House debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:25 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week we had an Australian National Audit Office report on biosecurity in Australia. The findings of this report are incredibly concerning. The ANAO report concludes that the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's arrangements to respond to noncompliance with biosecurity are 'largely inappropriate'. What does this say about the Morrison government's interest in biosecurity risks? The ANAO's findings in relation to the inadequacies of Australia's biosecurity system need to be taken seriously. A biosecurity system that is deemed to be inappropriately managed has massive implications for the agriculture sector, and it puts Australian farmers in a very vulnerable position. This is totally unacceptable. The ANAO report also validates numerous and serious concerns raised by farmers and producers and the agriculture sector.

As already mentioned, biosecurity threats and the inadequacies of the current system are issues that are consistently raised with me. No doubt MPs across all parties hear these concerns in their local constituencies. Incursions of pests and disease are of great concern to farmers and producers, who know the significant risks if and when Australia's biosecurity system fails us. The Morrison government really must do better when it comes to the agriculture sector and Australia's biosecurity system.

Of course, we know there are other issues impacting the agriculture sector that the Morrison government has also done nothing to fix, even though it knows they are impacting on Australian farmers. We've seen today an announcement about agriculture workers, and we know there has been a labour force issue on farms across this country for years—for years and years. This pandemic hasn't been going for just a few months, of course. Last year, the government promised 25,000 workers from Pacific nations. By the government's and the minister's own admission, less than 7,000 of those workers have made it into Australia and onto farms.

We keep hearing the government talking about how they help farmers all the time, but the reality is that what we actually get is something very different. The farmers know the government is not delivering when it comes to the assistance it continues to talk about all the time. We know that they're not actually delivering on all of their announcements when it comes to assistance for farmers and regional communities. They talk a lot, they say a lot and they announce a lot, but they don't do much. This seems to be a consistent theme from this government.

When we talk about the budget and we talk about the workforce and we talk about the ANAO's report on how inappropriate the biosecurity system is, the government says, 'Oh, but we put $370 million in the budget.' If that money hadn't gone into the budget, as I said earlier, then they would have actually gone backwards in biosecurity expenditure in this country—backwards! And that $370 million is mostly capital expenditure required to fix the ICT system, which we know is inappropriate. The government's talking more about relying on artificial intelligence. I have raised my concerns about that in this chamber before. We all know how the government goes when it comes to ICT systems. They haven't been very good at it, to date. So I hope that these investments in ICT, in our biosecurity system, that farmers and producers are relying on, actually work. They need to work, and the government needs to make sure that they do work before it introduces this system. It absolutely needs to make sure that this happens.

In the meantime, as I said, we've still got farmers and producers who can't get their fruit and their produce off their farms because the government hasn't done enough about labour. The ag visa that was announced overnight and then talked about today was promised three years ago. Now the minister is saying, 'We might get it done by Christmas.' What is the point of having all of these workers ready when we don't have a national quarantine system, we're not all vaccinated and we can't open our borders? How is that going to help farmers who need workers now?

When the government is asked this question, they don't have an answer. They just try and blame the states for not doing enough quarantining. Quarantine is their job. Quarantine is the federal government's responsibility; it's not the states' responsibility. They've been on alert about this for months and months. They know they need to build a national quarantine system, and yet we haven't seen it. We still haven't seen it.

What we've got from this government is more ad hoc pieces of legislation, more trying to look like they're doing something when they're actually not doing much at all when it comes to Australian farmers and biosecurity and the risks that it poses to our agricultural sector. When you've got farmers talking about tens of millions of dollars in loss for not being able to get products off farm and you've got the government renouncing something they announced three years ago and saying, 'We're really going to do it this time,' farmers are a bit sceptical, to be blunt. Look at what the NFF said. It was interesting to see the minister for trade read some quotes from the NFF here today. He didn't talk about what they said about their ag visa. He said farmers need to see this delivered, because they're a bit sceptical, basically. And who could possibly blame them after what we've seen from this government? Seriously, all the time, talking, talking, talking, announcing, announcing, announcing and not really delivering.

And then, of course, we've got the one thing they don't want to talk about, as we saw in question time today on the motion I moved earlier: the mouse plague. Here we have a very serious mouse plague—some are talking about it being the worst Australia has seen. We've got the New South Wales Farmers Association saying this is going to cost around $1 billion to production in New South Wales farms. You've got the four states—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia—where this plague is now, and you've got the federal government saying: 'It's not our job. It's up to the states. Don't look here.' And then we had some bizarre response from the Acting Prime Minister today, which basically said, 'Why don't we catch them all and re-release them in the inner city so they can bite and scratch them?' It was the most bizarre thing I think I've heard here in a while.

Mr Sukkar interjecting

The point is he should be serious, the minister at the table. The point is that Australian farmers have been dealing with this mouse plague for months. Your government has done nothing about it. There's no national response plan to deal with the mouse plague. The farmers are crying out for this federal government to do something about it, instead of them sitting on their hands saying, 'Not our problem.' That's what's happening on this side of the House.

The Australian farmers need to have confidence and certainty. They need to know that, when the government says something, they're going to actually deliver on it, and we don't have that today. When we have this legislation talking about the importance of our biosecurity system, I hope that the government is taking this with the utmost seriousness, as it should. We need to make sure that the biosecurity system delivers for our vital agricultural producers in Australia. We need to make sure that all of Australia can have confidence in our biosecurity system. We need to make sure that whether it's human biosecurity, plant biosecurity or animal biosecurity, this government is doing its job and we want to move a second reading amendment that reflects our ongoing concern about the government's inaction. 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 notes the Coalition Government's ongoing delays to upgrade Australia's biosecurity arrangements".

We have an ANAO report that says they're not doing enough. They're not doing enough at all, and they need to do so much better.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

It is. I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question is this bill be read a second time. To this the honourable member for Franklin moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting others. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be disagreed to.

4:33 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

4:43 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 and wish to take the opportunity to speak about the importance of the bill to the agricultural businesses in, and in fact the whole of, my electorate of Mayo. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 2,168 agricultural, forestry and fishery businesses in Mayo, making it the second-largest business sector in my electorate. The livelihoods of business owners, employees and those indirectly related to tourism and support services rely on a legislative framework to protect their interests—one that provides sufficient and robust deterrence by way of penalties to discourage individuals and organisations from putting the sector at risk.

As a country, we enjoy the natural protection that our island nation provides us, but it requires diligence, education and constant work to prevent inadvertent or deliberate attempts to bring potentially harmful products into Australia, putting at risk the disease-free status of much of our agricultural production.

Any member who's watched an episode of Border Security will realise that the battle to keep biosecurity threats out of Australia is real and ongoing. I thank the many men and women who work in those frontline roles for their tireless work and, I would also say, for their patience. It amazes me what people attempt to bring into our nation. They tick the declaration card to say that they have nothing in their baggage. Then border security opens up their baggage and pulls out all manner of things that they should not be bringing into our nation. We can't watch that show any more at home; it makes everyone too furious. However, border security is just the tip of the iceberg for the workforce involved in securing our agricultural industry. Our biosecurity officers outside of domestic and commercial points of entries—the scientists, in-field officers, state border patrols and departmental staff—all play a significant role in ensuring the biosecurity risk is limited.

Many businesses in my home state of South Australia benefit from the premium value that disease-free status brings to their products. They have achieved great success in securing international market access, as well as supplying the domestic market with high-quality product. South Australia is an exception on several fronts. It is phylloxera free. The phylloxera is like an aphid, and it destroys grapevines. It's as simple as that. It was responsible for decimating up to 70 per cent of Europe's vineyards at the end of the 19th century, and it is regarded as the world's worst grape pest. Mayo is home to six wine regions, as Deputy Speaker Georganas knows, producing some of the best wines in the world. In South Australia, wine exports are valued at around $2 billion and account for 70 per cent of the total value of Australia's wine exports. The wine industry directly employs more than 8,400 people in South Australia, and it's one of our most important tourism drivers.

Kangaroo Island is a beautiful island oasis in Mayo, and it's home to our famous Ligurian bees. Kangaroo Island has the last genetically pure population of the Ligurian honey bee, and it is about as far from Italy as a bee or a person can physically get. The natural isolation and strict biosecurity maintained their genetic purity. The history of these bees and the wonderful foresight of their apiarists are unique. The bees were first imported to South Australia from Bologna, Italy by the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures and brought to Kangaroo Island in 1881. In 1885, just four years later, Kangaroo Island was declared a bee sanctuary. Consequently, the genetic purity of the Ligurian bee was secured, and Kangaroo Island is now the oldest bee sanctuary in the world. We all recognise the importance of bees. Without them, horticulture ceases to exist. In the context of the Ligurian bee, any biosecurity breach would not only put the bee at risk but also destroy the world's purest genetic strain in this historically important sanctuary.

South Australia's other exception is our fruit-fly-free status. Unfortunately, this is a fight we are potentially on the cusp of losing, with several localised outbreaks in recent months. Incredibly, in 2021 more than 10,600 vehicles were inspected at border points and nearly one in 10 motorists were caught flouting strict state fruit-fly laws. A total of 1,839 kilograms of fresh produce was seized and 944 fines were issued. The impact on our horticultural sector would be devastating without this intervention, and it reinforces the need, I believe, for an irradiation facility in our state. I've long advocated to government for an irradiation facility. I see it as an insurance policy so these crucial export markets are not lost in the event of a significant fruit-fly outbreak in our horticultural regions. Despite the valiant efforts of frontline staff, no-one can guarantee a fruit fly incursion will not occur. We need to be prepared for such an event. An irradiation facility, I think, would be an essential weapon in the arsenal available to protect the industry and its markets and reputation. When we talk about state borders, it is in a state context, and we need to do more to educate returning South Australians and visitors about the need to adopt better biosecurity behaviour.

What is important is recognising the value of our agricultural sector—the jobs it creates, the export opportunities it realises, the tourism attraction to our regions and the international reputation of a nation that produces high-quality, high-value product. All members in this House, I believe, recognise the economic and social value of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and we must do all we can as legislators to protect them and the livelihoods they provide. Deterrence and enforcements work. Strengthening penalties, increasing the deterrents and increasing the protection for all Australians is so incredibly vital. I support this bill.

4:50 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill is urgently needed to strengthen the penalties for a number of civil penalty provisions and criminal offences under the Biosecurity Act. The proposed increases to maximum penalties will more appropriately reflect the impact these contraventions may have on Australia's biosecurity status, market access and the economy than the current provisions. Pests and diseases of all kinds pose a high risk to Australia's biosecurity in an increasingly complex trade environment. In late 2020 we had several detections of khapra beetle, including in packages for fridges and—believe it or not—high chairs sold to customers. We are currently seeing the emergence of a new variant of African swine fever. Although the original variant of African swine fever is yet to be detected in Australia, due to the strong biosecurity controls in our borders, any variant could have a devastating impact on our pork industry and associated businesses.

I know that strong biosecurity controls are critically important to farmers in my electorate, such as John Watson, a pig farmer from Hopetoun. An incursion of African swine fever or any other disease dangerous to his animals could destroy his business and the entire industry. He told me he's very pleased this government is taking a strong stance on biosecurity to protect his livelihood.

We are also seeing increasing prevalence of citrus canker in over 30 countries in Asia, South America and the United States. Citrus canker can spread quickly over long distances on citrus fruits and leaves as well as on people and equipment. There is no cure for the disease, so any infected trees must be destroyed and orchards replanted, at enormous cost. Let us remember that orange trees take seven years to grow to full maturity, so an incursion of citrus canker disease would have a devastating impact on the industry. The citrus industry is vital and provides employment and business opportunities in several towns and regions in my electorate. The value of citrus fruit commodities in Mallee is worth close to $100 million, with many more millions across our borders in the New South Wales and South Australian Riverland. If citrus canker established in our nation, it would decimate the regions and towns that rely on this vital industry.

In the face of these growing regional and global threats, the current penalty regime needs to be significantly enhanced to provide an effective deterrent against noncompliance with Australia's biosecurity requirements. As the economy recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, growth in international trade and travel is expected to increase the risk of biosecurity threats, making it critical the appropriate penalties are in force as soon as possible to send a strong message that breaching Australia's biosecurity law is not worth any potential commercial gain. An increase in civil penalties will deter noncompliance with the Biosecurity Act, so breaching the law will not be seen as a cost of doing business or otherwise worth the risk. The increase to criminal penalties for the fault based offences would allow for proportionate and appropriate punishment for offences under the Biosecurity Act and align maximum penalties.

Importantly, this bill does not add any additional administrative burden on industry. That's what this government is all about. We are implementing measures across the board to secure the future of the agricultural sector through ongoing investments in industry without increasing red tape. Funding for biosecurity and export services has increased from $258 million since 2014-15 to now $888 million in 2021.

The government is committed to a strong biosecurity system that protects regional jobs, grows our agricultural exports and maintains our environment and lifestyle in the face of the devastating impact of pests and diseases. In the 2020-21 budget the government announced $400.1 million in new funding for biosecurity to support industry to grow agriculture to $100 billion by 2030. This year's package of measures will reinforce the Australian biosecurity system to keep pest and disease threats offshore and respond to any pests in Australia. The measures will protect against threats while cutting red tape to ensure that goods and people can enter Australia smoothly and efficiently.

The package complements the significant reforms we've already committed to across our biosecurity system to ensure that it is modern and efficient and keeps Australia safe from pests and diseases that would harm our agricultural industry. We will invest $84.1 million in critical frontline measures to better manage the risk of pests and diseases coming to Australia. This includes more on-the-ground resources to target known and emerging threats and make use of modern technology to better detect and respond to threats. We will also invest $80.9 million to build a modern, effective biosecurity system that is underpinned by the right technology and analytical capabilities. We will invest in technical solutions to keep biosecurity threats out of Australia, including through a trial of new screening technologies for people and goods at the border. We will also fund a series of groundbreaking trials to screen for biosecurity risks offshore and continue the development of modern, innovative detection systems.

We will expand diagnostic capabilities to support the rapid flow of plant and animal based goods at the border while managing biosecurity risks. We will also improve digital capability to better manage biosecurity risks in international postal services. We'll commit $235.1 million to be allocated to strengthen partnerships and improve our ability to detect and manage threats offshore while increasing capacity to respond to incursions. Our investment supports more proactive management of emerging biosecurity risks, consistent with independent reviews of the biosecurity system by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, CSIRO and other reviews. These are all hugely important measures to protect our regions and our farmers from dangerous pests and viruses. They will protect regional industries such as citrus and livestock farming in my electorate of Mallee.

The government's support for agriculture doesn't stop there. Our government is committing $32 million to extend opportunities to reward farmers for the stewardship of their land under the Agriculture Stewardship Package. There are farmers in Mallee who are working hard to sustainably care for their land and plan for their future. Farmers like Paul and Sally Bethune, of Bethune Lane Dairy, are one such family. Not only do they make the best chocolate milk in the country; they work hard to ensure that their environmental footprint is as light as possible. Farmers like the Bethunes deserve to be rewarded for their responsible practices.

Our government is also committing $129.8 million to deliver a National Soil Strategy. The red Mallee dirt is some of the most versatile and accommodating in the country but we are seeing our precious topsoil being kicked up in dust storms more and more frequently. There are businesses in my electorate that know how important our soil is. One of those is ALTSA, based in Merbein, an analytical laboratory that provides soil testing services to locals. They use cutting-edge technology to examine local soils, and they use their research to provide advice to farmers. It's an important service that is improving the longevity and sustainability of farming in the region. I recently spoke to Ray Harris, general manager of ALTSA, at the Mildura Field Days. He told me he's excited about the Agriculture Stewardship Package funding and wants to pursue opportunities to contribute to the implementation of the strategy. The focus on soil health is vital because if we don't preserve the health of our valuable soil our agriculture industry will suffer greatly.

Biosecurity measures such as those contained in this bill are becoming increasingly important as our nation continues to expand our trade agreements with international partners. In positive news, this week Australia secured a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. This is a comprehensive and historic agreement that is in the best interests of our nation and our primary producers. It's a truly liberalising agreement, one of the most significant we will ever sign. Australian producers and farmers will receive a significant boost by getting greater access to the UK market. I know this agreement is welcome news to growers in my electorate, many of whom I have spoken to today. Australian consumers will also benefit from cheaper products, with all tariffs eliminated within five years and tariffs on cars, whiskey and the UK's other main exports eliminated immediately. The UK will liberalise Australian imports with 99 per cent of Australian goods, including Australian wine and short- and medium-grain milled rice entering the UK duty-free when the agreement enters into force. All other tariffs will be eliminated by 2015.

Another change will mean that working holiday-makers from the UK will be exempt from the requirement to work in a regional industry like agriculture to secure a subsequent year visa. The Nationals understand that this would result in a massive supply gap of harvest workers if a solution is not developed. That's why I'm so pleased that the Nationals have secured a new seasonal agricultural worker visa to meet the supply shortfall and create a more sustainable supply of agricultural labour. I've been calling for a seasonal agricultural visa for some time now. This visa will allow producers to get the right workers in the right place at the right time. The seasonal agricultural worker visa will allow workers from ASEAN countries—Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, among others—to come to Australia for seasonal work for nine months a year, three years in a row, for skilled and unskilled positions. Many growers have expressed to me their preference for workers from ASEAN countries, who they find ideally suited for the horticultural industry in Mallee. One farmer, Ian McAllister, told me today that they are passionate and dedicated workers and he loves having them on farm.

This visa has been achieved through collaboration between industry and government. Our local industries have made it very clear to me that a sustainable source of labour is crucial to their survival. At every step of the way, I've repeated their concerns to my colleagues in government and fought for this reform. The creation of an agricultural visa was a recommendation of the report into the Growing Agriculture to $100 billion by 2030 inquiry by the standing committee on ag and water resources. As a member of the committee, I pushed hard for the inclusion of this particular recommendation, drawing from the close consultation I've had with industry. I understand that this visa will help local producers in Mallee.

I'm thankful for the engagement of local growers and peak bodies, including the Australian Table Grape Association, Citrus Australia and the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance. Ultimately their feedback is what led me to push so hard for this visa. I also know that this visa is widely supported by the National Party as a whole. At the 2021 federal conference I raised a motion recommending the creation of an ag visa which was carried unopposed. The Commonwealth government will have the new visa in place before the end of 2021. This is a great result for Mallee farmers.

There are further reforms that I wish to pursue. I want to see labour hire licensing reforms at a national level to rein in corrupt labour hire contractors who continue to dodge the patchwork of existing state regulations. I'm also calling for a one-off status resolution for undocumented workers in horticulture. This is an ambitious goal, but my feeling is that the debate on this topic has shifted. COVID-19 has provided a paradigm shift in how horticulture is viewing this issue.

I am eager to support the ongoing sustainability of the agriculture sector in Australia. This government has demonstrated its commitment to the agriculture industry in the 2021 Commonwealth budget and continues to do so through the changes outlined in the bill before the House.

5:04 pm

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

I stand to speak to the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 and the shadow minister's amendment. Labor recognises the immense value of strong and reliable biosecurity for Australian agriculture. We on this side know that strong and reliable biosecurity is vital for agricultural production and exports. Yet I also stand today with a damning truth: for eight years this government has demonstrated a complete lack of engagement with Australian biosecurity. This was evidenced just last week in a damning report from the Australian National Audit Office.

On June 7 this year, the ANAO found that the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment compliance framework was largely inappropriate. It found that the department's arrangements to respond to noncompliance with biosecurity requirements were largely inappropriate. It found shortcomings in record keeping, random inspections and the department's ability to detect and act on noncompliance. The report concluded:

There is no current plan to guide the department's biosecurity regulation, and the department is unable to demonstrate it has effectively implemented key reform plans.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but the Morrison government has already demonstrated how little it cares about biosecurity. We saw that just today and this week. You need only look at the complete reluctance to act on the mouse plague that is sweeping our eastern states. My Tasmanian colleague the member for Franklin, the shadow agriculture minister, has exposed the fact that the Morrison government has no intention of implementing a national response to the plague, which is devastating farmers' incomes and regional communities. Three times now my colleague the member for Franklin has put a motion to this parliament to encourage the government to act. Three times this government has shut her down, not even prepared to have the debate.

What instead occurred was a bizarre rant from the Acting Prime Minister, who today unleashed on activists and declared the mice should be 're-homed into their inner city apartments so they can nibble away at their food and their feet at night and scratch their children at night.' What on earth is going on? Why would the Acting Prime Minister, the Leader of the National Party, make light of a nationwide plague and a biosecurity hazard while his agriculture minister sits on his hands and continues the Morrison government's legacy of buck-passing? Labor knows that a national response to this crisis is needed, so, while Labor supports this bill, we have a duty to call out the government's ongoing failure to properly address biosecurity.

Australian agriculture is worth $60 billion, and we all want it to get to $100 billion by 2030. It's a shared goal across parliament. It's an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Australians and keeps all of us fed—some of us better than others! It's a core industry in my electorate.

Mr Pasin interjecting

I'll take that interjection, Member for Barker. It's a core industry in my electorate, which covers 51 per cent of Tasmania and includes some of our state's most vibrant and productive farmlands. Agricultural production is what keeps us moving forward as a state and as a nation. We are a nation built on the sheep's back, but we aren't just producing for our own domestic consumption. Exports provide billions of dollars in revenue each year, and those exports put money in the pockets of regional families. That's food on the table, kids in schools and a roof over families' heads.

Tourism—particularly regional tourism—is another core driver of our state's economy. It contributes significantly to Tasmania's economy, especially in communities in my electorate, and it puts money back into the hands of small, locally owned businesses. It is biosecurity that underpins the ongoing success and prosperity of both agricultural and regional tourism.

We all know the risks of mismanaging and under-resourcing biosecurity. Few in Tasmania will have forgotten the fruit fly incursion that wreaked havoc on our agriculture sector in 2018. An outbreak detected in northern Tasmania led to millions of dollars being poured into last-minute biosecurity, with restriction zones imposed to prevent spread. The eradication program was tough on the sector but preferable to the impact of fruit fly ever establishing itself in our state. The Liberal government in Tasmania is keen to make people forget the fact that, in the years prior to the outbreak, it had cut Tasmania's biosecurity budget. It was a foolish and short-sighted decision and one they came to regret.

The fruit fly outbreak as well as other pest incursions, such as white spot, show how easily Australian agricultural wealth can be put at risk. This is a message that should have been heard loud and clear by the Morrison government, yet it seems to be constantly turning a blind eye or a neglectful ear to properly resourcing Australia's biosecurity. It seems intent on staying in the slow lane. We all remember the last few years and the lack of speed at which they rolled out the recommendations of the Craik review, only to abandon them in the end and then come up with a last-minute save in this year's budget.

Just look at the Morrison government's response to the mouse plague. On this side, we recognise the real danger this plague presents. New South Wales farmers say it could wipe $1 billion off the value of winter crops. It's no laughing matter. I don't know how to describe it—$1 billion off the national revenue and there is no national response from this government. The incompetence and neglect are difficult to fathom. Farmers in regional communities are desperate for help.

The New South Wales agriculture minister, a National Party MP, has called for the federal government to 'come to the table and help'. On May 31, Adam Marshall told the Weekly Times: 'It was incredibly disappointing to hear the Commonwealth admit they have no national response and throw their hands up as our regions face this problem.' Mr Marshall has written to this government to ask for assistance, but his request has been ignored. This government's response? Today the Acting Prime Minister said that Marshall didn't attend a meeting—whatever that means.

At Senate estimates, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, told senators 'at this stage' there would be no national response. He said:

… the very longstanding arrangements are that each state and territory is responsible for pest and animal management within its jurisdiction.

…   …   …

it's their job and they should get on with it.

There's a departmental secretary talking about the difference between national and state responsibility, yet we've seen over the past year just how much this federal government is willing to buck-pass to the states on just about everything—quarantine, vaccines, everything. Mr Metcalfe also said:

Mice arrived with the First Fleet, and we've had mice plagues roughly every four years since the 1870s, so it's not a new phenomenon …

This government lets the mice run rampant and passes the buck, again. It's an unsurprising response from a government that takes no responsibility for anything: 'I don't hold a mouse trap, mate.' They're happy to take the credit but they just don't want to do the work. This plague has run for more than 10 months and it is crippling the drought recovery. These pests are devouring new crops and destroying machinery. Mice are biting people in their beds. People have been hospitalised. It's sickening. It's deadly serious. It deserves more than derision from those opposite, and the heavy lifting has been left to the state governments. One billion dollars is at stake, and it's all been left to the states. So much for all those Liberals and Nationals who claim to represent regional Australia. Their neglect at the national level is destroying the lives of people on the land.

Many farmers are losing most, if not all, of their first big crop since 2017 to this plague, and regional homes and businesses desperately need help. The government must develop a national plan to address this crisis. The government's not responsible for the mouse plague. We know it has natural causes. But this government is responsible for coming up with a national plan to help address it. It's a real biosecurity issue. Failing to come up with a national plan only furthers this government's legacy of inaction and incompetence. Remember 2016, when an outbreak of white spot disease devastated prawn farms in South-East Queensland, causing an estimated $50 million in production and associated losses? Remember 2019, when disgraced prawn outfit EB Ocean pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching the Biosecurity Act, for hindering inspections and storing prawns outside of the biosecurity area, but was fined just $80,000? The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has shown no transparency and has declined to answer specific questions about EB Ocean. Even now, the department is considering proposals to allow lime imports from Mexico, where there has been a recent outbreak of citrus canker. Australia was only recently declared free of citrus canker, following an outbreak in 2018. That cost our country more than $19 million.

The bill before us today seeks to increase the maximum financial penalties, both civil and criminal, that can be imposed for a number of offences that are already subject to penalties under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Labor supports strong penalties to deter people from putting Australia's biosecurity at risk. People cannot expect to walk through airport security with bags of uncooked pork and jeopardise our billion-dollar pork industry, which happened twice in 2019 under the Morrison government. But penalties cannot be the only instrument. We must do more to ensure that Australian biosecurity is strong and reliable on every front. Australian farmers have been put at risk by this government maintaining an under-resourced and underfunded biosecurity system. It's a system that is the last defence for industries worth billions of dollars to the Australian economy. This bill does nothing to better detect and identify pests and diseases that may be making their way into Australia. That's a significant deficiency. The bill does nothing to improve the capabilities of Australian biosecurity to ensure that Australia never faces a situation that puts at risk the billions of dollars made through our agricultural production, export and tourism industries.

Australians deserve better. Farmers deserve better. We deserve biosecurity that is capable of protecting Australia's assets. This government has all the tools available to it to provide strong and reliable biosecurity, and it's got a willing opposition. We're willing to stand with those opposite on biosecurity. They just aren't utilising these tools. Australia deserves a government that gives a rat's about biosecurity.

5:16 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I came to the chamber determined to tune out, but unfortunately I tuned in. I tuned in to the member for Lyons, who I have a high regard for, as I do for all members of this place, including those opposite, but this attempt by the Labor Party to throw scorn on the federal government on account of the mouse plague is patently ridiculous. In the middle of a one-in-100-year global pandemic and the recession caused by the herculean recovery that we have been through as a nation—guided so expertly by the Prime Minister, with the support of every single Australian—I appreciate that the Labor Party really do need to grasp at straws, but they should give up on this one. I think tomorrow at question time they'll all turn up with Mickey Mouse headsets on. Quite frankly, that's how laughable this has become.

The member for Lyons knows, as you do, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, as I do and as anyone listening to this broadcast does—particularly those poor people dealing with the mouse plague—that the responsibility for plagues and pests rests with state governments. That is as it should be, and I wish all the very best to the people dealing with that plague. But to come in here and try to get some political mileage out of it—and I'm not necessarily just targeting this at the member for Lyons. I know he's been given his orders, because we come here, day after day, and member after member seems to make that contribution. It's patently ridiculous. It's almost as ridiculous as PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—intervening earlier on in this phenomenon and suggesting that people should be catching and releasing these poor mice. I'm happy for people to catch them. I just don't want them released in my house or anywhere near it. They need to be dealt with appropriately, and they need to be gotten rid of, not relocated. That's how patently ridiculous this campaign to throw scorn is, and the people of Australia look straight through it. I know the good constituents of Lyons understand that, and the member should perhaps think twice about trying to hoodwink them into believing this is in some way the responsibility of the federal government.

In any event, I rise to speak on a matter of great importance that impacts primary producers in my electorate of Barker. Biosecurity is one of Australia's great advantages. We're an island nation. We're obviously an island continent. Our biosecurity prevention is the envy of nations across the world and provides us with a strategic advantage, but we can't take that advantage for granted. Like most Australians, I'm concerned about the egregious breaches and flaunting of biosecurity, as seen on the popular TV show Border Security. When I catch a bit of this on television, I cannot stop watching it, because I can't understand how people could believe that they could make that declaration, and then, when you open up their suitcase, it's full of plant material, cooked pork, uncooked pork—particularly given that these border entrance cards are provided in any language that people seek. In any event, our biosecurity must be bolstered. It always must be. The importance of such protections can't be overstated.

We've seen through COVID-19 that viruses can have catastrophic impacts. It's not just human viruses that are of concern, of course. We also ought to be concerned about any and all diseases and pests that are foreign to our shores that can impact our capacity to produce livestock and maintain, in the case of my electorate, forestry and fishing stocks as well. Some of the diseases of concern—and these might send a shiver down the spine of some of my constituents listening who are heavily invested in these industries—are foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, avian influenza, anthrax, Hendra virus and rabies. I could list them all, but I won't. Our biosecurity laws have prevented the destruction of our agricultural sector, a fate suffered by many nations across the world, whether it be mad cow disease in the UK, or African swine fever which has led to eight million pigs being destroyed in China. I don't know what eight million pigs amounts to, but I think that's more pork then you can fly a rocket ship over.

Our capacity to produce agriculture is a vital national asset, and any reduction has long-lasting impacts. Jobs and businesses impacted would include our world-class abattoirs, our value-adding businesses in food manufacturing and our regional hubs that service our agricultural regions. They wouldn't survive if they didn't service our primary industries. In real terms, our biosecurity underpins $65 billion in agricultural output. Of course, we've got an aim to get that to $100 billion, and we won't do that unless we protect these industries from biosecurity risk. There's $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion in inbound tourism, each a vital contributor to jobs growth, particularly in my electorate.

I go to forestry. In my electorate of Barker, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, we have a vibrant forestry industry. As a co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Forestry Industries I know that across the nation there is concern about the many biosecurity threats that this industry faces. These measures will help protect the forest industry and the tens of thousands of people employed in that sector across Australia. It will protect them from pests such as the Japanese sawyer beetle, commonly known as the Japanese pine sawyer. These pests, if they were to find their way into our forest estates, would wreak havoc by carrying nematodes from infested trees to new host trees—disastrous. These pests have been kept at bay, but the risk is ever present, and just one sawyer beetle can kill a healthy tree within months. Imagine that. The green of the south-east, the forest sector that we rely on—gone in a matter of months. What is concerning is that this is only one of any number of pests that the forest sector is concerned about. These amendments strengthen the Biosecurity Act and are essential in deterring noncompliance, through significant fines and even, I should say, criminal and financial penalties, to protect the livelihoods of the many hundreds of workers in the forestry industry in my electorate and the many tens of thousands across the country.

What, then, about food manufacturers? Australia's agricultural sector provides high-quality local produce. It's the backbone of Australia's food manufacturing. You heard from the minister at question time that my electorate is the one in this place that represents more people actively engaged on a full-time basis in food manufacturing than in any other electorate in the country, so reliant are we on food manufacturing. Given the happy news that emanated overnight from the UK about the UK free trade agreement, we are looking forward to taking advantage of that agreement, but we won't be able to take advantage of that agreement if we don't have a strong biosecurity framework, which this act, of course, bolsters. Whether it's winemakers, meat processors, confectionery or other food manufacturers that add value to already premium produce, these amendments help protect our vibrant manufacturing industry. These legislative improvements do exactly that, and they of course underpin the thousands of jobs throughout my electorate.

I am a livestock guy. I grew up on a farm. Originally we were horticulturists, but more recently we have turned to livestock. Livestock and the agricultural industry more broadly are industries that are at direct risk from biosecurity breaches. Any breach to biosecurity may kill off livestock, ruin our green credentials, prevent exports, potentially drastically reduce the capacity to produce stock and reduce the value of that stock. Like in many regional electorates, the livestock industry is a major employer in Barker. Some 4,000 people work in the livestock industry and some 10,000 or so work in agriculture directly. This doesn't even go to those who are employed indirectly in these sectors. This significant employer also supports many thousands of indirect jobs. For Australia to reach its ambitious stretch target of $100 billion in this industry by 2030, we have to maintain our clean and green reputation. Biosecurity is critically important in that; it underpins it, as I've said previously.

Remaining pest- and disease-free ensures not only are we able to continue producing large amounts of stock but we are able to export that stock and its products as premium products with ease, unlike the import restrictions we place on many goods that are riddled with pests and diseases from overseas. If you want a better example of that then just look to the Riverland in my electorate, a part of South Australia I know you are familiar with, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas. Think about that pest-free status we enjoy in the Riverland and then think of all the other citrus-producing areas in Australia. They don't have that pest-free status and, as a result, those producers incur expense, whether it's by chemical treatment or by cold treatment, in order for them to access these premium markets. In some markets, no matter how you treat fruit fly, those markets simply aren't available to you because a premium is paid for fruit that comes from fruit fly-free regions.

There might be a question about what these legislative changes do. They continue to protect our primary producers with biosecurity amendments rightfully increasing both the civil and the criminal financial penalties. The bill will increase the civil penalty a court can impose from $26,640 to $66,600—talk about an active general deterrent, not to mention a specific one. Where this contravention is committed by a body corporate, the maximum penalty can be five times that now. So, by my quick maths, we are talking about $330,000, a fair whack in anyone's language.

The bill offers significant flexibility to allow courts to respond appropriately, reinforcing the message that breaching the law cannot and must not be seen as being worth the risk. It's just not worth the risk. That's where we have that general deterrent. With the specific deterrent, you will be paying the $330,000 fine as a corporate. But the general deterrent—others are going to know that that is what awaits them should they take the risk. For fault based offences, this is where it gets even stronger. The maximum new penalty under the bill, where a person obtains or may obtain a commercial advantage by importing a prohibited good, is increasing from $444,000 to a whopping $1.11 million. So, if a commercial producer is thinking about smuggling into the country some quantity of seed or plant or other material so as to give themselves a commercial advantage over other Australians in contravention of the law, they can expect to receive a $1.11 million bill. It is simply not worth taking the risk.

Similarly, whenever these offences are committed by a body corporate, a court may impose punishment up to five times the amount. So let's imagine a corporate has done just what I suggested—that is, they've sought a commercial advantage by smuggling into the country an amount of plant material which puts our biosecurity at risk. They are staring down a $5.55 million bill. Like I said, there couldn't be a stronger general deterrent and the specific deterrent would see many of these businesses simply wound up immediately. The increased penalties will send a strong message to would-be offenders: Australia takes biosecurity seriously and is willing to back up our biosecurity regulations with penalties to match—real teeth ensuring that there is appropriate action when it comes to biosecurity risks.

In the time remaining, I'll refer to recent budget announcements in this space. In the budget, our government underscored the importance of the agricultural sector, not by words but by actions, committing a whopping $400 million to build a more secure and resilient biosecurity system to maintain our clean and green reputation. This funding includes strengthening our critical frontline biosecurity resources, human resources, modernising our biosecurity systems, technologies and data analytics to better equip our frontline defences and specific funding for severe threats such as $66 million over two years to prevent African swine fever from entering Australia. This represents a 40 per cent increase in funding from 2012-13 through to the 2019-20 budget period—not including the additional funding in this year's budget—as well as funding $29.2 million for streamlining export processes through the digital export certification management. Biosecurity can be a productive exercise. We can make it more efficient, and that's what that funding does—$11.4 million over four years to accelerate horticulture marketing access, benefiting premium producers like those I mentioned earlier in Riverland in my electorate. This is all targeted at ensuring we maintain our vital primary industries.

The Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 has my full support as it is a win for our regions, a win for the economy, a win for producers, a win for Australian jobs and a complete and utter success for the electorate of Barker.

5:31 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

A strong biosecurity system is critical to Australia's prosperity. Biosecurity laws protect agriculture, tourism, plant and animal health, the environment, and our international market success and access. Indi farmers know that these laws are necessary to allow us to trade and for our economy to thrive. I'd like to spend some time talking about the agricultural industries in Indi that rely on a robust biosecurity system and bills like this one, the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021.

Firstly, I want to turn my attention to the wine industry. North East Victoria has a diversity and an abundance of exceptional wine across numerous wine regions, including the Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Glenrowan, King Valley and Rutherglen. In the 1880s, Rutherglen was one of the world's great wine regions. With more than 3,000 acres of vines spread across 50 recognised vineyards, Rutherglen was producing about a third of all wine in Australia, winning prizes in London, Paris and Bordeaux exhibitions. Rutherglen would continue to prosper well into the 1890s, but local wine growers feared that a scourge would soon be at their door.

Phylloxera, a root-sucking aphid that feeds on the nutrients of the vine, had been detected near Geelong in the late 1870s. At the time, there were no known remedies, and affected vineyards needed to be uprooted and burnt without delay. In May 1889, the news that many had been dreading swept the district: phylloxera had been detected in Rutherglen. The vine disease slowly but surely took hold across the district, decimating vineyard after vineyard and forcing many to turn to other agricultural pursuits or abandon the land altogether. The impact was devastating.

There are no visible warning signs of phylloxera on grapevines. By the time stunted growth and leaf yellowing appear, an infestation can spread through entire properties. Productivity drops as the infestation escalates, and the infected grapevines can be dead within five years. Over a century later, Australian vineyards continue to be highly vulnerable, with 75 per cent of plantings on susceptible rootstock. Containing the spread of phylloxera is a key concern of the Australian wine industry, and biosecurity is the first line of defence.

Research on phylloxera has been conducted at Rutherglen since the early 1900s, following the establishment of a viticultural college there in 1897, and continues to this day. Today, Agriculture Victoria research staff at Rutherglen lead the national research program, supported by investment from Wine Australia. The research program aims to improve containment through effective disinfestation, assess rootstock resistance to different phylloxera strains, and develop new infield diagnostics and more effective surveillance to detect weak spots. Vinehealth Australia also oversees the delivery of biosecurity programs and is doing an excellent job in educating the public to stop the spread of phylloxera. We must continue to invest in biosecurity measures like these. The potential economic consequences are immense. One recent cost-benefit study on phylloxera prevention found a return on investment of up to $9 for every $1 spent. This is critical to the wine industry, which contributes $45.5 billion to the Australian economy each year and nearly 164,000 direct and indirect jobs.

It's not just the sale of wine that important biosecurity measures like this bill protect. It's also the industries that rely on that agricultural production. For places like Indi, that's regional tourism. The Winery Walkabout in Rutherglen is one great example of this. It was meant to be held this weekend past but has been rescheduled to 24 and 25 July due to the COVID restrictions in Victoria. From its humble beginnings in 1974, the Winery Walkabout has grown to be one of the premier wine events on the Australian calendar, attracting thousands of visitors each year. On Sunday I took the opportunity to visit Rutherglen wineries, I spoke with two winemaking families—Mike, Belinda and Joel Chambers of Lake Moodemere winery and Chris and Robyn Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Wines. After tasting some of the many wonderful wines on offer, including the topaque, muscat and apera wines for which Rutherglen is world-famous, I can see why this is an industry we must and desperately wish to protect. Wine sales and new memberships from this event usually account for a significant proportion of total annual income for the many family owned businesses. COVID has hurt these businesses hard, and we should be doing all we can to make sure that biosecurity risks don't make that any worse.

Turning to chestnuts, the local chestnut industry in Indi will also benefit from this bill. Chestnuts are grown in areas that are hot in summer and cold in winter, and over 75 per cent of Australian chestnuts are produced in my electorate of Indi, around the townships of Beechworth, Stanley, Bright, Mount Beauty, Wandiligong and Myrtleford. Chestnut blight is caused by a fungus that grows underneath the bark of chestnut and oak trees, resulting in cankers that surround the infected trunk or branch. Once a tree is infected it will eventually die. Chestnut blight was first detected in Australia near Eurobin in the Ovens Valley in September 2010. Another outbreak occurred in 2014. Despite extensive efforts to eradicate the exotic plant disease, it remains present in Victoria and in 2019 was labelled 'difficult to eradicate'. The industry is leading its own long-term management plan to make sure chestnut blight stays at bay, and this bill will help in those efforts too.

Piggeries will also benefit from this bill. In 2018 the world saw an outbreak of African swine fever in China. Within a single year it had killed an estimated 25 per cent of the world's pig population. Concerningly, in recent months we've heard news that a second wave of African swine fever is estimated to have killed as many as eight million pigs in China since the start of the year, just as the country is aiming to rebuild its national herd. African swine fever spreads rapidly via infected pork, stock or products. The introduction of the disease to Australia has the potential to devastate businesses such as Rivalea, which produces stockfeed and pork for both the domestic and export markets and employs more than 1,200 people across Victoria and southern New South Wales. We must do everything we can to prevent its spread. Increasing penalties is one deterrent, but we could be doing a whole lot more.

One area where we could be doing more is at the intersection of climate change, habitat loss and animal health—animal-human health, indeed. Changing temperatures, bushfires, drought and loss of habitat all drive wildlife, feral animals and insect vectors into new areas and closer contact with domestic animal and human populations, bringing existing diseases to areas where they were previously unknown and new diseases to the fore. In 1994 for example, Hendra virus was first described at a location outside Brisbane. Moving from flying foxes to horses, the virus can then pass to humans and, with a 60 per cent fatality rate in infected people, poses a huge risk to veterinarians, horse owners and workers in the equine industries. Changing environmental conditions have seen this disease move steadily southwards, with a detection seen as far down as the Hunter Valley in New South Wales in 2019, which I know would be of interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon. Biosecurity events like this one will become even more frequent due to climate change. An increase in penalties may deter some would-be criminals but it won't stop climate change.

Finally, I'd like to welcome the in-principle free trade agreement with the UK overnight. Biosecurity protection measures are essential to free trade. The agreement will provide additional access and expand export opportunities for farmers in north-east Victoria, who produce high-quality beef, dairy, sheepmeat and wine. The UK is a relatively small but important market for beef and sheepmeat. Over time, the FTA will help to expand export opportunities and provide additional options for our producers. I encourage the government to work harder to secure, for our beef, greater access into the European Union, which has fallen away in recent times. This important market needs to be rebuilt. The wine industry has recently taken a massive hit from China, after they imposed tariffs on Australian wine in November 2020. Australia exports 36 per cent, by volume, of wine to the United Kingdom. The FTA will improve our competitive position and put more money into the pockets of winemakers in my region, which will allow them to invest further in their businesses. But we can't have any of this without strong biosecurity measures. This bill is a pretty basic way to achieve that, but there's so much more that we could be doing, especially when it comes to climate change and biosecurity risks, and I call on the government to do much, much more in that space.

5:41 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to conclude debate on the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021. This bill will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to provide stronger civil and criminal penalties for those who expose Australia to biosecurity risks through noncompliance with the act. The bill will increase the maximum financial penalties that apply to a number of civil and criminal penalty provisions across the Biosecurity Act, and the increased civil penalties will serve as a deterrent to anybody considering undermining our biosecurity laws and thereby our fruit growers, farmers and other people who make a living in this sector. The criminal penalties will allow appropriate and proportionate punishment for offences under the Biosecurity Act. The penalty amounts in this bill more appropriately reflect the impact that contraventions may have on Australia's biosecurity status, market access and economy than the current penalty regime. Deterring noncompliance with the Biosecurity Act will help maintain Australia's favourable biosecurity status and protect our $71.2 billion agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries and valuable and unique environmental assets. Back home in my electorate, I think of all the fruit growers, and the beautiful forests in places like Dwellingup, in the Perth Hills, that need protecting. This bill will do just that. This is particularly important in anticipation of growing biosecurity risks, with anticipated growth in international trade and travel. The member for Indi just mentioned the in-principle FTA with the United Kingdom, a great boon for our economy. Given that this will protect our growers from biosecurity risks as the economy recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I commend this 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 Franklin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.