Thursday, 25 March 2021
Biosecurity Amendment (Clarifying Conditionally Non-prohibited Goods) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill is about ensuring the integrity of Australia's biosecurity framework, to protect our $61 billion agriculture industry and valuable and unique environmental assets from the incursion of pests and diseases.
A strong biosecurity system is critical to Australia's prosperity. Biosecurity laws protect agriculture, tourism and other industries, plant and animal health, the environment, and our market access. They are necessary to allow us to trade and for our nation to continue to thrive.
This bill clarifies the validity of determinations made under section 174 of the Biosecurity Act. These determinations specify that certain classes of goods are conditionally non-prohibited goods which must not be brought or imported into Australian territory unless they are covered by an import permit or unless alternative conditions specified in the determination are complied with.
The bill confirms that goods specified in such determinations are conditionally non-prohibited goods, and confirms the validity of any conditions imposed by the determination. It does not create or change classes of goods listed in the determinations, or the conditions that are imposed on such goods.
Conditionally non-prohibited goods pose a significant level of biosecurity risk if the specified conditions are not complied with. This can have serious consequences for Australia's biosecurity status, market access, plant, animal and human health, the economy and the environment.
In an increasingly complex trade and regulatory environment, it is important that goods which present an unacceptable level of risk of pests or diseases are subject to appropriate conditions before they are brought into Australia. These conditions include requirements for treatments or packaging, for example, a requirement to treat wood articles imported from specified countries with methyl bromide to prevent the goods arriving in Australia with the hitchhiker pest brown marmorated stink bug present.
Determinations made under section 174 of the act therefore play a central role in enabling the Australian government to manage biosecurity risks, and to prevent goods which present an unacceptable level of biosecurity risks from being brought into Australian territory. The passage of this bill will ensure clarity for our stakeholders, thereby benefiting Australian farmers, the agriculture industry, the environment, the economy and all Australians.
I want to be clear that Labor does not intend to hold this bill up. Of course we understand the biosecurity risks that could impact on our vital agricultural industry in Australia.
As outlined in the explanatory memorandum and by the minister just then, the purpose of the Biosecurity Amendment (Clarifying Conditionally Non-prohibited Goods) Bill 2021 is to amend the Biosecurity Act 2015. The amendments clarify the validity of determinations made under subsection 174(1) of the act in relation to specifying that certain classes of goods are conditionally non-prohibited goods. According to the explanatory memorandum, conditionally non-prohibited goods are goods specified in a determination in force under subsection 174A of the act. That provides that the Director of Biosecurity and the Director of Human Biosecurity may jointly determine that the specified classes of goods must not be brought or imported into Australian territory unless specified conditions are complied with. The explanatory memorandum also outlines the conditionality that non-prohibited goods pose an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk if specified conditions are not complied with. Determinations made under 174(1) of the act therefore play a central role in enabling the government to manage biosecurity risks and to prevent goods which present an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk from being brought or imported into Australian territory.
I also note that the explanatory memorandum states the bill would not have any financial impact on the Australian government's budget, but I do want to take the opportunity to raise a number of concerns in relation to the Morrison government's current management of Australia's biosecurity system. We're here today doing this amendment because the government has asked us to, to fix up the original drafting errors. My understanding is that the government currently has a whole heap of situations whereby they're relying on this determination, which they've now found might not be valid. So we're here today to fix this up for the government because they didn't draft it properly in the first place. That's what's going on here.
We know that Australia's biosecurity system underpins more than $60 billion in agricultural production and $45 billion in agriculture exports, as well as $38 billion in relation to the country's inbound tourism industry. Biosecurity is always an issue raised whenever I talk to Australia's farmers, producers and growers right around the country. They, like us, know that there's a lot at risk if the government isn't adequately managing our biosecurity system. But this government hasn't had a good track record when it comes to biosecurity arrangements.
We've already seen the Morrison government axe its biosecurity levy, a levy that its own report—the Craik review in 2017—recommended. The report included 42 recommendations and found that our biosecurity system was underfunded, therefore recommending the introduction of a new Biosecurity Imports Levy. The review into Australia's biosecurity system found it was also at risk of failing without additional resources. Interestingly, the government budgeted for this levy to be introduced back in the 2018-19 budget but missed a number of deadlines to introduce it and has axed it totally, never to be seen again. But, of course, it did say that it was going to spend the $300-odd million that this biosecurity levy was going to raise. We tried to find out about what's actually going on with those programs. At the time the levy was axed, the National Farmers Federation criticised the government and said that axing the levy was a blow to Australian farmers, and that it was a poor look for the government.
There was also the Inspector-General of Biosecurity's review report for 2021. This report revealed that biosecurity is not in a strong position to address the diverse and evolving biosecurity risks and business environment expected to prevail in 2021 through to 2025. With so much at risk for Australia's agriculture sector, this is certainly a wake-up call for the Morrison government. It must do better when it comes to our biosecurity arrangements. There must be confidence in Australia's biosecurity system given that it protects the agricultural industry from pests and disease. Of course, we saw the human biosecurity system fail when the Ruby Princess docked in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government must do better when it comes to the biosecurity systems for agriculture and for humans in this country.
We also know there are other factors and issues impacting on the agricultural sector across Australia, ones that the government has done little or nothing to fix. It knows they are impacting today on Australian farmers. For example, the government has known there is a structural reliance on migrant workers to pick produce on Australian farms for a very long time. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted this structural reliance given the travel and quarantine arrangements over the last year. Labor has written to the minister twice, first in January and then in February this year, to raise our concerns around the agricultural workforce strategy. The minister promised to fix it during the COVID-19 pandemic. The minister claimed he had 25,000 pre-vetted work-ready islanders ready to come to Australia. But last week, he confessed only 2,600 have entered Australia to pick the produce. The minister promised these workers were ready to go but clearly they are not and they haven't been delivered. It is one of those classic Morrison government marketing moments—all announcement, no delivery. There are not 25,000 pre-vetted workers available on Australian farms. We know this because our produce is still rotting on Australian farms because there are not enough workers to pick it.
What is clear is that minister's turned his back on the Seasonal Worker Program and on the quarantine arrangements, which are the responsibility of the government. We know the COVID pandemic has contributed to a shortage of 26,000 workers across Australian farms. The Morrison government has been long aware of these structural issues with the agricultural workforce. The government has a report on its desk asking it to fix this. John Azarias, through the agricultural labour advisory committee, delivered the national agricultural workforce strategy to the minister back in October last year. Almost five months later, the government finally released the report together with another road map. It had 37 recommendations in it, but the government is saying in the media release that it will respond to the strategy in the coming months. It had already had the report for five months sitting on its desk before it released it. It was to address the immediate needs of our farmers but clearly the government are not responding to immediate needs. The report sat on a desk for five months, and now they are saying they are going to do months of consultation. This is simply not good enough.
The National Lost Crop Register indicates that $45 million of fruit and vegetables has been dumped in Australia to date. That figure would be much higher if everybody was reporting their losses. It is an absolute national shame for farmers, after what happened with the bushfires and the drought in previous years. Now they have had some good weather. Unfortunately, they have had too much rain in the last few days but, prior to that, they had a bumper crop and they can't actually get that produce out to Australians and receive its value. It's just demoralising for Australia's primary producers.
In conclusion, I want to say that Australian farmers and producers need to have confidence that the Morrison government can and will manage our biosecurity system so we can protect and mitigate any risks to our agricultural industry from pests and disease. It is clear from the experts that the Morrison government has more work to do to make sure our biosecurity system is well resourced and that it does not fail. Labor will be keeping a close eye on how the government continues to manage our vital biosecurity system. Labor will be moving a second reading amendment to reflect our ongoing concern about the inaction of the Morrison government. I therefore 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 notes the Coalition Government’s ongoing mismanagement of Australia’s biosecurity arrangements".
The Biosecurity Amendment (Clarifying Conditionally Non-prohibited Goods) Bill 2021 will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to clarify the validity of determinations that were made under section 174 of the act in relation to conditionally non-prohibited goods. The bill will confirm that goods specified in such determinations are conditionally non-prohibited goods and confirms the validity of any conditions imposed by the determination. The bill does not create or change classes of goods listed in the determinations or the conditions that are imposed on such goods.
Conditionally non-prohibited goods pose an unacceptable level of biosecurity if the specified conditions are not complied with. This means determinations made under section 174 of the act play a central role in enabling the Australian government to manage biosecurity risks and preventing goods which present an unacceptable level of biosecurity risk from entering Australian territory. Passage of the bill will ensure that there is clarity for stakeholders about determinations made under the act in relation to conditionally non-prohibited goods. It will ensure that Australia's biosecurity system remains effective in preventing pests and diseases from being brought into Australian territory, thereby benefiting Australian farmers, the agriculture industry, the environment, the economy and all Australians.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Franklin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question before the chair is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.