Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:24 am

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021. This bill is about sending a clear message to individuals and companies that put at risk Australia's $61 billion agriculture industry and over $1 trillion in environmental assets by contravening the Biosecurity Act.

A strong biosecurity system is critical to Australia's prosperity. Remembering that we are a trading nation, we need to protect our trade at all times. Our biosecurity laws protect agriculture, tourism and other industries, plant and animal health, the environment and our market access. They are necessary to allow us to trade and for our nation to continue to thrive.

Agriculture continues to be one of the nation's economic powerhouses, despite the effects of droughts, floods, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world recovers from COVID-19, it won't be business as usual. Trade has changed forever and will be more competitive than ever. Keeping Australia free from pests and diseases is key to maintaining Australian agriculture's clean and green status.

The government's 2021-22 budget announcement of $400 million of new funding for biosecurity confirms this government's longstanding commitment to safeguarding Australia from exotic pests and diseases before they reach our shores. These biosecurity measures introduced by the Australian government will deliver lower costs for producers and support market access. Effective biosecurity systems, aligned to the whole of government initiatives for simplified trade and reopening our international borders, benefit Australia's trade and travel supply chains. We are stepping up our resourcing and our efforts to stop pests and diseases such as African swine fever, khapra beetle or foot and mouth disease establishing in Australia and potentially devastating our livestock, crops and, more importantly, our total environment.

On average over 2.5 million shipping containers arrive in Australia each year. We are improving the arrangements for clearance and risk management, which will have substantial benefits for government and importers. We will ensure Australia's biosecurity system supports our agricultural sector to contribute to both Australia's national economic recovery and industry progress towards its goal of $100 billion in value by 2030. We are addressing increasing global threats by better anticipating and interpreting risks, enabling the rapid detection of pests and diseases before they reach Australia.

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. The increased civil penalty amounts will more effectively deter noncompliance with the act and provide a proportionate regulatory response. Increased amounts for criminal financial penalties will provide appropriate punishment for those who jeopardise Australia's biosecurity status by breaking the law.

A large number of pests and diseases currently pose a high risk to Australia's biosecurity in an increasingly complex import environment. In late 2020, we had several detections of the khapra beetle that I mentioned previously, including in packaging for refrigerators and in highchairs sold to consumers. We are currently seeing the emergence overseas of a new variant of African swine fever, which we must protect our nation against. Although African swine fever has not been detected in Australia due to our strong biosecurity controls at our borders, either variant could have a devastating impact on our pork industry and associated businesses within that industry. The potential entry and establishment of these pests and diseases is an ever-present threat to the livelihoods of farmers and associated industry participants.

In the face of these kinds of 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. Growth in national trade and travel as the economy recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to increase such threats, making it critical that the increased penalties are in force as soon as possible to send a strong message that breaching Australia's biosecurity laws is not worth any potential commercial gain. Breaching Australia's biosecurity laws can have serious consequences for the country's biosecurity status, market access, and plant, animal and public health. The economy and the environment are all at risk. It is critical that the penalties for individuals in companies who choose not to follow the law are appropriate and adequate.

This bill will amend the Biosecurity Act to increase the maximum financial penalty that a court could impose for noncompliance with certain requirements under the act. It will increase the penalties for specified civil penalty provisions to deter noncompliance and increase criminal penalties to provide appropriate and proportionate punishment in the sentencing of offenders. The increased penalties relate to the assessment and management of biosecurity risks of goods that are brought or imported into Australian territory and the carrying out of biosecurity activities in accordance with an approved arrangement.

This bill increases the number of civil penalties that a court could impose from 120 penalty units to 300 penalty units or, in dollar terms, from $26,640 to $66,000, such as for contraventions relating to the assessment of biosecurity risks—for example, failing to comply with a direction not to move goods under section 128. Where the contravention is committed by a corporation or a body corporate, the maximum penalty may be up to five times this amount. This is because the corporate multiplier can apply penalties to bodies corporate under the Biosecurity Act because of the operation of section 82 of the regulatory powers.

The targeted increase to civil penalties in this bill will offer the flexibility to respond proportionately to those individuals and companies who should be aware of their obligations under the act. The increased civil penalties will deter noncompliance with the Biosecurity Act so that breaching the law cannot be seen just as part of the cost of doing business. Otherwise, it's not worth the risk. The Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 will ensure that the maximum penalties available to the courts reflect the profit and gain that individuals and businesses might believe they could obtain or seek to obtain by breaking the law. The increase of criminal penalties for fault based offences will allow for the proportionate and appropriate punishment for offences under the Biosecurity Act that align with maximum penalties across the key provisions.

This bill does not add any additional administrative burden on industry, which is very important, or introduce any new civil penalty provisions for criminal offences; it strengthens the existing penalties under specified provisions of the Biosecurity Act. I commend the bill to the Senate.


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