Chapter 6 - Management of invasive
species at the coastal border
The Commonwealth has made laudable efforts to strengthen border
controls, but more can and must be done.
While Chapter 5 examined the somewhat complex
governmental arrangements for the management of invasive species and incursions
once they are within Australia,
in this Chapter the Committee examines the measures that are in place at the
national border to protect the Australian mainland from invasive species. It
then goes on to examine issues relating to the management of the Australian
marine environment, including the Great Barrier Reef
Unlike the shared governmental responsibilities for managing invasive species
these matters are generally the responsibility of the Australian Government.
Earlier chapters of this report contained
detailed descriptions of regulatory and institutional arrangements for border
control. This section examines the evidence about their adequacy.
The Australian Government has developed
biosecurity policies to prevent or control the entry, establishment or spread
of pests and diseases that will or could cause significant damage to human
beings, animals, plants, other aspects of the environment, or economic
activities. The Import risk analysis
handbook states that:
plant and animal health status is maintained through the implementation of
measures to facilitate the importation of products while protecting the health
of people, animals and plants.
Assessments are not conducted on all requests for
approach to addressing requests for imports of animals, plants and their
products, where there are biosecurity risks, is to draw on existing sanitary
and phytosanitary measures for similar products with comparable risks. However,
where measures for comparable biosecurity risks have not previously been
established, a thorough assessment will be necessary to identify the risks to Australia
and determine what sanitary and phytosanitary measures are needed to reduce
those risks to a level consistent with Australia's
ALOP [appropriate level of sanitary or phytosanitary protection].
The Committee repeatedly heard evidence that preventing
the entry of invasive species that are not already in Australia
is the best approach to minimising both the potential threats posed by them and
the subsequent costs of eradication. In its submission the Bureau of Rural
Sciences advised that:
the obvious low cost option for managing the threats
posed by invasive species is to restrict and manage both accidental and
intentional import pathways. Reducing the risk of invasive species incursion
and/or establishing procedures where incursions can be detected.
Act 1908 (Quarantine Act) and the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) regulate the
entry of live plants and animals into Australia.
The Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) provided an overview of
the integrated approach that it and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries
and Forestry (DAFF) have taken to assessing new importations. In its
submission, DEH stated that:
Both the Quarantine Act and the EPBC Act require that live
specimens be assessed for their potential impacts. The Departments of the
Environment and Heritage and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have worked
closely to develop an integrated process for the assessment of specimens. This
reduces duplication and streamlines the assessment processes, both for the
Australian Government and for the applicant (or potential importer). The
agreement of both Departments is required before a live specimen can be
Quarantine Act 1908
quarantine system was reviewed extensively in 1998. As a result of the Nairn
review numerous changes were made to quarantine policy and law:
From July 1998, under revised quarantine legislation (Quarantine Proclamation 1998), all
plants were prohibited from entering Australia
until they were assessed and/or appeared on the permitted list. The WRA [Weed
Risk Assessment] process was adopted at this time, following an exhaustive
nine-month consultation period, to assess all new proposed plant imports.
The Quarantine Act
is the mechanism through which this policy operates. It sets out the
Commonwealth's role in border monitoring, detection and control arrangements. The
Act allows the Governor-General to make proclamations setting out a range of
matters including quarantinable plant diseases and quarantinable pests, and
seeds which are permitted to be imported into Australia.
Clause 58 of the Quarantine Proclamation
1998 (the Proclamation) states that each disease mentioned in Schedule 4 of
the proclamation is a quarantinable disease and that each pest mentioned in
Schedule 4 is a quarantinable pest.
The key measures used by the Departments for assessing
plants, animals, goods derived from plants or animals, micro-organisms or other
commodities which might pose a biosecurity risk are Import Risk Analysis and
Weed Risk Assessment. These are examined in turn below.
Import Risk Analysis
DAFF undertakes import risk analysis processes to
assess the risks from pests and diseases and how those risks should be managed:
For animal and plant
biosecurity, import risk analysis identifies the pests and diseases relevant to
an import proposal, assesses the risks posed by them and, if those risks are
unacceptable, specifies what measures should be taken to reduce those risks to
an acceptable level.
The Import risk
analysis handbook states that import risk analysis is conducted on an
import proposal or application if:
there is no relevant existing biosecurity
measure for the good and pest/disease combination; or
a variation in established policy is desirable
because pests or diseases, or the likelihood and/or consequences of entry,
establishment or spread of the pests or diseases could differ significantly
from those previously assessed.
Scope of the import risk analysis process
Concerns were raised that the import risk analysis
process was too limited in its scope. Many vertebrate species that are already
have not had import risk analyses conducted to assess their potential for
invasion if released. The Bureau of Rural Sciences noted this factor in its
submission when it stated that:
Restricting trade or keeping exotic vertebrate species
that are already past quarantine barriers, legitimately or otherwise is an area
where threat and risk response are not fully developed nationally. These
species usually have not had independent risk assessments on their potential
for invasion if released.
The ACT Government also stressed that:
It is considered important that all introduced species
already existing in Australia
should undergo a risk assessment to provide guidance on trade and to assess
whether species should be withdrawn from trade and/or private collections. The
impact of new genotypes should also be considered as part of the risk
assessment of existing invasive species.
The Bureau of Rural Sciences has developed a new model
for the Vertebrate Pests Committee which assesses the potential threat that
exotic vertebrate species pose of becoming invasive pests that will harm Australia’s
environment and economy. The model is relevant to other taxa and it evaluates
factors that determine the risks posed by particular exotic vertebrate species
and separates those species that represent a high threat of becoming pests from
those that pose a lower threat. For example:
the climate match between a species’ overseas range and Australia
and whether or not a species has a history of establishing exotic populations
in other countries are two of the factors the model uses to evaluate the threat
of a particular species establishing in the wild in Australia.
The Queensland Government acknowledged that DEH and DAFF
support the process for animal risk assessment as agreed to by the Vertebrate
Pests Committee. However, it raised concerns about the processes involved and
put the view that those processes differ from the nationally agreed processes:
DEH has developed a system of Wildlife Trade and Conservation
public notices for changes to the list of imported species under Section 303 of
the EPBC Act (http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/publicnotices/) but
the information supplied by importers does not
appear to go through an internal review before posting on the DEH website. The
risk assessment process used by DEH is not the nationally agreed Vertebrate
Pest Committee (VPC) system. Changes to regulation controlling the importation
of birds ... with the introduction of the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 resulted in the need for
legislative changes in Queensland.
The Queensland Government also raised concerns that
full risk assessments are not carried out on all species. It stated that:
both groups do not currently carry out full risk
assessment processes on all species. For example some Biosecurity Australia
import risk assessments have not considered the pest potential of the imported
animal species e.g. recent risk assessment for deer species. This is contrary
to Nairn Recommendation 45 that “import risk analysis used by AQIS include
increased considerations of the potential environmental effects of proposed
introductions of new species, breeds or varieties of animals and plants or
their germ plasm, including their propensity to become weeds, vertebrate pests
or invertebrate pests in Australia” (Nairn 1996).
Risk assessment models, such as that developed for the
VPC, can assist in assessing the pest potential of exotic vertebrates; however,
there is a subjective component to assessment and this requires input by
qualified experts. The Bureau of Rural Sciences noted that:
Although risk assessment models cannot provide definite
predictions, because the ecological processes involved are so complex and
available technical data is so limited for most species, models ... do help to
assess the threats of new exotic vertebrates establishing pest populations in Australia,
using a rigorous, science-based and transparent decision making process. 
Independence of the risk
One area of possible concern with the current processes
is that the independence of import risk analysis is not assured. If an
applicant seeks to import a species that needs to undergo a risk assessment, it
is the applicants themselves who arrange for the assessment to be conducted. The
Bureau of Rural Sciences acknowledges the lack of independence in this process.
In its submission it stated that:
It is therefore absolutely essential that all risk
assessments on species be conducted by appropriate experts who act
independently of either those applying to import or keep them or others with a
vested interest in the outcome of the risk assessment. Therefore, if the
applicant pays for a risk assessment, it is desirable that this is done through
an independent authority that arranges for an independent risk assessment. Such
arrangements are not yet in place in Australia
to ensure this independence is achieved for the import of exotic vertebrates
and this can put at risk the integrity of the risk assessment process.
The ACT Government also expressed concern over the lack
of independence in this process. It stated that:
The employment of a consultant by the proponent to
undertake the assessment is not considered to be independent. The preferred
approach to conducting a risk assessment is that the process is coordinated by
a Commonwealth agency with the cost of that assessment passed on to the
DEH's Dr Rhonda
Dickson explained the basis for the current
To my understanding, it is the main vetting and
assessment of the assessments that is done within the department. The
department is not resourced to do risk assessments itself.
In July 2004 the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries
and Forestry, the Hon Warren Truss MP, announced new measures to boost
confidence in the rigour of the Import Risk Analysis process. The new measures
included the establishment of an Eminent Scientists Group to independently
examine the draft Final IRA Reports prior to their release.
International Trade Agreements
Chapter 2 of this Report briefly outlines the
international agreements and conventions, including those under the World Trade
Agreement (WTO), which can have an impact on Australia's
efforts to exclude and control invasive species. Australia's
international trade agreements can have an impact on the import risk analysis
processes where Australia's
refusal to allow imports because of concerns over biosecurity are challenged
under trade agreements. This became an issue in Australia's
recent dispute with Canada
refusal to allow the importation of fresh salmon. In its submission the
Invasive Species Council said that
is effectively obliged to address the issue of diseases carried with fish and
bait following a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) decision ruling against
a national ban on imported uncooked salmon. Australia tried unsuccessfully to
justify the ban on the basis of disease risks, but the WTO found that
Australia’s quarantine policy was inconsistent, because aquarium fish and
herring bait are permitted entry, both of which carry greater disease risks
Following the finding of the WTO Panel, Australia
carried out a further import risk analysis process and introduced new measures
which complied with the WTOs requirements:
The Australian Government and the State of Tasmania
subsequently decided to introduce new quarantine measures, and Canada
requested that the dispute be referred back to the original panel. Australia
produced a new 1999 import risk analysis which was much more detailed and
specific than the last one: it not only identified which fish diseases were a
high priority and therefore presented an unacceptable risk, but also dealt with
probabilities of risk. The Panel found that this IRA complied with Article 5.1,
and that most of Australia’s
new quarantine requirements were based on that assessment. The new legislation
tightened import restrictions on herring bait and live ornamental fish, and Canada
was unable to show that they continued to violate Article 5.5.
was eventually able to satisfy the requirements of the WTO in this case it
highlights the potential for international agreements focussed on trade to
undermine measures designed to protect Australia
from invasive species. As outline later in this Chapter, Australia
has played a leading role in international forums in developing measures to
from introduced marine pests. In the Committee's view, Australia
should be similarly active in ensuring that international trade agreements give
adequate recognition to the need for individual countries to be able to protect
themselves from the effects of invasive species.
This discussion has highlighted some deficiencies in
the import risk analysis process. While these are of concern and should be
addressed, it appears to the Committee that the most significant problems in
relation to invertebrate species are addressed by the current processes or
arise from pest species which are already widely distributed within Australia.
A more pressing concern is that the integrity of Australia's
quarantine system is being jeopardised by the lack of independence in the
import risk analysis process. The current system which allows the proponent to
directly select and fund the party which will carry out the assessment creates
an obvious conflict of interest. One's faith in the adequacy of the current
system turns on whether there is sufficient trust in the quality of the review
conducted by the department. Several witnesses expressed doubts in this
respect. The establishment of an Eminent Scientists Group to review IRAs is a
welcome measure, but it may not go far enough.
This is a key issue. One wrong import risk assessment
could have horrendous consequences. The Committee recognises that, given the
uncertainties of the science, the only assured way of avoiding errors in import
risk assessments is to close the borders. This is, of course, unrealistic. In
the Committee's opinion a better system would see a closer involvement of
Biosecurity Australia in the process of conducting import risk analyses, either
by conducting them itself on a cost recovery basis, or by co-ordinating their
production by a panel of approved providers, again with the cost of the
assessment being borne by the proponent.
That the import risk assessment process be modified to guarantee
greater independence in their preparation.
That the Commonwealth Government take a leading role in relevant
international forums to seek better recognition of the environmental
consequences of current trade rules.
Weed Risk Assessments (WRA)
The Weed Risk Assessment process operates in parallel
with Import Risk Analysis. It is designed to enable non-invasive plant species
to be imported, while preventing the importation of potentially invasive
species new to Australia.
Wholesale nurseries, horticultural companies, agricultural suppliers, private
individuals, botanic gardens, universities, researchers, and state and territory
governments use the Weeds Risk Assessment process.
The quarantine proclamation deals with the introduction
of plants and plant material. Clause 63 of the Proclamation prohibits the
importation of seeds unless the plant is listed in Schedule 5 (the 'permitted'
list) of the Proclamation or the Director of Quarantine grants a permit. Clause
65 prohibits the importation into Australia
of a plant or plant part listed in Schedule 6 (the 'prohibited' list) unless
the Director of Quarantine has granted a permit.
McFadyen, the Weeds CRC's Chief Executive
Officer, put the WRA process in these terms:
The point is that AQIS has a prohibited list. They also
do not go through the weed risk assessment. They have already been assessed and
are prohibited. On the other side you have the permitted list, and it is those
that fall into neither the one nor the other. It is a bit like immigration, if
you like. If you are an Australian citizen and you have got a passport then you
are on the permitted list. You may go to jail the moment you get here, but you
Commonwealth legislation since 1999 has ensured that
all new proposed plant species imports into Australia
are subjected to a Weed Risk Assessment (WRA) system, which assesses the
likelihood of plants becoming weeds. The assessments are based on attributes
known to be associated with invasiveness and a high probability of negative
The WRA process is for plants that fall neither into
the 'permitted' (Schedule 5) list nor the 'prohibited' (Schedule 6) list. DAFF
there are three outcomes of the WRA assessment - the
species is accepted, rejected or further evaluated. If the result is to accept,
then the species is permitted importation if standard quarantine requirements are
satisfied (no quarantine pests or diseases are identified during the WRA). If
the result is to reject, importation of the species is prohibited (due to its
high potential to become a weed of agriculture and/or the environment) and the
species can only be imported with a permit and used under strict quarantine
The overall WRA process appears to enjoy general
support. For example, the Weed Management Society of South Australia said in
its submission that:
The Weed Risk Assessment System used by Biosecurity Australia
for new plant imports is effective, scientifically-based, and accepted under
international trade agreements and standards.
However the Society did raise a concern about the
limited resourcing of the system which leads to delays in assessments.
Concerns about the WRA process
More significantly, however, there is general outrage
about the exemption from the WRA system of plants on the Schedule 5 permitted
list. In its submission the Invasive Species Council said:
Because it is more stringent than the systems most countries
use, WRA has won much praise here and overseas.
But WRA is not operating as it should. Hundreds of weeds may be
imported legally into Australia
without any assessment whatever. The system is so flawed it raises serious
questions about the competence and commitment of our quarantine service.
The Committee heard extensive evidence from a range of
organisations about a loophole in Schedule 5, namely the inclusion of several
thousand genera on the permitted list. Under the permitted list, therefore,
entire genera are granted blanket approval for importation. This is the case
even if not all of the species in the genera are already present in Australia:
at present there are many potentially invasive plants on the
AQIS permitted list, and therefore not subject to the WRAS process. This
includes instances where entire genera (related species) have been granted
blanket approval for importation. There are also problems where a plant may be
present in Australia
but not invasive, therefore further importations would normally be permitted.
If new strains are imported, the result may be development of an invasive
...apparently the current practice for importing non-native plants
is that a scientific name is not required for plant species that are covered by
an exempt genus listed on Schedule 5 of the Quarantine Act. Consequently, new
non-native species are entering Australia
without being recorded and put on a database of non-native species in Australia,
resulting in invasive species being sold without any official record of their
presence in Australia,
A recent study by the University
of Western Australian and the CRC
for Australian Weed Management found that the species of 2,916 plant genera
already on the Schedule 5 permitted import list are not subject to WRA. As of 1 December 2003 this permitted the importation of nearly
half of all plant species on Earth.
This includes 125,241 plant species of which 4,003 are known agricultural and
environmental weeds not yet present in Australia through 700 (24%) of the 2,916
This includes numerous weeds that are closely related
to Weeds of National Significance (WONS), including all members (with a few
exceptions) of the genera Asparagus
(bridal creeper, Asparagus asparagoides),
Hymenachne (Hymenachne amplexicaulis),
and Annona (pond apple, Annona glabra). Further examples are
presented in the table below.
Table 6.1 - List of Weeds of National Significance (WONS) nominees and the
number of their weedy relatives on the Schedule 5 Permitted List that are not yet present in Australia
WONS nominee in a
of weedy relatives permitted for
importation but not yet present in Australia
Sporobolus indicus var. major,
S. natalensis and S. pyramidalis
Giant Parramatta grass and Giant rat’s tail grass
Ligustrum lucidum and sinense
The study also profiles 20 serious agricultural and
environment weed species not yet present in Australia
that would be prohibited from import into Australia
if they were subject to a weed risk assessment, but are able to be legally
imported into Australia
through the weakness in the Permitted List. These include:
brome grass (Bromus arvensis L.),
a common weed and grain seed contaminant of cereal crops. Also a weed of
orchard, fruit and vegetable crops
broom (Cytisus striatus), a
serious environmental weed in California that displaces native plant species
and produces toxic seed. The plant also burns easily and is capable of carrying
a fire high into the tree canopy
geranium (Geranium pusillum L.),
a common weed in virtually all cropping systems in Europe that has also
naturalised in North and South America and New Zealand
morning glory (Ipomoea lacunosa
L.), a weed in Japan, United Kingdom, North America and northern Europe whose
seed contaminates agricultural produce, especially grain and grain products
ryegrass (Lolium persicum), a
serious weed of cereal crops in North America and Europe that causes
significant yield losses as well as lowering the quality and grade of the grain
(Macaranga mappa), planted as a
garden plant in Hawaii, the weed has spread throughout much of the island’s
moister habitats forming dense stands that kill off all native plants
leaved meadow grass (Poa chaixii),
introduced into the United Kingdom as a garden plant and naturalised 50 years
later. Seed is still available from nurseries over the internet. It is a
widespread agricultural weed throughout Europe.
The Committee believes that this quarantine law
loophole presents a real and present risk to Australian agriculture and the
environment. It noted that the Commonwealth Government agreed to close this
loophole in 2001, under targets 4.1.1 and 4.1.2 of the National Objectives and Targets for Biodiversity Conservation,
Target 4.1.1: By 2001, the import of all new live organisms is
subject to a risk-based assessment process that identifies the conditions
necessary to minimise threats to the environment
Target 4.1.2: By 2001, no new non-native species are
deliberately introduced into Australia
unless assessed as being of low risk to the environment.
WWF Australia added that, given that the current AQIS
protocols do not require the official recording of unique scientific names for
new non-native plant species, it is impossible to maintain an accurate master
list of non-native species in Australia.
It advised the Committee that the loophole in Schedule 5 also facilitates the
import of new, potentially invasive, weeds:
There is a significant
loophole in the current quarantine laws. That presents a very significant and
unnecessary risk to both agriculture and the environment.
The listing of plants by genus has enabled known weeds,
such as bridal creeper and parkinsonia, which are listed as Weeds of National
Significance, to be permitted for import without any Weed Risk Assessment being
conducted. WWF Australia told the Committee that:
you have the Commonwealth setting up an alert list of 28
species of environmental weeds that have been targeted for eradication in the
medium term and yet nine of the 12 horsetail species that sit on that alert
list - the whole genus has been listed - are still able to be legally imported
into Australia. Again, that is another contradiction.
These WONS species are under ‘official control’ and thus
should be a prohibited import. These examples highlight the poorly coordinated
Commonwealth response to preventing the potential import of new weeds and
serious weeds subject to ‘official control’.
This issue was also raised by Dr
McFadyen. She told the Committee that:
plants should be listed on it [the Schedule 5 permitted
list] by their species as well as their genus names. .... The genus name covers
an awful lot of things. Plants should be on the list under the correct
scientific name for their species alone. An awful lot of them, where people
agree that their import is not justified, should be taken off the permitted
also used the example of bridal creeper to demonstrate the consequence of
listing plants by genus:
One species of asparagus is the cultivated crop. Another
species of asparagus is bridal creeper and is one of the 20 weeds of national
significance. Both are permitted import because they fall into the genus
Asparagus. What we are saying is that they should not have a whole genus; they
should have individual species names.
DAFF told the Committee that:
Arrangements have been made to amend legislation to remove
two weeds of national significance, bridal creeper and parkinsonia, from the
permitted list. This is to occur in July.
These plants were removed from Schedule 5 in July 2004.
WWF Australia also highlighted the failure of the WRA
process to address the issue of species which arrived in Australia
before its introduction.
Thousands of seed species maintained in germplasm, banks by
pasture researchers are also exempted. These seeds were imported before the
introduction of WRA and many of them pose a serious weed risk, considering the
past performance of new pasture plants.
The Weed Management Society of South Australia
similarly raised concerns about the specific exclusion of pasture grasses and
ornamental plants from the WRA system.
WWF Australia recommended:
That Biosecurity Australia immediately implement
measures to add outstanding Weeds of National Significance to the Prohibited
List, including Parkinsonia, rubber vine, chilean needle grass, athel pine,
gorse, and bridal creeper (since they satisfy ISPM “Official Control”
requirements), and those weeds on the Alert List of Weeds where they satisfy
ISPM “Official Control” conditions.
Biosecurity Australia implement immediate measures to
ensure that all invasive plant species are excluded from the Quarantine Act “Permitted List” (Schedule 5), and/or added to the “Prohibited List” (Schedule
4, Part 2), subject to compliance with International Standards for
Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM) requirements.
What needs to be done is for Schedule 5 to be reviewed. It
is supposed to have been reviewed - money was set aside for it to be reviewed -
and I believe it should have been done by 2001. It urgently needs to be done;
it is a massive loophole ...
... Money was
given to them [Biosecurity Australia],
I believe, in 1999 and I am fairly sure the review was to be completed by 2001.
When the Committee took up this matter at its hearings,
it was told by DAFF's Mr George
Willcocks, General Manager, Landcare and
Sustainable Industries that:
Concerns have been raised over the presence of genus
level listings on the permitted list, under Schedule 5 of the Quarantine Act. Two
thousand genera were reviewed by a consultant some years ago. Much of this work
has been validated by Biosecurity Australia
and will be subject to public consultation to ensure that changes to the
permitted list are soundly based in science. Biosecurity Australia
has continued with assessments of a further 1,200 permitted genera as part of
the long-term review of the permitted list.
In their subsequent joint submission, DEH and DAFF
The permitted plants list, when originally developed,
contained both species and genus level listings, with the provision that the
permitted list would be finalised to species level over a period of time. Plant
Biosecurity is progressing a long-term project to determine which species
within the permitted genera are present in Australia,
not under official control and should therefore be added to the permitted list.
Those species not recorded as present in Australia
will be removed from the list pending a WRA.
The removal of genus level listings from the permitted
list is an important task that will take considerable time. As part of the
revision of the permitted list, Biosecurity Australia
will provide stakeholders with opportunities to comment on proposed changes.
In relation to the apparent slowness of implementation
of the review, Mr Willcocks
told the Committee that:
The project was approved for funding from the national
component of the National Landcare Program. It was not a Natural Heritage Trust
project. It was approved as a two-year project to be carried out by AQIS, to
run between mid-1997 and late 1999, with total funding of $480,000. The overall
aim of the project was to implement the weed risk assessment system. When the
project was completed, three of the four objectives had been met and
significant progress made on the fourth.
The objective that had not been finalised was related
to the permitted list. Mr Willcocks
...good progress had been made as the status of all
species entries in the existing permitted list had been reviewed, and that of
the species in over 2,000 of the genera entries in the list.
It was recognised at the time that although the bulk of
the list had been reviewed as part of the project, the complete review of the
permitted list to remove genera level entries was a long-term project which
would be finalised as part of AQIS’s ongoing activities.
The Committee was advised that the review by Biosecurity
1200 additional genera was largely finished in 2003. Dr
General Manager of Plant Biosecurity, Biosecurity Australia,
Currently we are ground-truthing a high-priority 40
genera that we will look at for industry consultation in the first instance. We
obviously need to prioritise this work; it is an ongoing job. We have
identified with WWF what the priority genera are. We are working currently on
those and ground-truthing those.
The review of the list involves stakeholder
consultation and the permitted list must be consistent with Australia's
WTO obligations. International obligations require that a species cannot be
taken off of the permitted list without scientific justification.
Wonder, Deputy Secretary, Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry also addressed the Committee about concerns
over the time taken for the review of the permitted list to be conducted:
Looking forward, we believe that in 12 to 14 months
time we will be able to have a honed permitted list and nothing could then join
that list until such time as it had gone through a comprehensive risk
The Committee shares witnesses' concerns that so many
plants have been able to be freely imported into Australia
while the review of the permitted list has been conducted. While it is
difficult to determine the impact on Australia's
environment and economy of the continued existence of this loophole in the
permitted list, its continuation flies in the face of all the evidence that
prevention is the best policy. As evidence has highlighted, the true impact of
weedy plants listed on the permitted list may not be known for a number of
years until the plants have become naturalised; especially with plants that are
The Committee also expresses its concern that to meet
its international obligations, Australia
cannot prohibit entry of a species unless it is not present in Australia
or of limited distribution and under official control. It is one thing to
oppose imports on trade grounds - as a means of setting up quasi tariff walls -
and another to seek to protect the uniqueness of Australia's
biodiversity, especially when eradication is the ultimate long-term goal.
The extent to which Australia will be able to prevent new
species taking hold will, in part, depend upon how soon the review of the
permitted list will be finalised and how many species it will be able to
prohibit from entering Australia. In the Committee's view, the delay in
finalisation of the review is inexcusable.
Accuracy and reliability of WRAs
The Weed Risk Assessment system is used to assess for
potential weediness plants that people wish to bring into the country. During
2002-2003 Biosecurity Australia,
using the weed risk assessment process, refused entry for 320 plant species as
assessment of the plants showed that the species had a high potential to become
a weed of agriculture and/or the environment if they were to be imported into Australia.
The Committee received conflicting evidence about the
effectiveness of the process. Dr McFadyen
told the Committee that the system has been criticised for not being accurate
and rating too many plants as weedy. She advised that research was being done
by the CRC to improve the predictive capability of the assessments.
In its submission the Invasive Species Council suggested that the WRA
process may rate too few plants as being weedy:
It is based on
the assumption that most pests can be predicted in advance, a conclusion
refuted by recent international research.
There is no
requirement to demonstrate that no suitable alternative, non-invasive species
are already in Australia prior to considering importation. Nor is there a
requirement to demonstrate any public benefit before a new species is imported
Not all of the
questions included in the assessment process need to be answered properly for a
plant to pass; some questions can effectively (and conveniently) be ignored if
the answer is ‘don’t know’.
continue to win the benefit of the doubt, even though it cannot be demonstrated
that they won't become weeds. Since 1997, roughly 67% of applications to
introduce foreign plants have been accepted. Some of them undoubtedly will end
up on our weed lists.
There is no
condition that importers pay for the costs of control and repair should a plant
become a weed. This runs contrary to “polluter pays” principles which are
generally applied to other sectors.
Ms Anthelia Bond, from the Nature Conservation Society
of South Australia, advocated that the precautionary principle should be
applied during WRAs:
I look at the precautionary principle in the sense of
guilty until proven innocent... it is perhaps a pretty harsh approach but if you
do not have that approach and you wait until something is proven guilty then
you are faced with a much more costly problem to solve. I think that is a
strong argument to have the precautionary principle in this case.
In commenting upon the adequacy and effectiveness of
the WRA system, the Tasmanian Weed Society stated that:
The assumption that all plant imports are weeds
until proven otherwise via a scientifically based weed risk assessment (WRA) is
considered a valuable check.
Import assessments and approvals should not be
done at higher than the species level (ie not at genera level) for effective
risk assessment to be employed.
WRA processes need to be maintained and
regularly reviewed to ensure they are maximising the latest in terms of risk
analysis and international weed science developments
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed support
for the Weed Risk Assessment process but qualified their support by noting
areas that needed improvement. The Weed Society of South Australia acknowledged
support for the process but noted that for it to be effective the process needs
to be quick and effective. Mr Crossman,
President, Weed Society of South Australia, stated that:
We want to see rapid weed risk assessments put in place.
It is widely believed - and it is true - that the weed risk assessment process
is a sound and accurate measure, but we want to see these processes put in
place quickly and efficiently.
In commenting on the Weed Risk Assessment process Dr
Councillor, Invasive Species Council, said that:
It certainly has its benefits if done properly.
A number of witnesses raised concerns that the WRA
process can be circumvented. The Committee was advised that an importer can
circumvent the Weed Risk Assessment process by importing plants or seeds under
outdated, incorrect or common names. In its submission the Invasive Species
Council stated that:
Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima), a weedy
relative of serrated tussock (N. trichotoma) - one of our 20 worst weeds - was
allowed in because the importer unwittingly used an old name: Stipa tenuissima.
Stipa is a permitted genus, Nasella is not.
The international trade in plants via the Internet,
with goods being delivered through the postal system, provides another avenue
for importing plants which bypasses the weed risk assessment process. In its
submission the CRC for Australian Weed Management stated that:
there is an increasing
problem of international ordering of plants through the internet, where the
plants are sent by post and the purchasers in Australia
may not be aware that importation of that material is illegal or a weed threat.
The Committee is a strong supporter of the Weed Risk
Assessment process as a means to significantly minimise the risk of new
invasive plants entering Australia.
However, the Committee's inquiry has exposed some obvious flaws which limit the
effectiveness of the border control system. The following issues need to
listing all entries on Schedule 5 as individual
ensuring that species identified as weeds of
national significance are automatically removed from Schedule 5;
standardising all listings of plants and seeds
using the scientific name of the species; and
requiring that all applications to import plants
and seeds specify the scientific name of the species.
While some of these matters are already being
addressed, or are likely to be in the future, there appears to be a lack of
urgency. The potential cost of not acting expeditiously on these issues is
enormous and dwarfs the cost of making the WRA process operate to its full potential.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government act
urgently to ensure that:
all listings on Schedule 5 are made by species,
a mechanism be developed to ensure that species
identified as weeds of national significance are automatically removed from Schedule
all listings and applications for the import of
plants and seeds be standardised using the scientific names of species.
Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy
A small but key aspect of Australia's
defence against invasive species is the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy
(NAQS) which is managed by AQIS. It was established 14 years ago and aims to
from exotic pests, weeds and diseases that could enter Australia
from countries to its north. NAQS does this by identifying and evaluating
quarantine risks facing northern Australia
and providing early detection and warning of new pests through a program of
scientific surveys and monitoring, border activities and public awareness. It
also collaborates with neighbouring countries on quarantine activities of
DAFF described the strategy as one of its key elements
to delivering an effective border protection regime.
It is an early eradication program and its objective is to ensure that
new infestations are discovered and identified while still confined to small
areas. It provides staff to survey northern Australia
for plants and animals, and alerts Commonwealth and State authorities of the
need for eradication when invasive species are found. It also operates
complementary measures in neighbouring countries, together with off shore and
Due to Australia's
proximity to its northern neighbours pest problems are able to reach the
Australian mainland through dispersal by birds, wind or human assistance. Surveys
in the Torres Strait, Indonesia
and Papua New Guinea
have enabled the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to predict
potential risks to northern Australia.
This has made it possible to implement measures to detect the pest if it were
to arrive in northern Australia
or to undertake control measures in neighbouring nations, such as ongoing
biological control programs.
The CSIRO provided a case study on the
biocontrol of banana skipper in Papua New Guinea.
It highlights the benefits of Australia
taking pre-emptive action.
Case study: biocontrol of banana skipper (Erionota thrax)
in PNG to protect Australia
The banana skipper butterfly, a
native of South East Asia, became a major pest of
bananas in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the 1980s. It is capable of destroying, on
average, 60% of banana leaves, leading to a prediction that, had the pest not
been brought under control following introduction of a biological control agent
in the late 1980s, production losses by 2020 would have totalled A$302 million
(Waterhouse et al, 1999).
There is good reason to believe
that banana skipper could cause losses of even greater magnitude in Australia’s
banana industry. However the threat once posed by significant populations of
the pest in PNG has now largely been removed as a result of the biological
control program. Benefits deriving to Australia
from this pre-emptive strike, projected over a 25 year period from 1995, have
been estimated at A$988 million. These estimates are based on the assumption
that banana skipper would have arrived on the Australian mainland in 1995 had
the PNG population not been controlled (Waterhouse et al, 1999).
It could be argued that the
Australian research that led to control of banana skipper in PNG could have
been delayed until such time as the pest was detected in Australia.
This would have been a false economy. As previously indicated, by controlling
the pest on our doorstep we have significantly reduced the risk of an incursion
Had this step not been taken and an incursion eventuated, the costs of
eradicating the pest (if indeed it was feasible to do so) would be much greater
than the A$0.7 million that it cost to implement biological control in PNG. There
would have been inevitable delays in getting permission to introduce biological
control agents to Australia
and further delays whilst the agent(s) were being evaluated and mass reared for
release. It is reasonable to expect an interval of 18-24 months between detection
of an incursion and release of the first agents. In the meantime, the pest
would have infested a much larger area, given its ability to spread at a rate
of up to 500 km/year, by which time eradication may well have been
Witnesses were strongly supportive of the program,
while noting areas where it could be extended. The Queensland Government
The Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy currently
provides a very good service to Queensland
for terrestrial pests, assisting in new invasive species weed identifications
and working with DPI [Department of Primary Industry] staff on animal health
and plant disease surveys, but again, the Strategy does not currently address
potential introduction of marine pests.
from the Invasive Species Council, expressed support for the Northern
Australian Quarantine Strategy but commented that eradication of pests that
have been identified by the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy should be
done by a national team as it is a quarantine issue. Dr
They have proven enormously good at finding new
invaders. They then pass over responsibility for dealing with those often small
populations that are just sitting there, waiting to be eradicated fairly
cheaply, to state agencies. ... I think there are very cogent, good reasons that
the responsibility for a quick response eradication team should be a federally
based bureaucracy that does the eradication on the ground, because it is a
national problem and the borders in this case are arbitrary in terms of how the
problem works. ... I would perhaps make a distinction between dealing with
ongoing problems that are well established across a large area and dealing with
what I would argue is a quarantine problem. If a species arrives in port, the
quarantine service does not ring up a state bureaucrat and say, ‘Can you come
down to the port and eradicate this thing?’ For small infestations a quickness
of response is needed. Because it is a national problem, I think that is best
dealt with through a standing national team. Just to go on from that, if that
is judged for whatever reason as being bureaucratically or politically
untenable then very strong bilaterals or MOUs are needed between state and
federal agencies to get the results.
The success of this program has led to suggestions for
it to be used as a model for similar strategies in other areas of Australia.
The CRC for Australian Weed Management stated that:
It is an excellent system, and has already saved many
times its direct costs. The system needs to be maintained and extended into
The Weed Society of South Australia also commented on
the benefits of extending the strategy to southern Australia.
Crossman, President, Weed Society of South
Australia said that:
There is also the possibility to have a southern
Australian quarantine strategy. That would involve the formal development and
maintenance of surveillance systems with trained botanists and making sure that
funds were available to respond to incursions so that, when a new weed is
identified and found in the landscape or in an environment, the resources are
available to go out there, target that weed and, hopefully, eradicate it to
prevent it from spreading any further.
Glanznig, Biodiversity Policy Manager, WWF
Australia, told the Committee that efforts of the Northern Australian
Quarantine Strategy are being compromised by the fact that the Strategy is
identifying plants for eradication but in some cases those plants are legally
available for sale in other areas of Australia.
He provided the example of Ceylon
hill cherry and told the Committee that the Northern Australian Quarantine
identified the Ceylon
hill cherry as a target species for eradication, working on the assumption that
it was not yet in Australia.
They were going off looking here, there and everywhere for this species, but
unbeknownst to them, it was for sale at various nurseries throughout the
eastern seaboard. Again, because there was not an effective information
system in place, Commonwealth initiatives were being undermined by the
continued sale of an invasive plant by the states.
The Committee considers that pre-emptive action is good
for maintaining Australia's
reputation for high quarantine standards and is also a positive step to assist
our near neighbours in maintaining their agricultural industries. The Committee
recommends that the Commonwealth continue to provide support to protecting
from incursions from invasive pests.
Protection of the marine environment
In this section the Committee addresses the regulation,
control and management of invasive species in the marine environment.
Responsibility for the marine environment
Responsibility for environmental issues relating to
offshore waters is divided between the States and the Commonwealth. The Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973
declares Commonwealth sovereignty over territorial seas and certain
Commonwealth rights in respect of the exclusive economic zone, continental
shelf, and contiguous zone. Although the Commonwealth retains final control in
these matters the Commonwealth and the States reached an agreement over the
division of powers in territorial waters in the Offshore Constitutional
Settlement agreement in 1997.
Waters (State Powers) Act 1980 and the Coastal Waters (State Title) Act 1980 gave effect to this agreement
and returned to the States jurisdiction and proprietary rights and title over
territorial seas and the underlying sea-bed. The Coastal Waters (State Powers) Act 1980 gives the States legislative
power over the first three nautical miles of Australia's
territorial seas. The States have the power to make:
(a) all such laws of the State as could be made by virtue of
those powers if the coastal waters of the State, as extending from time to
time, were within the limits of the State, including laws applying in or in
relation to the sea-bed and subsoil beneath, and the airspace above, the
coastal waters of the State;
(b) laws of the State having effect in or in relation to waters
within the adjacent area in respect of the State but beyond the outer limits of
the coastal waters of the State, including laws applying in or in relation to
the sea-bed and subsoil beneath, and the airspace above, the first-mentioned
waters, being laws with respect to:
(i) subterranean mining from land
within the limits of the State; or
(ii) ports, harbours and other
shipping facilities, including installations, and dredging and other works,
relating thereto, and other coastal works; and
(c) laws of the State with respect to fisheries in Australian
waters beyond the outer limits of the coastal waters of the State, being laws
applying to or in relation to those fisheries only to the extent to which those
fisheries are, under an arrangement to which the Commonwealth and the State are
parties, to be managed in accordance with the laws of the State.
The threat from invasive marine species
Allen, National Coordinator of the Marine
and Coastal Community Network, extensively put the issue in context for the
Committee. For example:
In terms of Australia's
has 11 per cent of the world's marine species. Over 85 per cent of the marine
species found in our southern Australia waters are found nowhere else in the
world, so there are very high levels of endemism in this region...To compare that
to the Great Barrier Reef, 12 per cent of the species found in northern
Australia are largely endemic to that region...
The total value of Australian fisheries production is $1.8
The general issues associated with marine pests are that they
dominate space and force out native species. They can become voracious
predators that consume native species. They can cause toxic algal blooms which
can cause problems for human consumption of shellfish...
The impacts of many introduced species are likely to be slight,
but sometimes we know that the results will be devastating.
Assessments on the threat posed by invasive marine
species is based upon available data. However, the issue of a lack of data of
the impacts of invasive marine species was indetified by a number of witnesses.
The Invasive Species Council submitted that:
does not have sufficient baseline data or monitoring data to properly assess
either the state of our native biota or the existence and impacts of introduced
According to Dr Nicholas
Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation (CSIRO), Marine Research, there is a potentially enormous threat
from new invasive species which might be introduced into Australia:
In recent work we have identified 1,600 species
worldwide which, in the marine environment, have had economic and environmental
impacts. Of those, between 135 and 700 have invaded Australia.
Of those, we would classify about 50 to 70 as pests in that they have had
economic and environmental impacts. We have also identified 36 more on the way,
which we see as having severe economic or environmental impacts, which means
they have had invasive impacts overseas and are in the major trading ports of
He pointed out that attempts to protect biodiversity by
establishing marine protected areas may be seriously undermined if the issue of
marine invasive species is not effectively addressed:
An interesting thing in the marine environment is that a
lot of effort now is being put in to establishing marine protected areas around
the country as a way of protecting biodiversity. But if those marine protected
areas get invaded by marine pests, as some of them are already, then that
significantly reduces their environmental value. So marine pests need to be one
of the suite of management actions which occur in the marine environment.
Although not all of the species which are introduced
will be able to survive here, the scale of the possible threat is demonstrated
by the large number of ship movements and the number of species being routinely
has 22,000 ship visits per year; half of them are from international sources
and half are domestic. At any one time there are about 10,000 species being
moved around the world in ballast water. The implication of this is that, in
areas like Port Phillip Bay, the port
of Melbourne, it is estimated that
there is about one invasion detected every year. Not all of those are pests, of
course, but it does represent an overseas species establishing in Australia.
The rate of invasion is increasing.
A Hassall & Associates study confirmed that the
rate of incursion is increasing:
Marine pest incursion risk, regardless of point source, is
thought to be increasing in line with trends and changes in some of the more
significant vectors. International experience suggests that the following
factors could be significant:
- Increased or changing trade and thus shipping
- New vectors such as oil and gas drilling
- Decreases in domestic species which may have
previously acted as competitors to, or predators of, non-indigenous species;
- Climatic changes such as global warming
affecting the distribution of pest species.
Several main vectors by which invasive marine species
were identified during the inquiry. Ballast water released in Australian
coastal waters by commercial vessels may contain invasive marine organisms. Hull
fouling on commercial vessels, recreational yachts and fishing boats is also a
major potential source of introduced species. Aquaculture and the aquarium
industry can also be responsible for the introduction of new species.
Although most species could be introduced by more than
one vector, one witness advised
the Committee that:
Ballast water released in near shore Australian waters and hull
fouling represent the two major sources of introduced marine pests. Most
introductions are accidental. In one study, hull fouling accounted for nearly
60% of historical introductions, mariculture about 22%, semi-dry ballast less
than 5%, ballast water about 15% and intentional introductions around 1%.
Pest species introduced into
Australian waters by ballast water exchange have included fish, invertebrates,
molluscs, worms, dinoflagellates (plankton and algae), and seaweed.
has been active in international efforts to prevent the introduction of new
invasive species via ballast water for over a decade:
was one of the first countries to look at the problem of species being
transmitted by ballast water and it introduced guidelines for ballast water
management in 1989. Those were subsequently adopted by the International
Maritime Organisation, but these were voluntary guidelines. Since that time, Australia
has been very active in promoting the ballast water convention. This was signed
this year, 2004. So Australia
has been very active in that area. 
The other area where we have had a role is through APEC where Australia
primarily, now run two risk assessment workshops to look at the problems of
marine pests in the APEC economies and try to work out what needs to be done to
improve the risk assessment and the response to risk in those areas.
Biodiversity Policy Manager, World Wildlife Foundation Australia (WWF) observed
To be fair to the Australian government, significant
moves have been made, particularly in relation to ballast water. For example,
they have developed an Australian ballast water management action plan. There
has been funding for the CSIRO to look at some of the biotechnological options
and to introduce new procedures-for example, discharging ballast water offshore
so that you do not do it in close proximity to the coast, enabling these
invasive marine pests an opportunity to colonise and invade.
Scientists at CSIRO Marine Research are continuing to
lead the world in the field of invasive marine species research, especially in
the field of ballast water management. They have developed a technique, using
DNA probes, to identify the presence of pest species in water. S[pecies
specific probes have been developed for the Northern Pacific seastar, the
Pacific oyster and the toxic dinoflagellate. This technique will enable marine
pests in ballast water to be identified while at larval and juvenile stages and
significantly reduces ballast water management costs for the shipping industry.
The probes have been developed in partnership with shipping and port industries
and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and have the potential for
As outlined in Chapter 2 the International Convention
for the Control and Management of Ships Ballast Water and Sediments was adopted
by consensus at a Diplomatic Conference at the International Maritime
Organisation in London on 13 February 2004. The convention
requires participants to take steps to prevent, minimise and ultimately
eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the
control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments. It also includes
provisions that relate to scientific and technical research on ballast water
management, monitoring of ballast water management, provisions for surveying
and certification of ships, the provision of technical assistance to other
parties and other factors. However, Australia
has not yet ratified the convention.
Ships entering Australian waters are required to either
undertake a risk assessment process to calculate the risks of transfer of
marine pests in ballast water or to exchange their ballast water on the high
seas. Compliance with these requirements is monitored by the Australian
Quarantine and Inspection Service. DEH outlined some of the more recent
developments during the Committee's hearings:
Reforms introduced over 2000-2003 include the introduction of
mandatory ballast water management requirements for international vessels
introduced by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service in July 2001;
the establishment and operation of the national emergency response network is
overseen by CCIMPE [the Consultative Committee on Introduced Marine Pest
Emergencies]; and an increased focus on scientific research aimed at control of
introduced marine pests already in Australia, notably the Northern Pacific
But Dr Bax
raised concerns about management of vectors other than ballast water, the need
to implement a national system, and the adequacy of resources:
I can probably summarise there that the threat is
has a good record in international ballast water management and in emergency
response, but the management of other vectors, both international and domestic,
has been lacking and also the long-term management and control has been lacking.
In my opinion, it is imperative that the national system gets up and is
adequately resourced so it can do its job. In that regard, it is worthwhile
noting that the research and the management that has been done is cutting edge
as far as the world is concerned. We really lead the world in this instance in
many issues. Therefore, we can put a system in but it will not be right the
first time. It is going to require ongoing monitoring, evaluation and
adaptation to account for the errors we make when we first implement it.
The issue of ballast water also involves the movement
of marine species, both native and introduced, within Australian waters:
where there is intercoastal trading and shipping, there is still
an issue about controls at that level because at the moment there is no
comprehensive domestic ballast water management strategy. Water from, for
example, Tasmania or Victoria
could be discharged in the Spencer Gulf or the Gulf
of St Vincent here in South
Australia. So at the moment there are no national
domestic ballast water controls, which I believe is a great problem.
It is a matter of concern that there are no measures in
place to address the issue of the internal movement of ballast water. However,
in 2002 a trial program in Victoria
demonstrated that a domestic ballast water management strategy could work and
might be supported by the shipping industry:
In 2002, in conjunction with the Commonwealth and AQIS
and with the support of the shipping industry, Victoria
advanced a domestic ballast water management strategy which was successfully
trialled in Westernport. That trial highlighted that 83 per cent of the vessels
coming to Victoria
had in fact come from another port locality within Australian waters. It also
highlighted that only two per cent of the vessels had not complied with the
trial by the time they came to the port. What it is demonstrating is that the
trial was successful and that a domestic ballast water management strategy can
work and have the support of the shipping industry.
Although the introduction of invasive marine species
through ballast water has been the focus of much of the international response,
the number of species introduced by hull fouling, which is also referred to as
biofouling, appears to be greater:
The challenge of ballast water may be minor compared to the
challenge presented by biofouling of boats and ships. Biofouling is the
‘fouling’ or occupation of submerged surfaces, such as hulls, intake pipes,
propeller systems, sea chests, anchor wells, and fishing gear, by organisms
such as barnacles and worms. Unlike ballast water, biofouling is not restricted
to a certain class of vessel - it is an issue for not only international and
domestic cargo ships, but fishing boats and recreational yachts moving between
Perhaps because of the complexity of the biofouling issue, it
has been virtually ignored by governments and the IMO. Yet it may be the source
of half or more of IMPs. Major invaders in Australia
such as the North Pacific Seastar, the Brown Seaweed, and the European Fan Worm
may have arrived as hull hitchhikers.
The threat from invasive species introduced by hull
fouling appears to be increasing in part because of measures taken to address
the harmful effects on the environment of the most commonly used anti-fouling
Until recently ship owners protected their hulls from invasive
species by coating them in paints containing the very toxic tri-butyl-tin (TBT).
However, the IMO has adopted the International Convention on the Control of
Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships, which will end use of TBT. There is
already evidence of more organisms now travelling on hulls. Hull
travel was probably always substantial, as anti-fouling paints are often poorly
applied and maintained, especially on smaller vessels.
The issue of hull biofouling was raised by both the
Invasive Species Council and the
Government of Queensland, which wrote that:
there is currently no management program for prevention of
introduction of biofouling organisms.
At present there do not appear to be any active
programs aimed at addressing the problem of species introduction and spread
through hull fouling, although the issue is being examined. As discussed in
Chapter 3, the National Introduced Marine Pests Coordination Group (NIMPCG) was
established to recommend reforms to implement a National System for the
Prevention and Management of Introduced Marine Pest Incursions. According to
Preliminary work on the national system has included identifying
the requirements for a system to regulate the ballast water of both
international and coastal shipping, and on a framework for management of
biofouling pests. Further development is contingent on finalising the agreement
between governments on the legislative and financial framework. These matters
are being considered by the Natural Resources Management Ministerial Council in
October 2003, as well as by the Australian Transport Council.
Aquaculture and the aquarium industry
Although the evidence given to the Committee on the
sources of introduced marine species indicated that mariculture was a
significant source of introductions there do not appear to be any specific
measures in place to prevent the entrance of new species through this vector. The
Invasive Species Council specifically raised concerns about controls on the
import of aquarium fish:
Generally speaking, Australia's
approach to import approvals for animals has been more stringent than that for
plants, with the noticeable exception of aquarium fish. The large number of
aquarium fish species imported freely into Australia
is a cause of major concern, and must be reviewed. Quarantine officers have
told the ISC that the officers responsible for identifying imported fish
species are often inadequately trained for the task.
Funding, structure and strategy
The resources available for dealing with marine
invasive species, including the adequacy of the research effort, were
criticised in several submissions. In its submission the Queensland Government
Barrier activities at a national level are generally well funded
and effective, with the exception of introduced marine pests ...
The Invasive Species Council submitted that:
...in general, the focus and scale of resourcing by the government
on the IMP problem has not been commensurate with the scale of the threats. In
particular, the government has failed to address the problems posed by
biofouling of vessels. In addition, although the government established a
marine pest centre, it is not adequately funding it or requiring that the
industry primarily responsible for IMPs contribute to research to resolve or
manage the problems.
Elsewhere in this report the Committee has reviewed the
evidence it received of the problems which have arisen in the past because of
the short term nature of funding through the National Heritage Trust (NHT). Mr
from the Marine and Coastal Community Network, also drew the Committee's
attention to the work done by the CSIRO on marine invasive species and the
limitations on its funding:
We do know a lot more about the problem and the risk of
introductions - and I highlight the good work undertaken by the CSIRO when they
had the Centre for Research into Introduced Marine Pests. I would like to state
on the record that there has been a diminished capacity in terms of the CSIRO,
unfortunately, as a result of resources moving away from this issue in recent
years. I believe there were six researchers and now there are three senior
researchers. As we know, the moves for a CRC were unfortunately not supported
by the shipping industry, so a CRC for ballast water and other vector research
was not established.
also noted that the role of the CSIRO research centre into invasive marine
species had apparently been subsumed into the general function of the CSIRO.
The CSIRO acknowledged that securing long-term funding for its National
Centre for Marine Pest Research - first established in 1994 - has, at times,
been problematic. Dr Bax
gave evidence to the Committee on the history and funding of its research on
invasive marine pests which started in 1994:
We received money through both NHT and the shipping industry. Our
research went through a bit of a hiatus, in a way. We reduced our research in
the late 1990s as a few staff left and things like that occurred. More
recently, other states have started to become involved. Victoria
has been very active in this area and other states are building their capacity
to respond. Now with the national system getting close to being up, there has
been approximately $3 million of NHT money set aside to implement the national
system. At the moment, the funding situation for the next two years looks quite
good for implementation of the national system.
Great Barrier Reef Marine
The Great Barrier Reef is
controlled by the Commonwealth under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. Although the Great
Barrier Reef is one of Australia's
greatest national treasures, action to date on identifying potential threats to
it from invasive species has been less vigorous than the Committee would have
expected. The Committee was told that:
At the moment our knowledge is reasonably limited in terms of a
list of potential species which might cause concern in the park. Although there
has been some work done by the CRC and research bodies at the University
of Queensland and other institutes,
it is not yet entirely clear which species might be the ones which are likely
to be a problem. That is an area where we are encouraging and trying to focus
our Reef CRC and other research providers to begin looking at these issues with
Similarly, although mechanisms exist under the
legislation to improve protection of the park:
Currently we have no regulatory controls under the Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Act 1975 or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations
1983 that deal with the introduction of invasive marine species. In our act we
do have bits talking about the discharge of waste, and the regulations have the
ability to define what that is, but at the moment it is not specific.
We also have a new zoning plan that is about to come into effect
on 1 July this year. This will provide for the establishment of what we call
‘special management areas’ to restrict access to or the use of areas of the
marine park for emergency situations which might require immediate management
action. We also have powers to authorise activities in virtually any zone.
The evidence the Committee heard from representatives
of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reflected the concerns of other
groups about the immature nature of the Commonwealth's response to the problem
of marine invasive species:
We are quite supportive of those processes which attempt to get
an all-of-government approach to an administrative and response arrangement
which would ensure that action is taken quickly and effectively. I think it is
fair to say that, at the moment, there is an absence of that formal approach to
planning, decision making and funding responsibilities.
The need for a national system
Compounding the problem of inadequate resources is the
issue of the lack of a national system and strategy for dealing with marine
invasive species. Although there is a proposal to develop an intergovernmental
agreement which would lead to the development of a national system, as
described in Chapter 3, there is no national system currently in place.
The lack of a strategy to deal with marine pests in northern Australia
was raised by the Queensland Government.
The Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy currently provides a
very good service to Queensland
for terrestrial pests, assisting in new invasive species weed identifications
and working with DPI staff on animal health and plant disease surveys, but
again, the Strategy does not currently address potential introduction of marine
WWF Australia acknowledged that development of a
national system has been hindered by a lack of resources:
There has been sound progress in developing systems to prevent
and manage new incursions from hull fouling and ballast water, however, the
effective implementation of the National System for the Prevention and
Management of Marine pests is currently constrained by inadequate funding.
Several submissions to the Committee recommended that
action be taken to address these issues. The WWF Australia and the Conservation
Council of Western Australia both recommended that the national system for the
prevention and management of introduced marine pests be fully funded and
That the Commonwealth, State and the Northern
Territory governments fully fund and implement the
National System for the Prevention and Management of Introduced Marine Pests
developed jointly by the Commonwealth, States and the Northern
Territory. The National System puts early warning and
rapid response systems in place and defines clear roles and responsibilities
for the Commonwealth, States and the Northern Territory.
Together this ensures that new introduced marine pests will be quickly found
Research Scientist, CSIRO Marine Research, told the Committee that there is a
sufficient body of knowledge on invasive marine species to enable a national
system to be implemented. He also noted that the national system will require
change and adaptation to ensure that it achieves its objectives:
It is imperative that the national system gest up and is
adequately resourced so it can do its job. In that regard, it is worth while
noting that the research and the management that has been done is cutting edge
as far as the world is concerned. We really lead the world in this instance in
may issues. Therefore, we can put a system in but it will not be right the
first time. It is going to require ongoing monitoring, evaluation and
adaptation to account for the errors we make when we first implement it.
In its submission the Invasive Species Council
recommended that the costs of marine pests should be met by industry:
Institute a polluter pays system for IMPs, by imposing a ballast
levy on vessels, the amount of which is based on level of assessed risk. The
money collected should be used on research and management of IMPs, as listed
below under a similar recommendation for the IMO. (Note that California
already imposes such a tax.)
Advocate a polluter pays system in the IMO. That is, a ballast
levy for all international shipping. A levy could be incorporated into the
Draft International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast
Water and Sediments before it is ratified in February next year. The money
collected should be spent on:
research into better methods of
treating ballast water;
to assist developing nations to
upgrade their port inspection policies and to train biologists to conduct port
surveys and test ballast water;
better biological information
research into biological control and
other methods of controlling ballast invaders;
funding of rapid response teams to
eradicate new invaders when they first establish;
research on hull invaders to determine
the scale of the problem and the best solutions; and
compensation payments for those who
suffer from ballast invasions.
In evidence to the Committee a number of suggestions
were put forward for improving the barriers to entry of introduced marine
species. The Invasive Species Council recommended a range of measures on both
biofouling and ballast water:
Conduct a risk assessment of the threats posed by biofouling of
different types of vessels to distinguish high-risk from low-risk vessels.
Develop mandatory anti-fouling standards for different types of vessels.
Develop a risk characterisation model to guide Quarantine staff in regular
inspections of hulls and other vessel surfaces on higher-risk vessels.
Providing strong incentives for researchers to develop
alternatives to toxic anti-fouling hull paints such as TBT 
Advocate that the IMO develop a major strategy on biofouling.
Advocate within the IMO for a much greater international
investment into ballast research and for the development of international
standards of an acceptable level of treatment of ballast water. An investment
budget of up to $1 billion is commensurate with the scale of the problem and
the value of trade involved.
Managing Marine Invasive Species
Both the Invasive Species Council and WWF Australia drew the Committee's attention to
the potential to use Section 301A of the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to support the mitigation and control of
established populations of marine pests. As discussed in Chapter 2, Section
301A provides, inter alia, that regulations may be made for preventing trade in
identified species and for making plans to eliminate, reduce or prevent impacts
of listed species on Australia's
The possible use of Section 301A was considered by the
Joint Taskforce on the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions (the
Taskforce) in 1999. The Taskforce stated that to date there had not been
extensive nationally coordinated efforts in the areas of control or mitigation
of established populations of introduced marine pests.
It went on to say that the existing Section 301A could:
provide an appropriate legislative framework under which
national coordination of the development and implementation of introduced
marine pest control plans could proceed,
However, in developing such plans, the implications of using the EPBC
Act need to be fully assessed.
The Taskforce went on to recommend that the:
Commonwealth Government explore the option of developing
statutory plans to reduce, eliminate or prevent the impacts of introduced
marine species on the biodiversity of Australia using Section 301A of the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This should be
nationally coordinated by Environment Australia, as part of the National System.
The evidence received by the Committee has acknowledged
the leading role that Australia
has taken in developing a response to the threat from marine invasive species. The
Committee supports the work that has been done to date on this issue, but
clearly more can, and should, be done.
Substantial progress has already been made on limiting
the threat from species transported in ballast water although it would be
premature to conclude that this issue has already been adequately addressed. Some
progress has also been made on developing a national framework for dealing with
invasive marine species. However, no significant steps have been taken to
counter the potential threats from biofouling and the mariculture industries. As
a representative from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority told the
Clearly, management actions that focus solely on one vector,
even if they are successful, will not stop marine invasive species. So,
obviously, a national approach - preferably a global one - is required.
The progress which has been achieved to date on these
matters has been painfully slow. Clearly more needs to be done and any delay
increases the likelihood of a new incursion which could have a devastating
effect both on the environment and industry.
The Commonwealth Government should take a lead role in Ministerial
Councils and other appropriate forums to accelerate progress on the
development, implementation and funding of a national system to deal with marine
As a matter of urgency the Commonwealth Government should develop
programs to minimise the threat of invasive marine species entering Australia's
waters via hull fouling or as a result of the mariculture industries.
The Commonwealth Government should provide long term funding for
research aimed at identifying and combating marine invasive species,
particularly those which may threaten marine parks such as the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park, and
those that are in the ports of Australia's trading partners.