Thursday, 1 August 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. Can the minister update the Senate as to how the Nationals and the Liberals in government are backing Australians who choose to back rural and regional Australia by working with new and emerging technologies to improve the detection of biosecurity risks?
Thank you very much, Senator Davey, and thank you for championing rural and regional New South Wales in your time here. Australians are well-known for our innovation and for applying new technologies to develop solutions—the black box flight recorder, the electronic pacemaker, Google Maps, the cochlear implant and the medical application of penicillin, to name just a few. The Liberal-National government is tapping into the fantastic Australian innovation culture and collaboration in many spaces to ensure we continue to manage our ever-increasing biosecurity risk.
We have some of the highest biosecurity standards in the world. But the price of pest- and disease-free status is vigilance and a tough biosecurity regime, which is why we as a government have invested over $300 million in improving and updating our biosecurity over the coming years. Hitchhikers, these terrible pests and pathogens that find their way into vessels, bulk cargo and shipping containers, are a particular focus of our biosecurity attentions. Hitchhikers include pests like the red imported fire ant, the giant African snail, the Asian gypsy moth and the brown marmorated stink bug. Read The New Yorker if you want a good read on that one.
Our stringent standards are here to ensure that we keep these pests out, and we're always looking for more innovative ways to help people meet our standards. That's why we've been working with industry to seek innovative solutions with small to medium-sized businesses to develop solutions to those problems through a grants program. Just this week, four companies were awarded grants under the initiative to develop new technologies to detect these hitchhikers on or in our shipping containers, and we look forward the seeing this technology progress and benefit all our border protection and biosecurity efforts.
Thank you very much, Senator. The risks are very real. Just one pest, the red imported fire ant, would have a potential impact of $1.5 billion a year nationwide if it were to become established. We know that the state of Texas in the USA is already spending $1.2 billion a year to control the ant, repairing the damage it causes and covering medical costs. Our sugar cane farmers do not want to have these pests in their crops, but we also, similarly, as community members, don't want them in our barbecues or in our kids' playgrounds.
The risks are real. They impact our farmer's ability to export their clean green produce and they impact our communities. The number of consignments arriving via the air cargo pathway is growing, as are the risks. Volumes have increased from 15 million consignments in 2011-12 to 50 million just this last financial year. There are 2.5 million consignments inbound on international arrivals by air—
These will help us maintain protection from pests and diseases and boost our biosecurity status. We need a strong biosecurity status to build on our premium exports of food and fibre. Without exports, we can't grow agriculture. Without agriculture and food and fibre production and processing, we lose jobs, many of them in rural and regional Australia. There are over 1.6 million people employed in the food and fibre industry across Australia. Maintaining our pest-and-disease-free biosecurity status is essential to those Australians having sustainable and profitable career options in and around regional communities. Tough biosecurity measures underpin our trade efforts, ensuring that we can confidently attract a premium price for our premium product in the markets of the world.