Thursday, 5 March 2020
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister outline to the House the quarantine and biosecurity measures that the Morrison government has taken to ensure that Australia is well prepared to respond to the coronavirus and other risks?
I thank the member for Leichhardt for his question. He knows better than anyone the impacts the coronavirus has had not only on the tourism industry in Far North Queensland but also on the seafood industry. I am proud to say that the Department of Agriculture has been at the forefront of our defence on coronavirus and other biosecurity risks foreign to our nation. I am proud of the men and women at Biosecurity Australia who have been at the forefront of this. They are the ones who have been entering the aircraft and vessels that come from foreign ports in enhanced screening of those countries that pose greater risks, particularly, in the past, China, and now Italy—and we'll do it for any other nation if science predicates us to do that.
I am proud of the fact that these men and women have put their safety on the line for our nation. This is being done in line with safety precautions to ensure their wellbeing, including having the equipment they need. They are entering these aircraft and vessels and doing assessments of those passengers on board to check for any signs or symptoms of coronavirus. They are also handing out face masks to anyone that may not have one and also handing out information material.
We're working with airlines and shipping companies to ensure that they hold up their responsibility to notify Biosecurity officers of anyone on those aircraft and vessels who is ill and making sure that we then work on moving those people from those aircraft and vessels into quarantine in health precincts within the ports. Those people will then be triaged and treated and given the follow-up treatment that is required. That's about not only keeping them safe but also Australians safe.
We have been able to do that as well as keep Australia safe from those foreign biosecurity risks because of the investments we've made in biosecurity. In fact, we made a $66.6 million extra investment in biosecurity in the last 12 months to keep us protected from things like foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever. That has been about putting more boots on the ground at our ports and also dogs and now technology, 3D x-rays, to help our Biosecurity officers keep us safe from those risks and so that we can live up to our responsibilities with respect to the coronavirus.
Last year, the Immigration minister and I gave our Biosecurity officers more power. We are now allowing them to cancel the visas of any foreign national who seriously threatens the biosecurity of this nation. We will send them back on the plane they came here on, but we are also saying 'You will not be welcome back for an extra three years'. We make no apology for keeping Australians safe and keeping the national assets of this country safe. That is the primary responsibility of this government and we will continue to do more as required.