House debates

Tuesday, 1 August 2023


Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023; Second Reading

4:43 pm

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

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of the Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023, and I rise to offer the bill my wholehearted support.

This critical legislation reflects the unwavering commitment of the Albanese Labor government to establish a sustainable and long-term funding model for biosecurity in Australia. The Albanese Labor government is delivering on its election commitment to introduce a long-term sustainable funding model for biosecurity. In recent times we have witnessed an alarming rise in biosecurity risks driven by various factors, such as evolving trade and travel patterns; changing land use; declining biodiversity; global disruptions; and the undeniable impact of climate change. In addition to these challenges, illegal activities and the increasing presence of significant exotic plant, environment and animal pests and diseases in our region have only exacerbated the issue.

Australia Post handled 35 million parcels coming into the country last year, and departmental officers discovered 32,800 biosecurity risk items among them. This alarming figure clearly demonstrates the scale of noncompliance with biosecurity regulations that we must address and protect Australia, and Australians, from. Earlier this year, biosecurity officers executed one of Australia largest single biosecurity detections with Operation Avoca. Operation Avoca uncovered 38 tonnes of prohibited goods, including turtle meat, frog meat, pork, beef, avian products, raw prawns and, I believe, a frozen donkey. It was all successfully intercepted by our dedicated biosecurity officers.

Such instances of noncompliance underscore the urgent need for advanced compliance measures to safeguard Australia's biosecurity. The message has to go out loud and clear. Obviously, this is an organised criminal enterprise, but, to people who think they can sneak in a bit of pork meat in their suitcase, or whatever the case may be: if you put Australia's biosecurity at risk, you are a criminal and you will face the full sanction of the law. You shouldn't be able to argue that you didn't know. All the paperwork is there. All the documentation is there when you come into the country, in many languages. There is no excuse for putting Australia's biosecurity at risk.

The devastating consequences of biosecurity breaches to our public health and our vulnerable populations, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19, cannot be ignored. A robust and adequately funded biosecurity system is essential to protect our nation from potential pests and disease outbreaks. This measure will safeguard our national economy; protect vital industries, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry; support regional communities; and preserve the unique Australian environment. Effective deterrents to noncompliance with Australia's biosecurity laws are particularly relevant post the height of the pandemic—or the former pandemic—during which noncompliance may have had significant impacts on Australia's public health and vulnerable populations. Strong and sustainable funded biosecurity is essential to protect Australia from potentially devastating pest and disease outbreaks, and safeguard our national economy, our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries, our regional communities and, of course, our unique Australian environment.

Biosecurity is especially important for my home state of Tasmania, which has some of the world's—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 16 : 47 to 16 : 59

Biosecurity is especially important for my home state of Tasmania, which has some of the world's strictest biosecurity requirements. The focus of biosecurity in Tasmania is on keeping out the pests and diseases that are found on the mainland but not in Tassie, helping to protect my island's primary industries, economy and environment.

The bill before the House amends the Biosecurity Act 2015 to ensure that the legislation is fit for purpose in managing emerging biosecurity risks and that penalties reflect the seriousness of offences. Penalty options should reflect the significant long-term economic, social and agricultural industry impacts of contravention of Australia's biosecurity rules. As I said before, we should make no apologies for coming down hard and strong on people who put Australia's biosecurity at risk and who flagrantly disregard this country's biosecurity laws.

Specifically, the measures in the bill will ensure that the penalties available under the Biosecurity Act are an effective deterrent against these actions and will enable a more proportionate response to noncompliance that puts Australia's human, plant and animal health at risk. I think I remember seeing something in the media about how under Operation Avoca, which I referred to, those who are being charged with those offences could face something like 10 years in prison or more than $1 million in fines. That's the magnitude of what we're talking about with these criminal enterprises.

The amendments in this bill are necessary to advance Australia's biosecurity laws to enable targeted intervention and effective and proportionate responses to behaviour that may have significant and lasting biosecurity impacts. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, for example, would have an estimated direct economic impact over 10 years of around $80 billion. An outbreak of lumpy skin disease would result in an estimated market loss of $7.39 billion per annum across a range of commodities and markets. Tasmania's $12.8 million honey industry was put at risk earlier this year following the discovery of the small hive beetle in the north-west of Tasmania.

Tasmania unapologetically relies on some of the strongest biosecurity requirements in the country to protect our farmers and fishers and the Tasmanian economy. Our island's geographical isolation and distinct climate serve as natural barriers to some biosecurity risks, but the introduction of invasive species remains one of the most significant threats to our delicate ecosystem. My electorate is a farming electorate, spanning more than half the state—the best half, as I like to say, including some of the best of Tasmania's farming lands.

Thank you, Member for Casey. I think you came up with that. Lyons is renowned for our high-quality livestock, horticulture and crop produce. The products we grow are shipped across Australia and the world. Our agricultural quality is second to none and is world-leading. We supply premium beef, dairy products, lamb, wool and so much more.

Importantly, agriculture, seafood and value-adding are major contributors to the Tasmanian economy. The Tasmanian Agri-Food ScoreCard released late last year reported the gross value of Tasmanian agriculture at $2.34 billion. Tasmania's ag sector directly employs three per cent of the total workforce and creates a range of downstream employment opportunities. A strong biosecurity system is essential to the Tasmanian economy, environment and business. I take this opportunity to thank the dedicated Biosecurity Tasmania workers—not just the Commonwealth workers but the Biosecurity Tasmania workers—including our famous four-legged officers, who greet many visitors at airports and do their best to keep our industry and state safe from biosecurity threats.

The significance of Australia's biosecurity network cannot be overstated. Biosecurity is fundamental to protecting Australia's international agricultural trade and our fisheries and forestry jobs and to keeping our regional, rural and remote communities strong. It helps keep the bugs out. The significance of Australia's biosecurity and what it protects includes $96 billion in agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries; $79.3 billion in exports; $5.7 trillion in environmental assets; $46.5 billion, and growing, in GDP from tourism; 87,800 farms; and 1.6 million jobs across the agricultural supply chain in Australia.

The Australian government is investing more than $1 billion in new funding over the next four years and more than $260 million per year every after that to strengthen our biosecurity system. The new funding is locked in and is permanent. This investment will protect and grow our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries in a way that's fairer, more equitable and more accountable than ever before. We all have skin in this game. We all contribute to biosecurity because we all benefit from it.

With this legislation, we are paving the way for a biosecurity system that remains agile and adaptable to present and future challenges. A strengthened advisory framework will not only deliver better economic outcomes for our producers and related industries but also protect Australia's rich environment assets and biodiversity while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our people.

We need and deserve a biosecurity system that keeps pace with today's needs and prepares for the threats of tomorrow, because we all know that, no matter what safeguards we put in place, there will always be some joker out there trying to game the system and trying to get through the nets that we cast over it. The stronger our systems get, the more they'll try to get through them, but we have to be prepared for that. A strengthened biosecurity system not only secures better economic outcomes for producers and related industries; it protects Australia's environment, biodiversity and people. I commend this bill to the House.

5:06 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today in support of the Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023, which updates the Biosecurity Act to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose in managing emerging biosecurity risks and that penalties reflect the seriousness of the offences. I recently spoke to Lyall Grieve, from the Invasive Species Council, and I'm very grateful for the work that they are doing to advocate for strong biosecurity laws and enforcement in Australia.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 17:06 to 17: 17

Biosecurity laws are incredibly important. This is important work, and its success is crucial for Australia's environment, agriculture and economy. Their work is especially important in highlighting the importance of addressing threats to the environment, as well as to agriculture and forestry. This is something that is incredibly important as we strive for a nature-positive environment. That is too often overlooked when we talk of biosecurity. The focus is on agriculture, not on biodiversity loss and the risks to native flora and fauna. Awareness of that link needs to be increased from the minister's perspective.

I don't have to convince this parliament or the Australian people of the significant threat that invasive species, diseases and pests pose to Australia's environment and economy. Our biosecurity system protects our agriculture, forestry and fishery export industries, which are worth some $51 billion; our tourism sector, which is worth $50 billion; our environmental assets, which are worth more than $5.7 trillion; and more than 1.6 million jobs.

Some of the top biosecurity concerns include foot-and-mouth disease, which recently broke out in Indonesian cattle. An outbreak in Australia would cripple the livestock sector, cause immense animal suffering, destroy business for farmers, create food insecurity and have massive trade impacts for Australia.

Another continuing threat is the varroa mite. We're fighting to eradicate it from New South Wales beehives. It is a year since it was first detected in Newcastle and new infestations continue to be discovered. Eradication efforts will continue for at least three years.

Beekeepers in my neighbouring electorate have, sadly, had to euthanise their hives to prevent the spread of this parasite which has already caused tens of millions of dollars of financial loss. The consequences for agriculture and the environment of a significantly reduced bee population are truly scary as well.

Australia is also struggling to contain the spread of red imported fire ants, which were first identified in Brisbane in 2001. When funding to eradicate the ants was prematurely reduced, new incursions led to several new populations spreading. Now, more than 20 years later, Australia is still striving to eliminate red fire ants, and populations have been found in Sydney. If red fire ants become established in Australia, it's projected that it will cost us $1.2 billion, along with more emergency room presentations, loss of the use of outdoor spaces and a 40 per cent reduction in farming output. Fire ants have caused more than 85 deaths in the United States and would have significant impacts on native wildlife.

The discovery in February of myrtle rust, a highly infectious and invasive fungus native to South America, has recently led to nearly 70 per cent of Lord Howe Island being closed to non-essential businesses. Rusts like myrtle rust spread rapidly over thousands of kilometres on wind currents and can cause huge losses in plant production. Myrtle rust on the east coast of Australia has already caused the near extinction of at least three rainforest species. In agriculture, wheat rust has been estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. We've been lucky to date that we've only been subjected to the least dangerous form of the rust.

We need greater assessment of the risk that rusts and insects can pose to our native environment, and we need improved prevention methods against their spread. Right now in Western Australia a borer mite is spreading, and, if this gets to the east coast, it would have a devastating impact. It impacts a wide variety of native species, including Moreton Bay figs. Imagine Sydney's iconic parks, like the Botanic Garden or Hyde Park, without those glorious trees.

It would also be difficult for Australians to forget the consequences of failing to prevent early human biosecurity breaches during the COVID pandemic. We have become all too well aware of the importance of that. A report by the Inspector-General of Biosecurity in relation to the Ruby Princess cruise ship prompted many of the amendments to the Biosecurity Act proposed by this bill. It was identified that the Biosecurity Act needed to be amended to provide greater flexibility in managing human biosecurity risks and provide greater penalties for breaches.

Biosecurity threats to Australia continue to grow each year. Australia is home to a unique and fragile natural environment, and protecting it requires consistent adaptation and updating of our biosecurity practices. Threats to Australia's agriculture industry from pests and the like are extremely important and well publicised. However, it's equally important to remember that our natural environment is at risk from biosecurity threats as well. As we move towards rebuilding Australia's environment and meeting our climate targets for 2030, it's extremely important that our government remains focused on our environment. It's fragile, it's unique and, in many areas, it's already under strain from the effects of climate change, so we must ensure that our biosecurity laws and processes are geared towards protecting the environment as much as agriculture.

Since the year 2000, Australia has recorded 136 incursions by 106 invasive species. These are species established in the wild that have been assessed as environmental invaders or noted as potentially having an environmental impact. The continuing increase in global trade and tourism, and climate change exacerbate the risk of new incursions and the spread of existing pests and diseases.

I commend the government for strengthening the Biosecurity Act with these proposed amendments. But it's also vital that adequate resources be allocated to the identification and eradication of biosecurity risks, and enforcement of penalties. The funding needs to be ongoing and sustainable to safeguard our agricultural sector and ensure our natural environment is protected. Powers of enforcement and increased penalties will be useless if there are inadequate resources for contingency planning, surveillance programs, research, and the policing of biosecurity.

Threats to biosecurity must be treated as seriously as cyberthreats. A systemic program which includes key performance indicators for compliance programs also should be introduced. In this regard, I support the position of the Invasive Species Council that the cost of biosecurity services should be primarily borne by risk creators—for example, the importers of exotic plants and animals. We must also strengthen environmental biosecurity capacity, resourcing and focus so that they are at the same level as those for agriculture. So I urge the government to strengthen Australia's biosecurity by ensuring it is properly resourced and securely funded across all areas, and for the natural environment as well as for agriculture.

5:25 pm

Photo of Aaron VioliAaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition is supporting the Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023 because a strong and robust biosecurity system is crucial to protecting Australia against the threat of pests and diseases. It is also largely supported by industry. Australia's diverse ecosystem and agricultural industries are the envy of the world. Our produce and exports put us on the map globally while simultaneously supporting livelihoods and enriching our economy. This wouldn't have been the case without strong biosecurity laws protecting our growers and producers, and setting our nation up for success. This bill seeks to amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to update our national biosecurity regulation framework—in particular, the compliance measures.

Australia has enjoyed, and enjoys, a reputation for clean, healthy and disease-free agricultural production systems through our natural advantage of geographical location. Tourism and international trade have become two of our greatest strengths, but they don't come without risks. With each aircraft, vessel, cargo ship, truck or delivery comes risks that we must mitigate for the sake of our crops and our environment. Strong biosecurity laws are absolutely essential to create thriving industries and a thriving economy. They hold particular importance in my electorate of Casey, which is home to wine producers, horticulturalists, organic producers, large agricultural farms and permaculture—just some examples. These producers aren't just putting food on the table and plants in the gardens of many Australians; many operate on a global scale and export to the world. The agricultural industries of the Yarra Valley are a vital pillar of our local economy and community. We have a proud agricultural heritage and, over time, our rich red soil, diverse climate and natural resources have seen our region flourish as a significant agricultural corner of the nation.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Montague, in a corner of my electorate. I'm sure you've all heard about and enjoyed a JAZZ apple—if you have, they've come from Montague. I met with Scott to tour their incredible facility, where they're using state-of-the-art technology to ensure the very best produce for consumers. They export premium stone fruit and apples all around the world, right through South-East Asia and the north of Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Canada. Biosecurity is paramount for Montague, both in terms of keeping pests out and ensuring that our Aussie produce is held in the highest esteem in international markets. Other countries value working with nations like Australia to prioritise biosecurity, reducing their risk of trade disruption, disease and illness. Our regulations have ensured access to international markets without the burden of restrictions and the disruption of trade barriers.

I also recently had the privilege of visiting Yarra Valley Dairy, another major exporter in my electorate, and Yarra Valley ECOSS, a small permaculture farm focused on sustainability and organics.

It's clear, when driving through my electorate and looking at the strawberry farms, the vineyards, the dairies, the organic producers, the crops and the rolling hills, that we have an important role to play in protecting our landscape and our local industries. This bill will continue to strengthen our position by making a number of updates to biosecurity regulations. This follows a similar track record, where changes have been made consistently to the act since its inception in 2015 to ensure the strongest protections for biosecurity risks. It is vital that biosecurity arrangements are continually improved, given the potential impact of noncompliance on our environment, our economy and our way of life.

The first suite of changes relates to people coming in on aircraft or vessels. The Director of Biosecurity will have the power to seek information for the purpose of assessing the risk associated with a person and to request classes of persons to produce a passport or travel document to assess their biosecurity risk. These documents can be retained for as long as necessary to reduce risks, and there are penalties for failure to comply with certain requirements, including for operators of aircraft or vessels.

Importantly, the bill will increase civil penalties where a person gives false or misleading information knowing that the information or document is misleading. This is an important provision, because those who purposely provide false information are risking Australia's human, plant and animal health, which could have drastic impacts on our industries and our economy.

Schedule 4 allows for infringement notices to be given in situations of low-level offences where there is currently no way of deterring them other than prosecution or civil litigation. This will ensure all situations of noncompliance are met with the law, to strictly uphold our standards for biosecurity. The last thing we need is importers seeing noncompliance as a cost of doing business or otherwise worth the risk.

In my community of Casey, we are home to Fleming's Nurseries, one of the largest nurseries in the country. The company has grown from strength to strength out of the rich red soils of Monbulk at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges. I recently had an opportunity to meet with Daniel and Leanne from Fleming's. They raised a number of concerns in regard to biosecurity. Their concerns relate in particular to a white paper produced by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. They are deeply concerned about the impact on their business if the changes presented in the white paper are adopted, particularly in relation to food security and future climate and biosecurity risks.

Fleming's have been involved in growing fruit and ornamental trees for over a century. They have imported thousands of new plant varieties into Australia, including many of the fruits available in supermarkets today. For growers like Fleming's, our plant importation process must be robust, easy to navigate and cost-effective for importers, to ensure that all plants are imported through legitimate pathways. Currently, the charge for importing a new variety within a 24-month post-entry quarantine period is almost $10,000. If the changes in the department's report are adopted, this will increase—will more than double—to $25,614. Following release from quarantine, each new variety must be tested for performance under our Australian conditions. On average, only 30 per cent of the varieties imported make it to commercialisation. This compounds the cost and time expense of importation. Fleming's varieties allow Australian growers to compete on the global market, providing jobs and food security to Australia. Their ability to import and test varieties will be significantly impacted if the cost doubles as detailed in the white paper.

The key lesson here is that, while biosecurity is absolutely crucial, we must be careful not to make it impossible for Australian growers to cultivate, import and test. This, too, will have flow-on effects for our economy, food security and forests. If our successful growers become financially incapable of importing and testing new varieties, it will impact our global competitiveness. We must have strong biosecurity laws, but we must also remember the real-world farmers and growers and not hinder the success of their private enterprise. I encourage the Albanese Labor government to consider the impact on Australian growers and consult with industry before making any decisions that could have negative impacts on our economy, on our growers and on our communities.

Similar things could be said of Labor's new farming tax. The coalition introduced the importer container levy to charge importers for the risk they are bringing to our nation. That was common sense. But now Labor has decided to slug farmers with a new tax, forcing them to pay for the biosecurity risks posed by international importers. In essence, they are paying for the risks brought by their competition. This is the type of policy that you could only see under Labor. They don't understand rural Australia, they don't understand farming and they clearly don't understand economics.

Many Australian farmers will be hit with a bill equivalent to 10 per cent of their existing agricultural levies from 1 July next year. In Senate estimates, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was questioned on why the levy was set at a rate of 10 per cent. His answer was that he felt this rate 'was a fair contribution to make'. So, no, it wasn't based on any economic modelling or evidence. It was plucked out of thin air because the minister for agriculture thought it would be a figure that seemed fair. This is a minister for agriculture who has not worked a day in his life in agriculture. As someone whose family came to this country in the fifties with nothing and created a life for themselves through farming, I find it deeply offensive to all the farmers across the country that a minister for agriculture with no experience in agriculture would just decide that he thought it was a fair contribution to make.

So, while we are supporting this bill and will always support strong biosecurity legislation, Labor's track record in biosecurity to date has been a cause for concern. I would encourage the minister to begin consulting with the community and considering the impact on our economy and our farmers before making any further decisions.

5:37 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

The Biosecurity Amendment (Advanced Compliance Measures) Bill 2023 will amend the Biosecurity Act 2015 to enhance the government's regulatory regime. It will strengthen its ability to gather information to both assess and manage biosecurity risk and take noncompliance action against those who jeopardise Australia's biosecurity status by breaking the law. This will be done through new measures that enable biosecurity officers to access certain information from people, including travellers arriving on Australian territory on board international flights or voyages, through the provision of their passports or other travel documents.

The bill will introduce new procedural fairness requirements relating to the variation of approved arrangements and streamline existing notification requirements relating to proposed suspension or revocation of an approved arrangement. Other amendments will introduce the issuing of a written reprimand as an alternative option to other sanctions that may not be effective or appropriate in given circumstances.

The bill will increase pecuniary penalties that apply to specified civil penalty provisions in chapters 2, 7 and 9 of the Biosecurity Act, which deal with managing risks to human health, approved arrangements, and compliance and enforcement. These increased penalties apply to individuals and regulated entities who fail to comply with their obligations under the Biosecurity Act. The increased civil penalties will appropriately reflect the impact that a contravention may have on Australia's biosecurity status. It also serve as a deterrent to anybody considering undermining our biosecurity laws.

The bill will insert new strict liability offences to a range of existing provisions in the Biosecurity Act and allow for infringement notices to be issued in relation to these new offences. This will enable a better targeted response for less serious or less factually complex alleged contraventions of the Biosecurity Act, where existing regulatory action may not be appropriate. Passage of this bill will ensure that the biosecurity regulatory regime is strengthened and capable of more effectively responding to noncompliance, with effective and proportionate responses. It will serve in protecting Australia's animal, plant and human health from new and emerging biosecurity and human biosecurity risks. The bill complements the Albanese government's sustainable funding model for biosecurity.

I note that some speakers have raised concerns about the biosecurity protection levy that the government is introducing. However, it's important to note that the government is also managing risk creators, like importers, who contribute substantially more to biosecurity costs. While some, like the member for Maranoa, continue to talk a lot about making importers pay more—despite him doing nothing when he had the opportunity—the Albanese government has actually done it. Through changes to our biosecurity fees and charges, we've raised around the same amount as would have been raised by the former government's failed biosecurity import levy. Under our model, importers will contribute 48 per cent of all biosecurity costs, compared to 44 per cent under the previous government and around six per cent from producers. Our sustainable funding model locks in higher and permanent biosecurity funding, along with a fair system to pay for it.

Australia's biosecurity system is recognised as among the best in the world. This bill and our new sustainable funding model will ensure that we maintain our reputation as a supplier of high-quality produce, while protecting our farmers, economy and environment from biosecurity risks into the future. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.