Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Biosecurity) Bill 2022; Second Reading

4:24 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Australia's biosecurity system is facing unprecedented and ever-increasing threats.

We know all too well the threats of Foot and Mouth Disease and Lumpy Skin Disease in Indonesia, Varroa Mite to our honey industry in New South Wales, Xylella to our plant industry and the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

In response to these threats the Albanese Government has implemented the strongest ever response to a biosecurity threat in our nation's history and released Australia's first ever National Biosecurity Strategy.

While the system has performed well to date, we cannot afford to be complacent.

These biosecurity threats are increasing due to a rise in the volume and complexity of trade, the effects of climate change and the ever-increasing worldwide spread of pests and disease.

Australia's biosecurity system must be able to adapt and respond to these evolving risks.

It must be fit to meet the challenges of the next decade and beyond, and this Bill is the next step in making that happen.

The measures in this Bill will help strengthen Australia's biosecurity system, helping to protect our $70.3 billion agricultural export industries, protect 1.6 million jobs across the agriculture supply chain, and protect our way of life.

Biosecurity risks can present in many ways at our ports, mail centres, airports and northern coastline.

In the case of Foot and Mouth Disease, risks can even include the clothing and footwear of travellers.

Early identification and assessment of such risks remains fundamental to a responsive and effective biosecurity system.

The Bill will provide a mechanism for determining requirements to inform interventions for travellers entering Australia.

This may include requirements for people to provide information about whether they have been in a high biosecurity risk location.

This would allow for triaging and informed decisions about targeted assessment or the treatment of goods to manage and contain any potential risk.

It will also provide a mechanism for implementing certain preventative biosecurity measures where we assess diseases or pests pose an unacceptable risk.

This Bill contains several amendments responding to the 2021 report of the Inspector-General of Biosecurity after the Ruby Princess debacle.

Not only did the former government preside over that debacle, they failed to pass these amendments prior to the May 2022 election.

In contrast to the former government, the Albanese Government is serious about biosecurity and this bill if further proof of that.

One of the key measures contained in this bill is an increase to penalties.

People who jeopardise Australia's biosecurity system by failing to comply with these new requirements will face civil penalties of up to 120 penalty units, or $26,640.

And in a new measure, those who deliberately conceal risk goods, for example those who sew goods into the lining of their suitcase, will face stiffer penalties of upto $5000.

These measures will provide a vital tool in managing the current risk posed by outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in our neighbouring regions.

These tools will be able to be adapted to target and respond to future threats which could potentially include lumpy skin disease, African swine fever or Xylella.

The Bill will implement important lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will expand pre-arrival reporting requirements, to ensure our biosecurity officers have accurate and up-to-date information available to assess the biosecurity risk associated with the arrival of vessels and aircraft.

Operators and persons in charge of these aircraft and vessels who do not comply with these requirements will be subject to tougher sanctions.

Biosecurity is everybody's responsibility, and everybody needs to do the right thing. If they don't the Australian public rightfully would expect that the punishment would fit the crime.

This Bill will step up a range of civil and criminal penalties under the Biosecurity Act.

These penalties must remain an effective deterrent against non-compliance and enable a proportionate response to contraventions.

These stronger penalties, in some cases up to $222,000 for an individual or $1.1 million for corporate bodies, better reflect the seriousness of any contraventions.

And compared with the current penalty regime, they better reflect the consequences that non-compliance may have on Australia's biosecurity status, market access and economy. If we wish to continue to keep Australia free of pests and diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease, the Biosecurity Act must remain fit-for-purpose and future proofed.

This Bill will help achieve this by improving the operation of the information sharing and confidentiality provisions.

It will also provide specific authorisations for the use and disclosure of relevant information, while ensuring that sensitive information is afforded appropriate protection.

This Bill will increase the transparency and effectiveness of administrative processes in the Biosecurity Act such as those involved in conducting a risk assessment for the purposes of making certain determinations or granting an import permit.

It will also introduce a framework under the Biosecurity Act to provide legislative authority to the Agriculture and Health Ministers, enabling the ability to make, vary and administer arrangements or grants for expenditure relating to biosecurity-related programs—which are key in facilitating a strong biosecurity system.

Another important aspect of the biosecurity framework involves the work of biosecurity industry participants, who are authorised to carry out certain biosecurity activities under approved arrangements to manage biosecurity risks associated with specified goods, premises or other things.

This Bill would streamline and improve the operation of a number of provisions relating to approved arrangements and compensation under the Biosecurity Act, reducing administrative costs while strengthening audit powers.

Our work in strengthening Australia's biosecurity system does not end with this Bill.

This is the first stage of amendments the government will make to ensure our regulatory framework remains fit-for-purpose and ready to take on future biosecurity challenges.

Having a strong and efficient biosecurity system is more important than ever as we respond to Foot and Mouth Disease and other emerging diseases on our doorstep.

The Albanese Government will not rest while these biosecurity threats are on our doorstep.

We owe it to our farmers.

We owe it to those who work in the food supply chain.

And we owe it to all Australians to protect our food security.

Debate adjourned.