Conclusions and recommendations
The committee is persuaded that the management of environmental
biosecurity poses unique difficulties. Evidence presented to the committee
suggests these difficulties stem from a variety of factors, including:
the large number of species and the complexity of ecosystems that
the large number of species that are potentially invasive and
the difficulty of detecting and then eradicating or containing
incursions in remote and inaccessible locations, including freshwater and
marine environments, without further damaging the natural environment;
the lack of agreed methods by which to value the environmental
impacts of incursions and thereby justify expenditure on responses;
the lack of dedicated surveillance, motivated by economic
interest, as exists in industry-focused biosecurity; and
the lack of industry stakeholders with the capacity to
financially contribute to preparedness and response work, as exists in
The challenges presented by these characteristics of environmental
biosecurity are compounded by the difficulties facing biosecurity activities
more broadly, which include:
increasing cross-border movements of people, cargo and mail;
reductions in funding and staffing levels for biosecurity
agencies and activities;
reductions in, and ad hoc provision of, funding for
reductions in scientific expertise at both state and federal
levels in relevant fields, such as taxonomy, epidemiology and entomology;
climate change altering the geographic range of invasive species,
including pests and diseases already present in Australia; and
inconsistent approaches arising from Australia's federal system
Evidence presented to the committee indicates that incursions by exotic
organisms with the potential to harm Australia's natural environment are a
regular occurrence. Submitters and witnesses provided a wealth of examples to
the committee, only a sample of which have been discussed in preceding
Evaluating the significance of this history of incursions is not,
however, straightforward. As discussed in chapters 2 and 4, under the SPS
Agreement Australia has determined that its appropriate level of biosecurity
protection provides 'a high level of sanitary and phytosantiary protection
aimed at reducing risk to a very low level, but not zero'. The departments of
agriculture and the environment further emphasised that reducing biosecurity
risk to zero is unrealistic as it would require a complete halt in
international trade and travel. This framework means that Australia has
accepted a 'very low level' of biosecurity risk as the price of continuing
international trade and travel.
The committee notes that, within this general policy framework, at least
some incursions must be expected. It is therefore difficult to establish that a
given rate of incursions, whether they impact primarily on the environment or
on industry, constitutes a failure or a success of Australia's biosecurity
system. There are no absolute markers of success or failure in this context.
The committee also notes evidence that, although it is possible to
conceptually separate environmental biosecurity and industry biosecurity, in
practice there are a great many organisms that are of concern in both
categories. Furthermore, the committee accepts that, in terms of front-line
biosecurity operations, it is desirable that biosecurity risks be treated as a whole,
whether they be threats to human, animal or plant health, or fall into
environmental or industry categories. Evidence presented to the committee
suggests this is currently the case.
Environment Health Australia
On the basis of evidence it has received, the committee acknowledges that,
although biosecurity is treated as a unified whole at the border, preparedness
for environmental biosecurity threats and the capacity to respond to incursions
that pose a threat to the environment lag behind industry biosecurity.
As noted above, this appears to have occurred because environmental biosecurity
cannot draw on stakeholders with significant economic resources, as industry
biosecurity can. The examples of Plant Health Australia (PHA) and Animal Health
Australia (AHA), which are organisations funded jointly by industry and
government, illustrate this situation.
The Invasive Species Council submitted that this deficit could be addressed
by establishing an equivalent environment-focused body, Environment Health
Australia (EHA). The Invasive Species Council suggested that such a body would
have to be government-funded, but that such funding would not be unreasonable
given the level of government funding already committed to supporting PHA and AHA.
This suggestion was supported by many other submitters to the inquiry.
The EHA proposal was not, however, supported by the departments of
agriculture and the environment, PHA and AHA, and the Nursery and Garden
Industry Australia (NGIA). Opposition to the proposal was based primarily on concerns
over how it would be funded and its potential to further fragment biosecurity
governance in Australia.
The committee believes that the establishment of a new body along the
lines suggested in the Environment Health Australia proposal would not be the
best use of the limited resources available for biosecurity measures. Rather,
based on the evidence provided to it during the inquiry, the committee considers
that Australia's environmental biosecurity performance can be improved through
better coordination and information sharing between existing organisations and
through addressing shortcomings in present response agreements such as the National
Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement.
To this end, the committee has sought to address specific problems with
the operation of environmental biosecurity raised in submissions and evidence.
In making these recommendations the committee notes that much of the complexity
of biosecurity arrangements in Australia stems from the division of
responsibilities in this area between Commonwealth and state and territory
jurisdictions. As such, improvements in this area require not only improved
organisation at the Commonwealth level but also the cooperation of all
jurisdictions. Many of the recommendations below, if they are to be
implemented, will require a greater willingness to pursue national
Inspector-General of Biosecurity
As discussed in chapter 2, the Biosecurity Bill 2014 was introduced
without accompanying legislation to establish the Inspector-General of
Biosecurity as an independent statutory position, as had occurred with the
Biosecurity Bill 2012. This created uncertainty over the future of the
The committee notes that the Biosecurity Bill 2014, as passed by the
House of Representatives on 9 February 2015, included delegable review and
investigation powers provided to the Minister for Agriculture under clauses
567, 568 and 643. The committee did not consider that such provisions would
guarantee that the biosecurity system is regularly subject to independent,
systematic and transparent review processes.
The committee therefore supports the establishment of the position of
Inspector-General of Biosecurity, via dedicated legislation, with broad audit
and investigation powers to examine the operations of the federal biosecurity
agency, as originally envisaged by the Beale review.
The committee believes that the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, through monitoring
and reporting on how well the biosecurity system at the federal level is
addressing environmental biosecurity threats, will be able to identify both strengths
and weaknesses and opportunities for improvements. This is particularly
important given that responsibility for biosecurity is shared by both the
Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture and that any
lack of coordination may seriously undermine the effectiveness of Commonwealth
policy aimed at protecting Australia's environment and agricultural interests.
One area where the committee considers that the Inspector-General could
play a significant role is in reviewing pathways and risk analysis. The
committee received considerable evidence of failures in environmental
biosecurity preparedness with respect to specific entry pathways or
industries—for example, mail, cargo, the horticulture industry and the live
animal trade. The committee has made recommendations regarding each of these
areas below, however, this accumulation of examples leads the committee to
believe that the pathway and risk analyses undertaken by the Department of
Agriculture have not adequately addressed species of environmental concern. The
committee therefore believes the Inspector-General of Biosecurity should conduct
a general investigation of the extent to which existing pathway and risk
analyses account for high-risk environmental biosecurity threats.
The committee also received evidence of instances of inconsistent or incomplete
information gathering and sharing between jurisdictions regarding environmental
biosecurity threats. This appears to present a barrier to developing accurate
assessments of which entry pathways or industries require tighter control.
Several examples of where improvements could be made within the live animal
trade are discussed below.
The committee therefore believes that, as part of the suggested review
of pathway and risk analyses relevant to environmental biosecurity, the
Inspector-General of Biosecurity should also examine opportunities for the
Department of Agriculture to facilitate more consistent information gathering
and better information sharing across jurisdictions.
The committee considers that the establishment of the statutory position
of Inspector-General of Biosecurity, as originally envisaged by the Beale
review, is a vital measure to ensure the integrity of Australia's biosecurity
system. Accordingly, the committee welcomes the amendments to the Biosecurity
Bill 2014 made on 12 May 2015 in the committee stage of the Senate that
will provide for a statutory Inspector-General of Biosecurity.
The committee recommends that, once established, the Inspector-General
of Biosecurity conduct a systematic review of how effectively high-risk environmental
biosecurity concerns are addressed within the broader biosecurity system, with
a particular focus on identifying gaps in pathway and risk analyses and on
improving information gathering and sharing between jurisdictions.
National Environmental Biosecurity
The committee received evidence of a number of weaknesses in the
framework for managing environmental biosecurity.
The committee notes that the National Environmental Biosecurity Response
Agreement (NEBRA), which was designed to establish a process for responding to
environmental biosecurity incursions, is a relatively new agreement between the
federal and state and territory governments. To date there has been only one
response managed under this agreement, that is, the response to the red
imported fire ant incursion at Yarwun in Queensland.
The committee therefore believes that improvements to the NEBRA should be
pursued by signatories as any shortcomings in the structure or scope of the
agreement become apparent over time.
Several aspects of the NEBRA were highlighted during the inquiry as
potential weaknesses. In particular clause 6.7, which details conditions under
which a response will not go ahead, was the focus of concern. This clause
states that a national biosecurity incident response will not commence, or
continue, unless the parties to the NEBRA have reached a consensus. This
effectively provides each state or territory with the power to veto, or bring
to an end, a response. This provision may prove a problem in the future. In
this regard, the committee notes the different opinions expressed in
submissions from the South Australian and Western Australian governments
regarding the worth of continuing to fund the red imported fire ant response in
Clause 6.7 also states that a response should not go ahead if a
technical feasibility analysis indicates that eradication is not possible or
likely. Submitters raised concerns that the terms 'possible' and 'likely' were
not adequately defined and that the precautionary principle was not effectively
implemented in the agreement. In particular, the concern was raised that due to
the need for consensus among the parties and the high cost of mounting
responses, only eradication attempts that are highly likely to succeed will be
attempted. This arrangement may lead to inaction on incursions with a
potentially high impact on the environment where the technical feasibility of
eradication is uncertain.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with
state and territory governments to revise the National Environmental
Biosecurity Response Agreement such that disagreement by a single party need not
prevent a response under the agreement from going ahead.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with
state and territory governments to include in the National Environmental
Biosecurity Response Agreement an explicit precautionary principle which states
that a lack of full scientific or technical certainty regarding the feasibility
of eradication must be weighed against potential biosecurity risks when
determining whether to mount a response.
Many submitters discussed the fundamental difficulty involved in
attempting to determine the value of environmental impacts of invasive species
incursions so as to include it in cost-benefit analyses.
The committee accepts that it is difficult to translate environmental values
into economic terms, and notes that qualitative measures are often used
instead. However, the committee believes that the lack of an agreed method
under the NEBRA for undertaking such evaluations is a significant weakness,
given that the agreement is focused on responding to incursions that are
primarily a threat to the environment.
The committee recommends the Commonwealth Government work with state and
territory governments to develop a nationally consistent methodology for
incorporating environmental impacts into cost-benefit analyses under the National
Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement.
A further weakness of the NEBRA is also common to the better established
Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) and the Emergency Plant
Pest Response Deed (EPPRD)—that is, the lack of clear arrangements for decision
making and cost sharing after it has been determined that eradication of a
biosecurity threat is no longer possible. This phase in the response to an
incursion is referred to as 'transition to management'. Activities undertaken
in this phase of a response generally focus on adapting to, and minimising the
impact of, an invasive species, rather than attempting to eradicate it.
The committee notes that this gap was identified in the submission of
the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment.
The submission also stated that signatories to the EPPRD had agreed in principle
to include a transition to management phase in those agreements, and
negotiations are continuing with signatories to the EADRA to also include a
transition to management phase. However, no such agreement appears to have been
reached for the NEBRA, nor have any negotiations commenced.
The committee believes that efforts should also be made to expand the
NEBRA to include a transition to management phase in order to clarify the
responsibilities of the parties in the event that eradication is no longer feasible
but further management activities are still of national importance.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with signatories
to the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement to include in that
agreement a transition to management framework to clarify the responsibilities
of the parties for ongoing management activities if eradication is deemed to be
no longer feasible.
Biodiversity conservation targets
The committee notes that Australia has committed, under target 7 of Australia's
Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030, to reduce the impacts of invasive
species on threatened species and ecological communities in terrestrial,
aquatic and marine environments by 10 per cent by 2015.
The committee notes evidence put to it that, although this target
appears precise, progress towards it is in fact unmeasurable due to the lack of
baseline data. This situation appears to be confirmed by comments on this
target contained in Australia's Fifth National Report to the Convention on
The committee believes that, if such quantitative targets are to be
meaningful, there must some means of measuring progress towards them. This
should be a consideration when the Department of the Environment conducts its
2015 review of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030.
The committee recommends that the Department of the Environment review targets
contained in Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030
and develop measurement methodologies to ensure that Australia's progress can
be meaningfully assessed.
The committee recommends that the Australian National Audit Office
conduct a performance audit of the Department of the Environment's
implementation of Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030
with a particular focus on how progress towards targets is measured.
Natural resource management
The committee heard evidence from witnesses that delays in securing
funding have detrimentally affected responses to invasive species, making the
eradication task more difficult and ultimately more expensive than it would
have been had funding been available more quickly.
Responses to tramp ant incursions in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
and on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island that relied on gaining funding
through natural resource management programs such as Landcare were cited as
examples of this problem.
Given the importance of early intervention to achieving success when
responding to incursions, the committee considers that attention should be
given to minimising delays in the funding application process for programs such
as Landcare. The committee also notes evidence put to its recent inquiry into
the National Landcare Program that, beyond addressing new incursions, there is
a need for ongoing support for monitoring and management of established
invasive species, particularly weeds.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture and the
Department of the Environment review processes for allocating funding under
their natural resource management programs with a view to minimising delays for
Prioritisation of pests and
diseases of environmental biosecurity concern
The committee notes that, although the Department of Agriculture was
able to provide on notice a list of six invasive species that are of high
concern to the department and are considered as threats to the environment,
neither it nor the Department of the Environment appears to have developed a
comprehensive prioritised list of pests and diseases of environmental
The committee believes that the development of such a list is important
to strategically focusing the scarce resources available for environmental biosecurity
work on those species that present the greatest threat.
The committee recommends that the Department of the Environment work
with the Department of Agriculture to develop and publish a national priority
list of pests and diseases not yet established in Australia that are of
environmental biosecurity concern.
Evidence presented to the committee suggests that staff reductions in
the Department of Agriculture have led to pressure being placed on front-line
staff and a reduction in the quality of Australia's biosecurity regime. The
committee notes information provided by the Department of Agriculture regarding
the different sources of funding it relies on to support different areas of its
activities, and its belief that staff reductions have been accompanied by
changes to business practices and the introduction of improved technology which
have increased the department's efficiency.
Nevertheless, the committee is concerned that large reductions in staff numbers
will lead, at some point, to a reduction in capability.
The committee received evidence particularly concerned with reductions
in Commonwealth biosecurity staff numbers in northern Australia. The committee
notes that northern Australia is exposed to a high level of biosecurity risk
due to its proximity to other countries and its climate. Any reduction of
biosecurity staff in this region is therefore particularly concerning.
The committee notes that the final report of the Joint Select Committee
on Northern Australia recommended that the number of biosecurity officers be
significantly increased in northern Australia to increase the chances of early
detection of pest and disease incursions, and reduce the time taken to identify
specific pests and diseases and put in place remedial action.
In this context, the committee also notes that the Northern Australia
Quarantine Strategy is now 25 years old. The committee considers that, while
the strategy has worked well, it would be timely to review and update that
The committee notes the suggestion of the Invasive Species Council that
the strategy does not address environmental biosecurity threats as
comprehensively as it might. The committee therefore suggests that such a
review should also examine whether greater attention should be paid to
environmental biosecurity in this strategy.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture review and
update the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy by mid-2016, and that this
review specifically examine the adequacy of resources available to implement
the strategy and suggest changes that can be made to improve environmental
biosecurity outcomes under the strategy.
Environment Protection and Biosecurity
Conservation Act—threat abatement plans
The committee notes evidence provided by the Department of the
Environment that, although it has responsibility for the development, review
and, in part, implementation of threat abatement plans developed under the EPBC
Act, there is no substantive Commonwealth investment in the implementation of
The committee heard evidence, with particular reference to the tramp ant
abatement plan, that once these plans are developed they are often not properly
The committee acknowledges that the implementation of these plans
requires the cooperation of a large number of stakeholders, including the
various tiers of government, research institutions, landholders and community
groups. Nevertheless, the committee believes that the Commonwealth ought to play
a greater role in leading the implementation of these plans.
The committee recommends that both the Department of Agriculture and the
Department of the Environment conduct reviews to assess whether their existing
resources can be better targeted to address known areas of environmental
biosecurity risk. In particular, the committee recommends that the Department
of the Environment examine whether resources can be directed towards effective
implementation of existing threat abatement plans under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Scientific expertise and research
The committee received concerning evidence regarding the state of
scientific expertise of relevance to biosecurity in general and to environmental
biosecurity more specifically. There appears to be an overall lack of funding
to support scientific work in this area, a situation that is exacerbated by the
way this funding is delivered.
The committee notes recent CSIRO warnings that Australia's biosecurity
science capability has declined across the board and that the fields of
taxonomy, epidemiology and entomology will all lose significant numbers of
experienced staff in coming years.
The committee believes that the provision of adequate support for scientific
research in this area is vital to maintaining Australia's biosecurity
The committee recommends that the Department of Industry and Science develop
a strategy to address the current, and projected, decline in the level of
scientific expertise in areas relevant to biosecurity.
The committee has concluded that the provision of funding through
short-term competitive grant processes also leads to inefficiencies in the
utilisation of existing expertise.
The committee heard evidence from both the Plant Biosecurity CRC and the
Invasive Animals CRC that they currently operate only because they were able to
win grants via competitive grants programs. If they had not been successful in
these rounds, the capability provided by these organisations would not exist.
As it stands, the two CRCs have no certainty as to their continuation beyond
their current funding arrangements.
The committee accepts that both the Plant Biosecurity CRC and the
Invasive Animals CRC were established for a finite period; nevertheless, the
committee believes that the general approach of employing short-term, ad hoc
funding arrangements to support research in this area works against the
strategic need to maintain Australia's biosecurity science capacity and the
need to conduct long-term research.
A variety of submitters and witnesses highlighted the impact that
climate change will have on biosecurity. Alterations to Australia's climate
will mean that some species previously considered low risk will become more
threatening, whereas some current high-risk threats will be less suited to the
The committee believes that, as changes in Australia's climate will
alter the risk profiles of many biosecurity threats, Australia must devote
significant scientific resources to identifying potential new biosecurity
threats that arise from these processes.
The committee recommends that the Department of Industry and Science, in
cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the
Environment, conduct a review to prioritise Australia's biosecurity research
needs, both environmental and industry-focused, and determine what long-term
institutional structure will best address these needs.
The committee also recommends that this review specifically investigate whether
Australia possesses sufficient research capacity to examine the effects of
climate change on invasive species and, if not, how this can be addressed.
The committee received evidence that the expertise, particularly
taxonomic expertise, currently housed in Australia's natural history museums is
not being utilised as efficiently as it could be. The committee was impressed by
the example of the New Zealand Marine Invasive Taxonomic Service, detailed in
evidence from the Australian Museum, which is a centralised identification
service that utilises the taxonomic expertise present in New Zealand to provide
rapid identification of organisms of concern.
The committee believes that a similar coordinated system should be
established in Australia to utilise existing expertise to improve the speed and
reliability of identification. Although the New Zealand example was restricted
to marine invasive species, the committee believes this model can be expanded
to cover terrestrial and aquatic invasive species.
The committee recommends that, following the example of the New Zealand Marine
Invasive Taxonomic Service, the Commonwealth Government work with state and
territory governments to establish a coordinated taxonomic identification
service that utilises existing scientific expertise, particularly that present
in natural history museums.
Pathways and industries of concern
The committee received evidence regarding specific pathways and
industries that appear to pose a particular threat to Australia's environmental
biosecurity. The following recommendations address issues raised regarding
mail, cargo, the horticulture industry and the live animal trade.
The committee notes that the Department of Agriculture provided evidence
suggesting that the mail pathway presents a relatively low level of risk. While
this may be true in general, the committee received concerning evidence
regarding the ease with which prohibited plants and seeds can be obtained from
online retailers and imported into Australia via the mail system.
The Invasive Species Council documented the process it followed to purchase
prohibited plants and seeds via eBay and the ease with which they passed
through the mail system, even in the case where the prohibited plant seeds were
identified on the customs declaration.
The committee notes the apparent lack of action taken by eBay in
response to complaints from the Invasive Species Council regarding the
availability of these prohibited plants via specific online sellers.
The committee sought further information from eBay regarding how its
plants and seeds policy is displayed to potential purchasers; however, eBay
failed to provide a response. The committee notes that, although eBay provided
a submission to its inquiry, it declined to appear at a public hearing.
The committee is aware of recent work undertaken by the Department of
Agriculture with several online retailers to improve their compliance with
Australia's plant and seed import requirements and to inform consumers about
these requirements. However, evidence presented to the committee suggests that,
at least in the case of eBay, no action is being taken against online retailers
who breach Australia's import requirements, nor is eBay's plant and seed policy
being displayed prominently to customers.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture undertake
enforcement activities against internet retailers and marketplaces that
repeatedly breach Australia's plant and seed import requirements and work with these
businesses to ensure warnings are displayed when customers attempt to purchase
prohibited plants and seeds.
Committee notes that Australia has suffered regular tramp ant incursions
in recent years, in some cases more than once in the same location. Several
witnesses suggested that this indicates a systematic weakness in cargo
surveillance measures. The committee agrees with this assessment and believes
that, given the potential impact of tramp ants, greater efforts must be made to
prevent tramp ants reaching Australia.
The committee also notes evidence provided by Dr Lach that the measures
outlined under the Tramp Ant Threat Abatement Plan, developed in 2006, have not
been fully implemented.
The committee recommends that the Department of the Environment work to
ensure that the measures described in the Tramp Ant Threat Abatement Plan are
The committee recommends that, within the next 12 months, the Department
of Agriculture review its cargo surveillance measures with the aim of achieving
better detection rates of invasive species in general and of tramp ants in
The committee received evidence that the horticulture industry has
played a role in the spread of many plants species that pose a threat to the
environment. In some cases known weeds have been sold under incorrect labels
and thereby spread to new locations around Australia.
The committee notes comments from Nursery and Garden Industry Australia
that it believes the commercial nursery industry is heavily regulated but that
significant threats to environmental biosecurity are posed by internet
retailers of plant material, as noted above, and by small-scale, non-commercial
The committee received evidence that regulation of the horticulture
industry suffers from a lack of national coordination. The committee agrees
with this assessment and believes greater work needs to be done by both Commonwealth
and state and territory agencies to establish harmonised protocols regarding
which plants can be sold, how weeds are identified and the tracking of plant
The committee also believes the establishment of permitted lists to govern
the sale of plants in nurseries, as currently exists in Western Australia, rather
than prohibited lists, would improve the regulation of the industry.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with
state and territory governments, and the horticulture industry, on establishing
standardised labelling, weed identification, and sales tracking protocols
across the industry.
Live animal trade
The committee received concerning evidence regarding the rate at which
live animals, particularly birds, are entering Australia and either escaping or
being deliberately released into the wild. These animals appear to be entering
Australia by both legal and illegal means.
The committee notes evidence provided by the Zoo and Aquarium
Association that, although the zoo industry is heavily regulated, the private
wildlife trade is significantly less restricted, particularly with regard to
The committee is also concerned by the lack of a nationwide information source
regarding seizures of wildlife. At present it appears that the Zoo and Aquarium
Association maintains the most comprehensive database of this information. The
committee believes that the development of a nationwide database would improve
efforts to restrict illegal live imports and also better understand the biosecurity
issues that are presented by this trade.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture review and,
where appropriate, strengthen current regulations governing private aviculture
imports, given the high rate at which privately kept birds escape into the
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture identify the
pathways by which exotic birds are entering the country, including illegal
pathways, and work to better regulate or close these pathways.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture work with
relevant state and territory agencies to develop a national database of seized exotic
Marine, freshwater and island biosecurity
The committee received evidence highlighting the role of shipping in the
movement of organisms in the marine environment. The roles of ballast water and
biofouling and their respective regulatory schemes were highlighted in
The committee notes that the Biosecurity Bill 2014, which was introduced
to the Parliament after the committee had received submissions and held
hearings, addresses the need to develop a national ballast water regime, but
does not address the need to better regulate biofouling.
The committee acknowledges the complexities of regulating this area, but
believes a national mandatory regime must be implemented as soon as possible given
the contribution of this pathway to marine incursions. Evidence presented to
the committee suggests that biofouling poses a significantly greater threat to
Australia's biosecurity than ballast water.
The committee also received evidence that surveillance for marine
biosecurity is significantly under resourced. The failure of some states to
properly implement marine pest monitoring programs under the Marine Pest
National Monitoring Strategy is a stark example of this situation.
Another surveillance weakness highlighted in evidence was the lack of
regular inspections by the Department of Agriculture targeted at biofouling.
The committee recommends that, following the completion of the current
review of national maritime pest policy by the Department of Agriculture, the Commonwealth
Government amend biosecurity legislation to incorporate a national mandatory
biofouling management regime.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture conduct more
regular ship inspections targeted at biofouling.
The committee received evidence highlighting the ornamental fish trade
as the source of a significant number of incursions into Australia's aquatic
ecosystems. Evidence suggests that, of the 30 ornamental fish species established
in Australia, around 10 are on the permitted import list.
The committee notes the existence of a national strategy for the
management of ornamental fish, including a banned list of noxious species and a
grey list of species that require further assessment. However, it appears that
there are many species currently traded in the ornamental fish industry that
are not on the permitted species list under the EPBC Act.
Several witnesses expressed concern to the committee that ornamental
fish were generally not subject to screening with regard to their species or their
disease status at Australia's borders. In this regard the committee notes the
intention of the Department of Agriculture to introduce an on-arrival fish
health monitoring program.
Evidence provided to the committee suggests that there is a lack of national
coordination in relation to information sharing and responses to freshwater
fish incursions and that the risk assessments used to assess ornamental fish
imports are based on overseas information which may not be relevant to
The committee believes that Australia's preparedness in this area must
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with
state and territory governments to establish a national monitoring and data
sharing regime for freshwater fish incursions.
The committee recommends that the Department of Agriculture improve
border surveillance of freshwater fish imports, review the relevance of its
risk assessments for Australian conditions and implement as soon as practicable
the on-arrival fish health monitoring program.
The committee received compelling evidence regarding the important role
Australia's islands play as biodiversity refuges. The committee also saw
examples of how critical biosecurity protection is to keeping islands in a
state that would allow them to fulfil this function in future. The cases of
Christmas Island and Barrow Island were presented as contrasting examples of
biosecurity failure and success.
In its 2013 report, The effectiveness of threatened species and
ecological communities' protection in Australia, this committee urged the
Department of the Environment to develop biosecurity strategies as part of
action plans to protect island sanctuaries. The Commonwealth Government
responded that it was doing so for islands for which it has responsibility.
The committee notes the division of responsibility for Australia's
islands between the Commonwealth and the states but believes that a nationally
coordinated approach to island biosecurity, along the lines suggested by Dr
Burbidge in his submission outlining a National Island Biosecurity Initiative,
would nevertheless improve the management of islands with respect to
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with state
and territory governments to establish a national framework for managing
biosecurity on Australia's islands.
Finally, the committee wishes to acknowledge that this is an
exceptionally complex area of environmental management, requiring coordination
between all levels of government, industry and the community, as well as a
range of difficult decisions about where scarce resources should be allocated
to maximise their effectiveness. These complexities are further exacerbated by the
partial state of scientific knowledge, both of potentially invasive species and
of Australia's environment itself, as well as the influence of climate change.
Nevertheless, the committee considers that there is room to strengthen
Australia's performance in relation to environmental biosecurity in order to protect
our unique ecosystems.
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