Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021; Second Reading
As someone who grew up in regional Australia, I understand how vitally important maintaining Australia's biosecurity is for protecting not only our agriculture sector but also our economic prosperity more broadly. That is why I rise today in support of the Morrison government's Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021. This bill brings urgently needed reform, upscaling penalties for relevant civil penalties and criminal offences, under the Biosecurity Act. The proposed increased maximum penalties will more appropriately reflect the impact contraventions may inflict on our biosecurity status, market access and economy. As a child growing up in Albury, on the border between Victoria and New South Wales, I saw firsthand the effect fruit fly could have on our local orchards and their economy.
In order for Australia to drive growth in our export and tourism sectors and to continue along the road to economic recovery, it's crucial we keep both local and global confidence in our biosecurity laws strong. For this we need to tighten the regulatory framework and subsequent penalties for non-compliance with the Biosecurity Act. Anyone travelling overseas on an aeroplane will understand when they come back through an Australian airport, whether it's Tullamarine in Melbourne or elsewhere in the rest of Australia, how important it is to keep Australia safe. Our government is committed to a strong biosecurity system that protects jobs, grows our exports in agriculture and, importantly, maintains our environment and lifestyle from devastating pests and disease, which, with the correct system, we can insure against. We are an island nation, as we all know, and we have this opportunity. Swift action on these increased penalties will make Australia's position perfectly clear. Any perceived commercial gain from breaching Australia's biosecurity laws is a false prophet and entirely unacceptable.
At the end of last year, khapra beetle was detected on several occasions in imported packaging, including that for refrigerators and highchairs. This beetle, also known as cabinet beetle, originated in South Asia and is one of the world's most destructive pests of grain products and seeds. It is one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world. An infestation by this beetle is difficult to control because the insect can survive for long periods without food and is resistant to insecticides. It's important that we protect our nation and our markets from pests and other diseases such as this because they threaten our nation's biosecurity, and the flow-on effects for the agriculture sector can be devastating.
We are now also seeing the emergence of other examples—for instance, there is a new variant of African swine fever overseas—which adds to the timeliness of these amendments. It's important that Australia rises to the threat that this particular disease poses to our pork and related industries, and I commend Minister Littleproud and the Morrison government for quite literally saving our bacon with a commitment of $66.6 million to fight African swine fever. Although the original variant of African swine fever is yet to be detected in Australia, thanks to our strong biosecurity controls, either variant could have a devastating impact on our thriving pork industry and associated businesses. We need only to look to the state of the global pork market to know just how serious the threat is, and that is exactly why we must act now and increase penalties proportionately and appropriately.
The new penalties outlined in this bill relate to the assessment and management of biosecurity risks of goods that are brought or imported into Australian territory. In the face of these growing regional and global threats, the current penalty regime is inadequate and needs to be significantly enhanced to provide an effective deterrent. The bill increases a number of civil penalties that a court can impose from 120 to 300 penalty units, or from $26,640 to $66,600, such as for contraventions relating to the assessment of the biosecurity risk of goods. Where the contravention is committed by a body corporate, the maximum penalty may be up to five times this amount, understanding that this is because of the corporate multiplier that can apply to penalties for bodies corporate under the Biosecurity Act because of the operational section 82 of the regulatory powers act 2014. This increase for fault based offences will allow for a proportionate and appropriate punishment for offences under the Biosecurity Act and will align maximum penalties across key provisions. This means that if a person obtains a commercial advantage by importing prohibited goods they will now face new maximum penalties of up to $1.1 million, an increase from $444,000.
It is important to remember that our biosecurity system is a significant national asset and our biosecurity system is an important line of defence. As such, this bill is underpinning $60 billion in agricultural production. Moreover, the $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion inbound tourism industry—each vital to jobs and growth for Australia—will be particularly protected for those living in regional and remote Australia. This means funding for our nation's biosecurity increased by approximately 40 per cent from 2012-13 to 2019-20. Further, we have announced significant additional ongoing investment to build a smarter, stronger and more resilient system. We're funding $29.2 million to streamline export processes by completing the delivery of a digital export certification management system, which will provide a modern and secure approach to assuring that produce meets importing-country requirements. We're also funding $11.4 million and an ongoing $2.4 million per year, from 2023-24, for Accelerating Horticulture Market Access, and a further $6.13 million for a Package Assisting Small Exporters extension.
Amongst the additional funding, our government has been supporting the implementation of the intergovernmental response to the 42 recommendations of the 2016-17 independent review of the capacity of our national biosecurity system. From those recommendations, there are a number of important outcomes. The first is the establishment of a Biosecurity Innovation Program. This program is investing in accelerating the identification, development and implementation of innovative technologies and approaches that can enhance the capacity of the system to manage biosecurity risks. Secondly, we are establishing a national biosecurity data and analytics platform in the department, with $36.5 million funding from the government. This investment is allowing the department to create a secure platform for sharing biosecurity data and significantly advancing our analytics capability. This is important, because you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
Thirdly, there will be the establishment of a Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer, supported by a dedicated office, with $7.6 million of ongoing funding from the government. Fourthly, there will be the establishment of a standalone national biosecurity website, providing a central portal for biosecurity matters—again, a great resource for people to access in the one place. Fifthly, we're reviewing current biosecurity expenditure across governments and working to value the national biosecurity system through the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis. Again, in a changing world, particularly post COVID and with the changing world order as we move into the 21st century, with different ways of doing work, different ways of building businesses and different ways of trading, it's important that we understand this risk analysis so that we can prepare for the future that awaits.
Lastly, we're adopting a systematic process of identifying and planning for national priority pests and diseases. As we've seen with COVID-19, we need to be alert and alive to factors that are being influenced from overseas. Though we might have the tyranny of distance, we also have the power of proximity. Australia needs to remain connected to the rest of the world, but also we need to be alive and alert to the fact that pests and diseases from overseas can come to this country and cause havoc.
Importers, exporters, businesses and consumers all benefit from our risk based system and the enviable pest- and disease-free status that it protects. We must act now to see that these amendments to the act pass, to continue to strengthen our nation's biosecurity system. After all, it is a key defence system that we need to maintain and ensure that we bolster. I commend this bill to the House.