House debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020


Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:08 am

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill, and I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes the Government's commitment to a $100 billion agriculture industry; and

(2) condemns the Government for its failure to implement in full the recommendations made by the 2017 independent Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity review panel's report into Australia's biosecurity system".

This amendment goes to the government's performance on biosecurity more generally. Specific to this bill, many if not most Australians will be very familiar with the process of completing an incoming passenger declaration card when they're coming back into the country, whether by air or by sea. I suspect that many Australians take a fairly blase if not cynical approach to this declaration. It's just another burden upon them as they enter the country, usually feeling quite tired after overseas work or travel. But I think everyone in this place would fully understand how important that declaration is in protecting our biosecurity in this country and, in the case of this bill in particular, our farming sector.

Our biosecurity system is probably not one that is well understood by Australians—or anyone listening who might not even know what 'biosecurity' means. Of course, we are talking about what we used to call quarantine, making sure pest and disease doesn't enter our island continent. Being an island continent gives us a very significant advantage in that regard, particularly in the agriculture sector, but it doesn't mean we don't have to continue to work very, very hard to maintain our relatively clean and safe image. Since reports that were done some years ago, we now look at biosecurity quite differently. We think beyond the border a lot, making sure we're dealing with threats to our biosecurity before they come to our shores.

But the passenger declaration is very important. For example, a woodcarving, which might look very innocent to a tourist or someone returning from working overseas, could be carrying beetles, termites or larvae that are not obvious to the human eye. A seafood product could contain something like white spot disease, which nearly wiped out our prawn industry in Queensland not all that long ago. Red meat brought in could be carrying an exotic disease that would pose a big threat to our red meat sector. A plant, for example, could be carrying an aphid, and people would not be aware of that.

So it is very important that people fill out these declaration cards honestly. Sadly, that is not always the case—again, not because people are being deliberately sinister in most cases but because they think that whatever they're carrying is surely not a big issue. It looks pretty safe to them and they prefer not to declare it because, as we all know, once you declare a good you might spend a little bit more time getting through the regulatory and inspection process than you would if you did not declare it. So, the objective of this bill is to increase penalties to raise awareness and hopefully make people more reluctant to make a false declaration on that card. I won't go through the numbers on the penalty increases—the minister has done that—but they are very substantial and hopefully they will raise community awareness of the threats and also make people more likely to make a true declaration.

We support that approach. Biosecurity is of course a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states, and it is a very important measure on the part of the Commonwealth. I am a little bit concerned about whether the government has extended additional training to biosecurity officers, who will have the difficult job of imposing higher on-the-spot fines in an airport, for example. That is something that is not easy to handle, if you've got an energetic and aggressive incoming passenger who is not happy about that fine. We want to make sure this job is done properly and accurately and we want to make sure our workforce has the appropriate training and is ready to deal with what might be some difficult situations.

I think there are a few things about biosecurity that we can all agree on in this place. I've mentioned one—shared responsibility with the states—but there should also be shared responsibility with industry and of course with the broader community, which has a big role to play, and this is the main point of this bill. We can also agree that we must take that pre-border approach, which I mentioned earlier, and we must all agree that the system must be risk based. In other words, we cannot hope to have a zero-risk approach to quarantine. That would be impossible, even for an island continent like Australia. It needs to be risk based. And the initiatives we take in dealing with the level of risk apparent have to be cost-effective and of course have to be science based.

I think we can all agree that it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure our biosecurity system is an effective one. Because it's a Commonwealth-state responsibility, we now have a thing called an Intergovernmental agreement on biosecurity to ensure that the Commonwealth and the states are going in the same direction and working together to get the job done. We do have an intergovernmental agreement, and it's an agreement that does come under review every five years. That is a good thing, because the situation both here and abroad is changing on a regular basis and, of course, threats change. We need to have a constant review to see that both the Commonwealth and the states are up to the mark and they're working as cooperatively and effectively as is possible.

We had one of those reviews headed by an independent panel, chaired by Wendy Craik. It was a very substantial review, and I think a good review, that provided a good explanation of both the system, its shortfalls, and where we can do better. Unfortunately, that review has, in part, been gathering dust. Its recommendations were significant. Many of them, the Commonwealth can say, go to the responsibility of the states or at least joint efforts, but at least 10 of them are solely the responsibility of the Commonwealth. People will now be asking how many. I suggest it's about 10. Then people will be asking how many of those 10 recommendations of the Craik review have been embraced and implemented by this government. I can report it's four. In three years, of those 10 recommendations from the Craik review—that go to the heart of the Commonwealth's responsibility—only four have been responded to.

To give some examples, they are things like asking the government to assign lead responsibility for driving and coordinating implementation of the National environment and community biosecurity research, development and extension strategy 2016 to 2019. We're told that work is ongoing, accelerating our national system of innovation. It flows to talk about how the government should do that—it's quite lengthy—ongoing:

The Australian Government should require public reporting of all Commonwealth funded biosecurity R&I investments …


The Risk Return Resource Allocation model should be extended to include all jurisdictions and their investments …

et cetera ongoing.

Funding for the national biosecurity system should be increased by …

There are a number of dot points demonstrating how that should be increased.

Interestingly, this is one that was the focus of some media attention, because the recommendation was that a $10 per 20-foot equivalent unit and a levy of $5 on incoming sea and air containers should be implemented, to raise the funds needed, to give the system the resources necessary to give us confidence in our biosecurity system. That levy has never been embraced and implemented. The government had a couple of goes at it and, embarrassingly, was sent packing by industry—mainly because the government had, clearly, turned it into a revenue-raising exercise rather than a package designed to bolster our biosecurity system.

In all those years the government kicked it down the road, beyond the 2019 election, declaring it all too hard and then, post election, it just gave up the ghost. It says that it's funding the same initiatives it had identified, that would be funded under the levy. We're yet to determine that with any great certainty. It's for the government to demonstrate to industry it's done just that. There's not much point in doing a comprehensive review of the IGAB, the intergovernmental agreement, if you're not going to pursue the recommendations. We should have ongoing reviews of the system, but we have those reviews. We need to pursue them.

I suspect it's reasonable to say that the work of an agriculture minister is dominated by biosecurity. In the short time I was in that position, I would assess that 60 per cent of my work was taken by biosecurity issues. Obviously, they're very critical. Australia's reputation on global markets is, in very large part, based on our reputation as a provider of clean, green, safe food, and we can't maintain that reputation if we don't ensure to the rest of the world that we are clean, green and safe. In any case, our yields would become very much under threat if pests and disease got into our country and wiped out our product here. Even one-tenth of a crop or stock would make a huge difference to our agricultural sector, but we've seen examples in other countries where whole industries have basically been wiped out because of the incursion of pests and disease.

COVID-19 has, or should have, heightened our awareness about the importance of a very sound biosecurity system, because we've seen the possibility of having exports of inputs cut, whether they're inputs for production or finished goods coming into this country, which highlights our awareness about the need to be self-sufficient as we can. We often say, rightly or wrongly, that we can never have a food security issue in Australia, because we export two-thirds of everything we produce. In other words, as a country of 25 million people, we feed about 70 to 75 million people in total. While that seems to be common sense, one-third of nothing is nothing, so, if we were to have a problem which caused us to be denied our local production and if we weren't able to import significant quantities of food then we could have a very, very significant food security issue.

COVID has also reminded us about the risk of having our ways of communications blocked and what that would mean for our fuel security—something that's very critical to our farmers—and our medicines, not just for human beings but for stock. We are very heavily dependent on the importation of animal medicines. The weather is changing in most challenging ways, and that should raise our awareness of the extent to which we are reliant on imported product.

Biosecurity is very, very important. And, on the issue of chemicals, moving away from animal medicines, it is very true that we are heavily dependent on the import of product, such as the chemicals that our farmers so desperately need, particularly from China. In fact, we're now at risk of losing the last manufacturer of the critical ingredient necessary for many of the chemical products our farmers rely upon. That means that soon, if nothing changes, we'll be 100 per cent dependent on that active ingredient, which should be a warning sign to us all.

Just before I rose to my feet, the various ministers were introducing bills relevant to the budget last night. I haven't had an opportunity, having looked at the macro of the budget and what's happening in my own electorate, to have a deep look at what the government has said about the agricultural sector. I will certainly do that throughout the course of the day, and I will do so with great attention to detail. I think what's missing still from the government in agriculture is an overarching narrative and the strategic guidance necessary to demonstrate to the sector that the government has a plan for the sector and has the will to provide the guidance to ensure that the sector does hit that $100 billion farm gate value that the government talks about so often. I'd like to think $100 billion is still achievable, but it's going to be more difficult now with the impact of COVID—that is, both the impact already and the impact that is going to flow over a number of years. It's okay for the National Farmers Federation to set the $100 billion, and we've been very supportive of that. It's not so necessary for them to give the detailed road map to $100 billion, but it is necessary for the government, if it's going to support the $100 billion, to provide that policy guidance, and it has not done so.

We were promised back in 2013, seven years ago, that the government would produce a white paper to give us that strategic guidance. I had a good chat with the member for New England at the time, as he was the agricultural minister. I basically begged him to use, as a foundation, the former Labor government's National Food Plan and further build upon that to provide the guidance the sector needs and is looking for. Unfortunately, as I've said in this place many times before, the 2015 white paper was a failure. It was more a collection of ideas, thought bubbles and failed projects than a document providing the strategic guidance that the sector needs to get to that $100 billion.

I heard the current minister make a speech at a CropLife breakfast this morning. I thought I was listening to Barnaby Joyce seven years ago. Nothing changes. There were plenty of cliches. It was short on policy, short on ideas and certainly short on guidance.

The agriculture sector in Australia is not without challenges. We have very limited natural resources—soil and water. We're the driest inhabited continent in the world. Our good soil resources are limited to a relatively small proportion of our continent. As I said earlier, our climate is changing in challenging ways, putting further pressure on those natural resources. Historically we have overproduced on much of our quality land.

Of course, we are short on capital resources, which is why we have been so heavily dependent on foreign capital over all of our lifetime. Traditionally it came from places like Canada, the UK and New Zealand, but increasingly it's now from Asian markets, including China. We in this parliament need to have a real think about the extent to which we facilitate China's investment, because it will be critical to the success of securing that $100 billion.

Minister Taylor was one of the key authors of a report that said that to be successful mid-century we'll need about $600 billion of capital investment in agriculture related infrastructure in this country. We will not get there if we don't secure more community support, have a better understanding and do more to facilitate foreign investment.

Of course we are short on human resources. This has been dramatically highlighted by COVID-19. We have an agriculture sector that is heavily reliant on foreign labour—up to 50,000 foreign workers every year. That's not new; that has been a growing problem over a decade or more. We have to ask ourselves whether that's a healthy proposition to be perpetuating.

We need a short-term solution. The government promised an ag visa and then unpromised an ag visa. It then promised an ag visa and unpromised it again. Since then we've seen nothing of any great merit that addresses the problem in the short to medium term. We also need a long-term plan to reduce that reliance. COVID-19 has demonstrated to us how serious it is for the sector when the supply of foreign labour is cut off. That is not a sustainable proposition.

We have a sector in which 80 per cent of the production comes from 20 per cent of the firms. Productivity has been flatlining for at least a decade. Profitability is, on average, low. According to the ABS, the majority aren't really making a profit. We have limited capital resources, limited human resources, limited natural resources, the climate moving against us and COVID-19 still hanging around. Hopefully, this is the last serious virus we see in a long time. Yet at breakfast this morning the minister said: 'Everything is okay. We're on track to reach $100 billion by 2030.' I beg to differ, given the current structure of the sector and the trajectory it is on at the moment.

This is all despite the best efforts of our growers and producers. There's no criticism of them. They're working within the system that the government is prepared to accept as being good enough. Of course we've had barley producers and others impacted by the decisions of the government of China. From the government there has been no real response that is credible and is likely to have a great impact on that situation. It's a structure and a situation normal that can't be left alone if the government is to have any hope of putting the sector on that $100 billion trajectory. Critical to that will be research and development, and innovation and extension. It's something this government's been talking about for seven years but has done nothing about.

We went to the last election making very clear that we are very proud of the 30-year-old research and development corporation structure that a Labor government put in place under John Kerin. But we also made the point repeatedly that it is a 30-year-old structure that is not fit for purpose in the 21st century and is not delivering the efficient outcomes that our agriculture sector needs right now. We promised a significant redesign of that system to rid us of the top-heavy situation we have in our RDCs, to get more cross-sectoral work going, to stop the siloing and to get people more focused on extension—in other words, to get the innovation inside the farm gate. After a little while, Minister Littleproud decided he might start agreeing with that proposition, and, particularly after the election, started making noises to that effect. But, in fact, pre the election, the minister decided—

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Does the member for Mackellar have a question?

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As much as I'm enjoying these remarks, I'm just struggling to understand how they relate to the biosecurity amendment bill in front of us.

Mr Brian Mitchell interjecting

And I've been listening for eight minutes, for the member for Lyons's entertainment.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for that comment. We'll leave the member for Hunter to finish his comments, bearing in mind the relevance of the matter he's discussing.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much. I know members opposite, particularly the member for Mackellar, don't like hearing the truth and don't like hearing me talking about their inadequacies in farming over seven years, but, if he had any energy in him at all and did his homework, he'd know I moved a second reading amendment, which I think he might refer to—which might reinforce your very good ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker.

What did Mr Littleproud decide to do pre the election? He decided to have a review. Under this government, we've had so many reviews in the agriculture sector that, if I put the reports in my office, one on one, they would hit the ceiling. Those opposite love a committee, they love a review—they love revisiting these things—but they never do anything. They announce and forget. But how much did this review cost? How much did it cost the taxpayer to arrive at the same conclusions that I'd offered years in advance? Two point seven million dollars went to EY—$2.7 million to tell us that the 30-year-old system had run its course and needed to be fixed. Sadly, it didn't really tell us how it should be fixed, by the way. It was helicopter-high level in its approach; it didn't provide any practical solutions to be immediately embraced by the government. But it got Minister Littleproud through the election. He was having another review. Well, how long ago was the election—16, 17 months? What do you think the minister did in the budget last night? He did not allocate another $2.7 million: 2.7 became 7.2. They flipped the number. If they were going to spend $7.2 million restructuring our research and development capacity in the agriculture sector and they were going to spend it straightaway, maybe you wouldn't mind—at least they would be finally going to do something. But, no; it is $7.2 million over four years. Think about that. If they spend $7.2 million over four years and get the job done in four years, it will have been 11 years—11 years—since the election of the government before they have done anything. Based on experience, it would be a great leap of faith to believe they will do anything in four years, but that's their plan.

Now they've established some entity, AIA or something—I forget what it's called—that is going to work within the council of RDCs to do what I've been calling on the government to do all these years. I don't know what the council of RDCs has been doing or should be doing that is now going to be done by yet another entity, but there will be more money involved, Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie; you can be sure of that.

We have emerging international competition in grains, from the Black Sea countries, and in red meat, from the South American countries; and freight rates are falling, so they're getting closer to the Asian market. If we're going to lift productivity and improve our profitability and competitiveness, we will need a heavy focus on research and innovation. The minister was talking about that this morning at the public breakfast. But talking about it is not enough. We've been talking about it for too long. It's time for action. We don't want to wait another four years. We don't want to unnecessarily spend another $7.2 million of taxpayers' money.

This morning, the minister was also talking about regulatory regimes. In fact, in one area, he's going to spend $70 million facilitating approvals et cetera for exporters. Great! I'm all for improving access for exporters. This review here in my hand—another review—is the report of the Productivity Commission inquiry into regulation of Australian agriculture, which, again, was announced with great fanfare at the time by this government—a big announcement! Remember, they had 'red-tape reduction day'? Well, this was just one portfolio. This review, and it's almost 700 pages, is a good review. I had a briefing from the authors and I congratulated them on the report, and I looked forward at that time—in 2016, four years ago—to the report being embraced. But, of course, it has largely been gathering dust. Most of the responses from the government basically say, 'It's a matter for the states.' Well, get your terms of reference right, I would say. But, again, if we're going to improve our international competitiveness and, therefore, our profitability, we need to reduce the regulatory burden on business. The minister seems to have put a bit of money into it last night, but I will be very surprised if we get any significant economic outcome from anything that he said last night.

We need to have a serious look at a sector in which, as I said, 80 per cent of the output comes from 20 per cent of the firms, so profitability is isolated amongst the few; our natural resources are not only limited and misallocated but further challenged by a changing climate; our human resources are so low; and, of course, our capital resources are nothing like those needed to provide the infrastructure to lift that productivity and that competitiveness.

We support the bill—no problem with that. But I do hope, still, that the government, after seven years of doing nothing, might start becoming serious—not pitch for votes but become serious—about the structure of the industry, and the role of government in providing guidance to the sector about where it needs to go to arrive at that $100 billion target, and, having set that guidance, providing the support it needs to be successful.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. I second the amendment and I reserve my right to speak.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hunter has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

10:39 am

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Once again, the member for Hunter has given a speech that, largely, those on this side could agree with. There was the bit in the middle which was a bit of a ramble, but we've come to expect—and, frankly, enjoy—those parts of his speeches. But you have to wonder why we're even debating this. I notice that the member for Lyons is up next on the speakers' list. The member for Lyons is a good man, but his brother is an even better person. Now some might say I'm saying this just because he happens to live on the northern beaches of Sydney and may or may not vote for me and because my pursuit of any vote is relentless. I suspect there are easier votes to get than that of the brother of the member for Lyons, but that will not deter me.

Now, more than ever before, the importance of biosecurity is at the forefront of our minds, with COVID-19 impacting upon the lives of all Australians. Biosecurity related to food and agricultural produce is equally critical in protecting consumers, exporters and farmers. As we create a bioresilient economy, a unified vision for national security is critical to our future prosperity and in supporting those in the agricultural sector who have endured so much hardship in recent times. Our biosecurity system underpins $60 billion in agricultural production, $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion in inbound tourism. The flow-on effects of this are incalculable, and the importance of these industries both to our national economy and to many regional communities cannot be understated.

At the core of this bill is creating a more proportionate response to infringements by travellers when they bring undeclared goods to Australia. The infringements will reference the kinds of goods, their classification and the nature of the biosecurity risk they represent. This bill permits the Director of Biosecurity to determine what goods should attract a higher infringement associated with those items. We cannot overemphasise the importance of protecting our natural environment or our farmers. After the difficulties posed by both drought and fire, this government will do whatever it takes to help our farmers.

An additional component of this bill is indexing the current infringement notice to $440, which equates to two penalty units. Depending on the nature of the infringement, more penalty units will apply—up to 12 penalty units, which will incur a fine of $12,264 after indexation, or 60 penalty units subject to civil penalty proceedings in court. Failure by foreign travellers, airline crew or Australians to declare goods is a national threat, one that we are combating with these additional measures, given its severity. We will not wait for disaster to strike before implementing stringent biosecurity legislation but will be taking a proactive approach, as prevention is the most efficient way to manage this kind of threat. Of particular concern is African swine fever, which is contagious and is estimated to cost, if it comes to Australia, over $2 billion over a five-year period—making the fines appear not that great. We cannot allow the careless actions of individuals to put at risk the livelihoods of so many Australians.

From 2018 to 2019, biosecurity officers issued an average of 410 infringement notices a month at Australian airports. The forecast for 2019-20, before COVID restrictions were put in place, was more than 820 per month. Unfortunately, even this underestimated the reality, with 1,139 infringement notices issued in January 2020 alone, representing an increase of around 30 per cent on the forecast. The impact on biosecurity was growing and, until COVID restrictions, the number of people trying to get past airport security without declaring high-risk goods was also increasing.

This bill is urgent and should be the first step in constructing a strong and unified system which screens both agricultural goods and people for pathogens and biosecurity threats. Failure to do so not only will decimate Australian agriculture but will put lives at risk. The responsibility of passengers and crew to declare goods remains the same. This bill changes only the infringements and matches the risk of the goods with the infringement. It does not impose additional requirements on passengers, airlines, exporters or businesses. Changes will be published in conjunction with additional training for biosecurity officers and Australian Border Force officers, which is estimated to take two to three months. Redeployment of officers following COVID, when borders reopen, has been taken into account when creating a time line for implementation, along with ICT system updates. Having an infringement system without adequate enforcement measures will be ineffective, which is why we are investing heavily in upgrading our airport infrastructure to support this amendment. Deploying advanced detection 3D X-rays, which also use algorithm technology, is an encouraging example of the measures we are taking to safeguard our borders. Increasing our use of screening technology will remain central, particularly as we seek to detect meat, fruit and high-risk bio matter.

We are continuing to utilise big data in allocating our biosecurity resources and identifying ways we can improve our processes by establishing a national biosecurity data and analytics platform. In sharing biosecurity data, we will be able to enhance our capacity to identify security risks and take corrective action. We are allocating $36½ million in funding to develop this platform. COVID has shown us that we cannot rely on other countries or global institutions to safeguard our interests, and that responsibility for our national biosecurity is on us alone. That is why we cannot cut corners when it comes to funding our border security. Small agribusinesses rely on a stable and safe environment and, as a source of jobs, growth and future innovation, getting our biosecurity right is a must.

This bill is about providing a proportionate compliance response for people, regardless of citizenship, who fail to declare goods with a biosecurity risk. All first points of entry, including sea ports, will be included in these changes; however, particular attention will be given to biosecurity processes in airports, due to the high volume of travellers. In the last financial year, we invested $850 million in this area, and we'll continue to support frontline personnel in keeping our country safe. Creating a regulatory environment that maximises the competitiveness of Australian businesses whilst giving adequate protection to our farmers and the environment remains central to this legislation.

As part of the extensive consultation with industry and across multiple departments, this is a solution designed to be flexible to change. As it stands, the penalties do not accurately reflect the risk of the offence and, given this disconnect, often underpenalises some offenders. To have a penalty which disregards the nature of the offence and does not correspond to the level of infringement is, quite simply, bad policy. Given it costs nothing to declare goods, there is no reason why any visitor or returning resident should be trying to avoid declaring what they are carrying. The bill improves the penalty scheme by linking them with the degree of danger the infringement poses to the community. The different classifications which they are based off will be determined using a technical risk assessment.

As part of the smarter regulation agenda, this bill does not create any additional red tape or impose any more requirements on travellers coming to Australia. We do need a tight border policy, but the responsibility to implement that policy, its costs and burden should not be shifted to business or individuals. Compliance for all parties involved should be seamless and, in making the process both accurate and efficient, we should make the most of automation in processing high volumes of travellers. Being able to do this will be especially important for our tourism industry, where a positive experience makes a large impact. Doing this without cutting corners when it comes to our biosecurity is critical, which is why in this field we are seeking to be world leaders when it comes to border protection. The measures outlined in this bill have been taken in place of alternatives, which came at a significant regulatory impact on industry and those seeking to remain compliant. As a government, we seek to ensure that all departments implementing regulatory changes must co-design processes with industry working groups. Smarter regulation is light touch, highly automated and reduces the burden on small businesses so they can focus on what they do best.

As a country with one of the most pristine and untouched environments, we are fortunate not to have many of the biohazards that countries in the rest of the world have to contend with. This is a natural competitive advantage for our businesses in agriculture, but it can easily be lost if we are careless and fail to create the protective measures required to safeguard our farmers and consumers. Bills like this pave the way for a post-COVID era where a premium is placed on biosecurity and ease of compliance for businesses. We are leading the way by relying on technological solutions for these issues. And when government invests in the tech sphere—particularly in reg-tech, or regulation technology, and innovative security solutions—we are supporting an industry that will be in demand for the future. Australian technology firms are important creators of jobs, innovation and growth. Establishing a biosecurity innovation program with an initial $25.2 million in government funding will be a strong first step in this program. Whilst a lot of attention is rightly given to the cybersecurity space, there is abundant opportunity in biosecurity where demand will only be growing.

I would encourage the newly established Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis to engage with the innovation and tech hubs throughout Australia as they develop risk analysis tools. As part of the government's ongoing commitment to our biosecurity, we are establishing a dedicated office to support the work of the Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer. In creating a unified and efficient system for our biosecurity, we are enacting our long-term strategic vision. This legislation is a critical step in adopting a systematic process for identifying and planning for national priority biohazards. Taking measures to manage these risks is essential in facilitating the trade that we rely on for our economic prosperity. For these reasons, I highly commend this bill to the House.

10:52 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tasmanians take biosecurity seriously. Whether the threat is from fruit fly or coronavirus, we like to keep the bad bugs out. Even for a small state like Tasmania, it's no easy task. We're helped by having a big moat, but we still have multiple points of entry by sea and by air. Travellers are greeted at airport gates by beagles eager to sniff you and your bags, and we have big signs warning of the dire consequences for those who try to sneak in their contraband bananas.

In 2019, more than 4.2 million people flew into Hobart, Launceston and Devonport airports, and another 200,000 arrived on cruise ships. More than 230,000 containers and 15.5 million tonnes of freight came into our state. Before COVID hit, the numbers were only getting bigger. Examples of things intercepted by Tasmanian biosecurity officers include turtles, a gecko from Noumea, a stink bug from France and salmon from Denmark. Yes, someone tried to bring Danish salmon into Tasmania—a bit like taking a bag of ice from the servo to Antarctica! On one flight from mainland Australia, biosecurity officers discovered 10 kilos of fish and seafood products in a passenger's checked baggage. We wouldn't have wanted that plane to have been delayed on the tarmac on a hot day. Another time, officers found bags of tamarind, soybeans, leafy greens and unidentified fruit on a flight from interstate. That package was infested with live ants and larvae. Of course, there are more common items such as flowers, plants, seeds, edible items and fruit. There are millions of travellers, millions of tonnes of freight and, in relative terms, a handful of biosecurity officers standing guard. I take my hat off to each and every one of them.

It's worth noting that in 2018 federal Labor and Tasmanian Labor committed $5.7 million to recruit an extra 20 officers in Tasmania. Sadly, that did not come about. But, for every idiot or criminal that these biosecurity officers intercept, for every bag of larvae infested salad greens they catch, how many are making it through? We know that across Australia in 2018-19, biosecurity officers issued, on average, 410 infringement notices every month or just under 5,000 a year. Compare that with the tens of millions of passenger arrivals and it doesn't take a genius to work out that there is a lot of raw pork and dodgy seafood coming into the country undetected. With passenger and freight numbers expected to soar 70 per cent in the next five years, the challenge is only getting bigger.

The fact is that effective biosecurity takes money—real money. Smart governments know that good biosecurity is insurance. You close your eyes, you hold your nose, you sign the cheque and you pay the premium, year in, year out. You complain about the cost, but you know that the risk is too great not to carry the insurance. Stupid governments cut corners. They shave off a few dollars here and there on biosecurity, hoping no-one notices. They cut shifts, they reduce staffing, they outsource. They hedge that the risks are low enough to do it. But, of course, it is a false economy. All it takes is one outbreak, just a small one, and then, to clean up the mess, you have to spend many multiples of the few dollars you have saved.

Tasmania had the lived example of this when our state Liberal government cut its biosecurity budget to save a million or two. A short time later, we had a fruit fly outbreak that threatened our horticulture industry. The measures put in place to isolate and eradicate the outbreak were costly and time-consuming both for the taxpayer and for growers in affected areas, who were told they could not move their produce to market. It's farmers who end up paying the heavy price when governments fail their biosecurity obligations. More recently, Tasmania has suffered a biosecurity failure of another kind. Despite Prime Minister Morrison's declaring that cruise ships were banned from Australia because of the coronavirus risk, the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney and more than 2,500 passengers were allowed to disembark without undergoing any assessment or any checks. Those passengers wandered throughout the country, taking the virus with them, including to the north-west of Tasmania, which suffered a heavy, devastating and lethal toll in the early days of the pandemic.

Just in the past week or so Tasmanians have learnt of a new biosecurity threat—not from foreign shores, but from South Australia. The Tasmanian Liberal government quietly allowed a big South Australian producer, Mitolo, entry into the Tasmanian whole potato market, with no consultation with the public and no consultation with Tasmanian growers, who contribute $400 million annually to the state's economy. Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Vegetable chair, Nathan Richardson, said the approval posed several risks. On 24 September, The Examiner quoted Mr Richardson as follows:

This announcement is shocking; there has been zero consultation with the industry.

Mr Richardson said that the approval did not take into account end-of-life use of the imported potatoes. He said:

What we could see is potatoes grown in the garden, or in a compost, where diseases could flourish and spread to the commercial crop.

The decision puts at risk the contracts that Tasmanian growers have in place with lucrative export markets, which prize Tasmania's status for disease-free potatoes. Mr Richardson hit the nail on the head when he said, as quoted in The Examiner:

'A few years ago we had a fruit fly outbreak, and a few years before that it was blueberry rust,' he said.

'What happened in those outbreaks is we thought everyone was doing the right thing, but they weren't, and the Tasmanian industry paid for it.'

This government has not done much in the biosecurity space in its seven years on the Treasury benches, despite its revolving door of agriculture ministers sprouting from the farmers' party, the Nationals. It has promised a lot but it has delivered hardly anything. That sounds familiar: all slogan, no solution; all headline, no story. It's the story of this government and this Prime Minister: talk big, do little.

The bill before the House today, for example, is worthy of support, but it's just good housekeeping. It increases penalties for idiots and criminals who breach biosecurity laws and it empowers the director to make some penalties heavier than others, depending on the severity of the breach, without having to seek legislative approval. We are supporting it, but not before we say a few things about how this government has been failing Australia's biosecurity challenge. As the deputy chair of the House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources, I often talk to farmers and others involved in primary production. Along with access to water and the impacts of climate change biosecurity is often cited as the most important issue confronting Australian agriculture and yet it remains woefully under-resourced.

In 2017 Wendy Craik was given the task by this government of reviewing our national biosecurity systems, with the goal that her report would inform any changes necessary to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity. She handed down 10 recommendations, of which only four have been implemented. One outcome was an announcement that the federal and state and territory governments would come together to create a cohesive national biosecurity system. We've seen how well national coordination on biosecurity goes under this government with the Ruby Princess. The Craik review makes it clear that resourcing and funding are biosecurity's greatest weaknesses. So this government did what it generally does, it tried to offload its responsibility onto somebody else. Just like the Prime Minister tried to offload his responsibility for borders onto New South Wales, the government tried to offload its responsibility for biosecurity onto freight operators.

The government said it would introduce an industry levy that would raise $325 million over three years. In May this year it abandoned the levy, earning some brickbats along the way for the uncertainty that it had created. The National Farmers Federation CEO, Tony Mahar, described the decision as a blow to Australian farmers and a poor look for the government. Critically, the government has not proposed an alternative model to better resource biosecurity. If the levy is going to be raising $100 million a year to improve biosecurity, what is the government's plan to find that money? Yesterday's budget certainly provided no comfort to farmers.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association recently reported that even a small outbreak of foot and mouth disease, lasting just three months, would cost the Australian economy more than $7 billion. A 12-month outbreak would cost more than $16 billion. Tens of billions of agricultural dollars are at stake and this government can't get its act together to find even $100 million a year to protect our crops from threats. The prevention of agricultural disease deserves to be a national priority and it's time this government took that responsibility seriously.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for his contribution. I note that the original question was this bill be now read a second time, to which the honourable member for Hunter has moved an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. I understand it suits the House that I will state the question in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

11:02 am

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to be speaking on the Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill 2020 today, because this bill is all about protecting Australian agriculture. As someone who grew up on a farm, and whose parents are still actively farming in the south-east of South Australia, this is a matter very dear to my heart. My mum and dad grow beef, lamb and wool, and we live in a part of South Australia that's quite close to the coast so we have a very important fishing industry there as well, which is mainly cray fishing. All of these products are critical to Australia's exports, critical to jobs and critical to our national income and economy, which is why we need to make sure that we do everything in our power to keep our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries as safe as possible.

Australian farmers, as we know, produce some of the best food and fibre products in the world. Our food products are also some of the safest in the world. They're produced under very careful environmental controls with stringent conditions on things like the use of chemicals and veterinary products. We have very careful and stringent protections for our natural environment in terms of water, native vegetation and native wildlife. We have very careful rules around wild catch harvest, for example, as well. Our fishing industry has led the world in terms of protecting our fish stocks and carefully managing and protecting fisheries with quotas and sanctuary zones.

Unlike most other Western countries, our farmers are not paid by the government to farm. They're not protected by tariffs and subsidies. They are at very much at the whim of the market, and so have to be innovative and have to be able to adapt and change in response to market conditions.

As we know, Australia is a big island, and, as a big island, we are incredibly lucky to have very few pests and diseases that can impact our agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries and products. As the federal government, we work very hard to make sure we keep it that way. That's why we're introducing this bill, to keep our nation free of exotic and hugely dangerous and damaging pests and diseases that could easily destroy our agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries. We need to be vigilant in order to protect Australia from an ever-increasing number of pests and diseases that threaten our industries, and biosecurity is critical to doing that. Pests such as the brown marmorated stink bug, which has the potential to decimate crops and do untold damage to our natural environment, post a continuing threat. Other diseases, such as African swine fever—which I know is front of mind for many producers at the moment—has strains that kill almost every pig infected, and this would cripple our $1.2 billion pork industry as well as threaten our trade, environment and economy.

On the topic of pork, anyone out there listening or watching at the moment, please remember to always check the label on your pork products, especially ham and bacon, to make sure you're buying Australian, because, unlike pork producers in literally every other nation in the world, our pork producers are not supported by government tariffs and subsidies. So, please do everything you can to support our Australian farmers and buy Aussie pork. To protect all our Australian farmers, the Morrison government is investing millions of dollars into preventing pests and diseases from entering Australia, but we need every single person who is coming into our country to do the right thing and to do their bit when they come into Australia.

This bill seeks to amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to ensure a proportionate and effective compliance response through the targeted setting of infringement notice amounts to deter noncompliance. In other words, if you do the wrong thing you will be punished, and there will be a financial penalty. This bill changes the regulation-making power so that infringement notices may be issued for different but set amounts for an alleged contravention of the Biosecurity Act and for different periods of time to pay. These different amounts and times to pay may be specified by matters including reference to the kinds of goods or classes of goods that the alleged contravention relates to.

The bill will permit the director of biosecurity to make a legislative instrument that lists goods or classes of goods that attract a higher infringement notice amount than currently available. In making this instrument the director must be reasonably satisfied that there is a high level of biosecurity risk associated with the goods. Currently, incoming passengers and crew, including persons in charge of an aircraft or vessel, who fail to declare goods may receive an infringement notice in the amount of two penalty units, which is currently $444. The effect of this bill will be to enable an infringement notice to be issued for up to 12 penalty units, currently $2,664. So, that's a big increase in the fine that you will attract if you do the wrong thing, when incoming passengers and crew allegedly fail to declare goods listed in the legislative instrument. The law applies to all Australian citizens and anyone else coming into our nation. So, it's not just for citizens; it's for any traveller coming into Australia.

I want to reiterate why this bill is so important and why protecting Australian agriculture is such an important issue. The key reason is that agriculture is a really big employer. Hundreds of thousands of Australians—in fact, over 330,00 Australians—are employed in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. And that's before we even get to the value-added processing that happens through our food manufacturing industry, for example, and before we get to the indirect employment provided by agriculture, whether it's farmers going into their local towns and shopping at the supermarket or the newsagent, getting their farm supplies locally or employing a truck driver from time to time throughout the year.

That's just in terms of jobs. Australian agriculture is also critically important to our national economy. The gross value of Australian agriculture was $60 billion in 2018-19, despite the significant drought conditions that we saw around the nation. The total gross value of crops in this financial year rose one per cent, to $30 billion—again, despite drought conditions. I want to go through the value of each of our different industries so that people have a really clear idea of what we are protecting when we make sure that we have strong biosecurity rules and that we all follow those rules when we come into Australia. Wheat is worth $6 billion; fruit and nuts, $5 billion; vegetables, $4 billion; barley, $3 billion; cotton, $1 billion; canola, $1 billion; and rice, $34 million. Our livestock is worth around $31 billion a year, gross value, to the Australian economy. In 2018-19 cattle and calves were worth $13 billion to our national economy; sheep and lambs, $4 billion; pigs, $1 billion; and wool, milk and eggs, $10 billion.

So every time people do the wrong thing, when they come into Australia and don't declare things that they shouldn't be bringing in, they put at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and $60 billion of income for our nation. It's so important that people do the right thing and follow the rules, and the rules are really easy to follow. If you've ever been overseas, you'll be very familiar with the incoming passenger card. It's the yellow card that you're given when you're on the plane, or even on a boat, coming into Australia, and it gives you a really clear list of things that you need to declare to make sure that you're not putting Australia at risk.

The card asks whether you're bringing into Australia the following things: meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, bulbs, straw, nuts, plants, parts of plants, traditional medicine, herbs or wooden articles. It asks you if you're bringing in animals, parts of animals, animal products (including equipment), pet food, eggs, biological specimens, birds, fish, insects, shells or bee products, and it also asks you if you have any items that might have soil on them that have been used in freshwater areas or if you've been in contact with farms, farm animals or wilderness areas in the past 30 days. There is more detailed information on what you can and can't bring into Australia on the department of agriculture website. If you've got any further inquiries, I encourage you to jump online and inform yourself of what you can and can't bring into Australia, so that we keep our farmers safe. If you visit you'll see the full list, item by item, of what you can and can't safely bring into Australia.

Unfortunately, we know that a lot of people are still doing the wrong thing, which is why this bill is necessary. Anyone who has watched Channel 7's program Border Security - Australia's Front Line will have seen people doing the wrong thing, trying to bring into Australia some really interesting goods that would have a devastating effect on our fisheries and our agriculture if they were to be consumed or to get into our natural environment. There's no excuse for this, because, as I just read out, the border entry card is completely clear about what you do and don't have to declare when you're coming in and what you can and can't bring in. In 2018-19, biosecurity officers issued an average of 410 infringement notices a month at Australian airports. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit our nation, in January 2020 this had risen to 1,139. That's a lot of people doing the wrong thing. That is a lot of people putting our fishers and our farmers at risk, putting $60 billion of Australian agricultural products at risk and putting over 330,000 direct agricultural jobs at risk.

That's why this bill is necessary. It sends a strong message to incoming passengers and crew that they need to declare biosecurity risk goods when they enter Australia. The beauty of this is that it costs you nothing to declare. If you are in doubt, just make a declaration on your incoming passenger card and ask our wonderful biosecurity frontline staff whether you're allowed to bring it in or not. It doesn't cost you a cent. It may cost you a tiny bit of time, but it's far better to spend those extra couple of minutes making sure what you're bringing in is safe to bring in than risk our $60 billion agricultural industry or risk a significant fine for yourself. It's when you don't declare and when you are found to have something that is not allowed into Australia that you will be detected and you will receive an infringement notice.

We have wonderful border security officers and staff keeping Australians safe from exotic pests and diseases, and they do this in a range of ways. They have detector dogs, they have 2D and 3D X-ray technology and they screen everyone's baggage coming in, especially if they suspect that you might have something you shouldn't. So, rest assured, you are at great risk of being caught if you don't declare properly or if you try to bring things in that you shouldn't. I believe we have over 40 sniffer dogs in our airports, working constantly to make sure that people are not trying to bring in things they shouldn't. They do a wonderful job detecting meat, fruit, vegetables, seeds and grains and other items that people shouldn't have and that they have failed to declare. There is a very high chance that you will be caught. I'm glad there's a high chance that people will be caught, because I don't want our farmers and our agricultural industries put at risk.

Ideally, this bill would not be necessary. The increase in infringement notices and fines would not be necessary if people were doing the right thing and didn't bring in prohibited goods. Please educate yourself. If you have visitors from overseas coming to see you, when our borders have reopened, please make sure that they understand what you can and can't bring in. Visit the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's website. Familiarise yourself with the incoming passenger card and, if in doubt, please make a declaration. Check with our wonderful biosecurity staff that the items you have are safe to bring in. The staff work so hard to keep our nation safe and to protect all our farmers and fisheries from exotic pests and diseases that would have catastrophic impacts if they were to come into Australia. We are lucky, in many ways, to be a large and relatively isolated island. It has meant we are one of the cleanest, greenest, safest and most productive agricultural nations in the world. Let's keep it that way. Let's all do the right thing, in terms of biosecurity.

11:17 am

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I notice in this debate that a coalition MP posed the question: 'Why are we even debating this legislation?' The reason we are is that the legislation itself is crucial. It's not just about protecting livestock or agriculture. Biosecurity matters. It saves lives. It protects Australians. It has a very important place, in the broad range of things, particularly during a pandemic where we should be ensuring that the biosecurity of all Australians is protected.

This government—particularly this minister, who is here in the chamber—should hang their heads in absolute shame for the grossest dereliction of duty we have seen through the course of this pandemic. This minister, who is responsible for this bill, demonstrated the astounding incompetence of being unable to know what aspects of his own legislation covered the protection of Australians and their health. This minister now is saying that he wants to bring in a whole range of measures that make ordinary Australians feel like crims, but when he does the wrong thing he's not held accountable for it. It is embarrassing that a minister of the Crown is so spectacularly incapable of knowing what his own act is responsible for and still holds his job.

I want to make it absolutely clear that none of the critical remarks I make in the course of this debate are directed at those public servants who do the public a great service at our airports and ports, and who do the right thing to help protect Australians. My criticisms are not directed at them; in fact, my greatest compliments are directed at them for their public service. The greatest criticism should go to their bosses. The greatest criticism should go to the ministers who failed the Australian public. Under the regime that's been put in place here, every Australian tries to do the right thing when they come back from an overseas trip. The pen hovers over the card, and people try to work out which box they should tick to do the right thing. They are made to feel that pressure. There are TV crews in Australian airports that monitor them, making ordinary, average Australians feel like they're doing something wrong.

But when it came to the big issues of protecting the country during the pandemic, we found the department of agriculture and this minister wanting—this minister in particular, along with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs. When biosecurity mattered in a pandemic, they were found wanting. In particular, everyone in the country knows about the 2,700 people who were affected by coronavirus on the Ruby Princess, the 700 people who were infected by coronavirus on the Ruby Princess and the 20-plus Australians who lost their lives because they contracted coronavirus on the Ruby Princess. They lost their lives. They paid the price.

I get worked up about this issue when I think of all those passengers who went on that trip. They were just ordinary, average Australians. Many of them were older Australians who went the hard slog in their jobs, paid off their mortgages and raised their kids. They have grandchildren. They took a cruise, like a lot of Australians do. They treated themselves. They went on those cruises thinking they would have a great time. When they boarded and when they went to get off the cruise, they depended on the government to do the right thing and look after them. They depended on the cruise operators to do the right thing and look after them. They were massively let down through the course of this incident, and the lapses in biosecurity were critical in impacting on the health of ordinary Australians. Those ordinary Australians who took that cruise should have had full confidence that their health and safety would be protected and that, when they got off their cruise, they would not be attending a funeral. I genuinely feel for those people. I genuinely feel that we let them down and I genuinely feel that at no point did this government ever step up. The government that is quick to point fingers at others never stepped up to take responsibility for themselves.

In May we heard that, on the evening before passengers were allowed to disembark, federal authorities were aware of 128 sick people aboard the Ruby Princess, including 24 with a temperature. That's what the Senate COVID committee was told. The Australian Border Force—which said, as a result of the Prime Minister's declaration in mid-March, that they would control which cruise boats came in or didn't come in—didn't tell the harbourmaster what he should or shouldn't do, and Australian Border Force claimed they had no legislated authority to do that in regard to a biosecurity threat. The minister laughed a few minutes earlier about whether or not he was accountable. When quizzed on RN Breakfast on 14 August about an act he was responsible for, this minister—agriculture minister David Littleproud—who is responsible for this legislation and these protections, said:

Well let me make clear, that federal agricultural agency only looks after plants and animals; they don't look after human health.

Really? His own website, the department of agriculture website, says:

The … Biosecurity Act 2015—

which is going to be amended by the legislation we're debating here today—

explains how we manage biosecurity threats to plant, animal and human health in Australia and its external territories.

This is an act that this minister administers, and he doesn't even know he is responsible for human health. It's not that he didn't know; it's that he didn't want to admit that this was what he was responsible for, because there have been lapses between various government ministers in accounting for biosecurity threats with what happened with the Ruby Princess.

It is often put that there were no federal representatives on the Ruby Princess when it went to dock. They claim in many instances that it was NSW Health. But that is just wrong. There absolutely were representatives of Agriculture or the federal government on that ship. On top of that, the minister responsible for this act has repeatedly failed to explain the exact times that officials from his own department gave approval for people to disembark the Ruby Princess and, therefore, spread coronavirus in this country. It reached as far as Tasmania and triggered the lockdown of that state. That is a result of lapses that can be attributed to the minister responsible for the Biosecurity Act.

When the minister was quizzed on TV about when they gave approval, he said: 'They gave it on 19 March. The exact time I don't have in front of me.' It is one of the most seismic events in the course of the pandemic and he didn't have the detail. It's just like the aged-care minister, who didn't know the number of people who lost their lives in aged-care facilities in this country. We had another minister who didn't know crucial details involving the disembarkation of the Ruby Princess.

Again the minister responsible for this act has refused to acknowledge or apologise. His departmental secretary conceded to the committee that the department itself failed to do the required traveller-with-illness checklist onboard the Ruby Princess. Ordinary Australians are forced to look very carefully at the things they're filling out when they come back—the things that are being debated in this legislation—but the minister's own department don't do the same thing when it's up to them.

What happened at the start of the pandemic when the Queensland Premier wrote to the Prime Minister about the traveller identification cards that had been handed up—the very cards that we're debating in this legislation? They said that they wanted to keep more data on travellers for contact tracing. As we have all become very aware, contact tracing plays a crucial role in containing the spread of coronavirus. The Queensland Premier wrote to the Prime Minister and asked to get these cards. Samantha Maiden from wrote in September:

As the states dealt with the influx of international passengers, they were shocked to learn that incoming travellers' passenger cards were essentially thrown in the bin or unable to be accessed on privacy grounds.

These are the same cards that we've been told today play such an important role in biosecurity. Yet, when the states asked for access to them to enable more efficient contact tracing to limit the spread of coronavirus, this government failed to do the job. We're being asked to improve the penalty regime in this legislation, but this minister can't even do his job.

Ordinary Australians—just like those passengers on the Ruby Princessexpect that governments will be there to protect them, but they're not. At no point has the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home Affairs or that minister over there stepped up and accepted responsibility. Why? Because they've spent too much time playing political games and trying to blame the states. They've been involved in blaming states for what's not happening in the shutdown—blaming them for this recession, in effect. We had this spread of coronavirus that triggered a whole set of shutdowns and lockdowns and all this economic spend, and yet we get asked, as the Labor Party, why do we call it the 'Morrison recession'? The reason is choices were made—or not made—that had an impact on people's livelihoods and had an impact on the economy. The government should be held to account for the depth of this recession. They should be held to account for the amount of money that they've had to pay in the budget to help save the economy because of a biosecurity threat that they triggered when they failed to do the right thing on the Ruby Princess.

I've heard the member for Higgins blame the Victorian government for this and that, despite the fact the federal government didn't do the right thing on aged care, despite the fact the federal government were quite happy for self-isolation rather than quarantining. The states had to step up to do quarantining because the feds wouldn't do it. And on top of that we had the Ruby Princess, a biosecurity threat that was not managed properly by this government. Every single one of them should hang their heads in shame for those ordinary Australians that copped it because of them. Instead of accepting responsibility, all they did was shift it somewhere else. It's just wrong! For example, the Minister for Home Affairs said: 'I don't employ a doctor or nurse at airports and ports to help with biosecurity. That's the responsibility of the Victorian health department, the Queensland health department, the New South Wales health department. It's nothing to do with Australian Border Force. They look at the documentation. They want to make sure people have valid passports and people have valid visas, that they are not criminals coming into this country. They do not conduct testing and they do not conduct temperature tests et cetera. That is not their responsibility.' It's just not true.

The failure of the federal government to be accountable is letting Australians down. This government's failure and dereliction of duty is hurting Australians, it has caused the death of Australians, and that's why this government doesn't accept responsibility. When it comes to the realisation it has done the wrong thing, it doesn't want to accept responsibility. All it wants to do is shift it, and this bill is another example of that. This minister is another example of the incompetence that led to the deaths of Australians, and this government should absolutely hang its head in shame for the way it let down ordinary Australians in this country.

11:32 am

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

The Biosecurity Amendment (Traveller Declarations and Other Measures) Bill 2020—the bill—will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to provide for a flexible and proportionate compliance response through the targeted setting of amounts payable under an infringement notice. The bill will allow the biosecurity regulation to specify different penalty amounts and different periods of time to pay for infringement notices issued for different kinds of alleged contraventions of the Biosecurity Act, including by reference to the kinds of goods or classes of goods to which an alleged contravention relates, and permit the director of biosecurity to make a non-disallowable legislative instrument to specify goods or classes of goods that can attract a higher infringement notice amount. These changes will enable incoming passengers or crew who fail to declare high-risk biosecurity goods listed in the legislative instrument to be issued with an infringement notice in the amount of 12 penalty units, or $2,664 after penalty units are increased on 1 July. This is an increase from the current infringement notice amount of two penalty units or $444 that applies regardless of the relative risk of the goods to which the contravention relates.

This bill will enhance existing compliance and deterrence measures, and is designed to protect Australia's biosecurity status by encouraging people entering Australia to comply carefully and accurately with requirements to provide written information for the purpose of assessing the level of biosecurity risk associated with the person and the goods they are seeking to bring into Australia. This is a sensible and timely improvement to Australia's biosecurity system that is consistent with mature, regulatory practice. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hunter has moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted, with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand as part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.