW Health, who are the health experts, and they make sure that they have formally provided that in writing, rather than by text or verbally. I have to acknowledge that the Western Australian Premier, to his credit, acknowledged he got it wrong and that we had followed our processes at the department of agriculture.

To the shadow minister: before he makes assertions, it's important that he should, in fact, read the full Biosecurity Act and delve further into it and understand that the department of agriculture looks after the biosecurity of plants and animals; it does not do human health. That is not what we are trained to do. We don't have doctors and we don't have medical professionals in the department of agriculture; we have veterinarians and biologists—people who are focused on plants and animals. That's our job. That's what we do well. We are continually vigilant about biosecurity and we will continue to be, because that does protect brand Australia. The investments that we're making are pivotal. We will continue to work with the I-G and the department about any further investments we need to make, particularly if surge capacity is required for a specific pest, as we did with ASF. We did that quite quickly, with $66.6 million straight off the bat to make sure we got out and got the job done. That risk is still there. It's now in Papua New Guinea. In fact, we're working with DFAT around making sure that we can help PNG deal with that issue as well.

Also, the number of passenger flights that come in have reduced. We have moved our biosecurity officers around to other areas where greater capacity is needed, and that's normally, at this stage, at ports, where we have surge capacity with our staff. The department has been agile with respect to using those biosecurity officers to make sure that we protect ourselves against risk. We'll continue to do that, but we will take the best scientific advice of our biosecurity officers, who are world's best. But we have to be pragmatic and honest in that the challenge will continue, as that CSIRO report has clearly articulated, and the government stands ready to take the best advice and make the investments it needs to ensure we protect not just agriculture but our entire environment, because it's not just agriculture that's at risk from this.


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