Strengthening Australia's biosecurity
There is little doubt that the introduction of exotic weeds, pests or
infectious diseases into Australia poses a considerable threat to the health of
its plant and animal life and, ultimately, its economy. Through careful
management, Australia's biosecurity regime seeks to minimise the risk of these
weeds, pests and diseases entering or gaining a foothold in the region.
Although the Treaty does not set down specific standards on
environmental protection and conservation, it does require PNG and Australia to
use their best endeavours to prevent the introduction of fauna or flora that
could harm indigenous plant and animal life and to control noxious species.
In this chapter, the committee examines the operation of Australia's quarantine
and biosecurity regime in the Torres Strait.
Australia's quarantine and biosecurity arrangements
A recent comprehensive review found that, although Australia has in
place sound and effective quarantine and biosecurity arrangements, the system
is not perfect. Further, the Executive Director of the Biosecurity Services
Group, Rona Mellor, told a conference in March 2010 that Australia's
biosecurity status was 'the responsibility of all Australians'. She said:
Each member of the community has a role to play—before the
border, at the border and within Australia—to prevent, prepare for, detect and
mitigate biosecurity risks, and respond to, manage and recover from biosecurity
incidents should they occur.
This statement is relevant to the Torres Strait which, as detailed in
the previous chapter, presents a number of challenges for biosecurity. In the
following section, the committee considers the pre-border, border and
post-border measures being taken by Australia to manage the biosecurity risks
emanating from the region.
It is in Australia's interest that diseases, pests and noxious weeds
should be contained at their place of origin or eliminated before they find
their way south of PNG and across the Torres Strait. Thus, Australia's first
line of defence against the introduction of invasive species is off-shore at
the source of the problem. This involves dealing with the threat wherever it is
present in PNG or Indonesia and educating people so that they do not carry
something into the Torres Strait that poses a threat to plant or animal life in
It is critical for Australia's quarantine agencies to have a good
understanding of the potential biosecurity threats that exist in PNG and
Indonesia. For example, a 2008 report that reviewed Australian Quarantine and
Inspection Service's (AQIS) surveillance program found that one of the largest
unknowns was 'the SWF and host density in the south-western PNG, especially in
and around the treaty villages and hence the probability or risk of a SWF
incursion into the Torres Strait'. It recognised the difficulty of quantifying
the risk without the necessary data or information and stated that it was
'imperative that AQIS gain a greater understanding of the risks posed by SWF in
southern coastal PNG'. The report recommended that 'some SWF monitoring be
implemented in southern coastal PNG, including SWF trapping and systematic
myiasis monitoring of local livestock in the Treaty villages'.
With regard to this important area of off-shore monitoring and surveillance,
DAFF informed the committee that it conducts animal and plant health survey
activities in PNG to manage pre-border quarantine risks in the Torres Strait.
The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (OCVO) and the Office of the Chief
Plant Protection Officer (OCPPO) co-ordinate collaborative activities with the
PNG Government so that the biosecurity agencies have a better idea of threats
and how to respond promptly should an incident occur.
For example, the surveillance activities in PNG that OCPPO coordinates jointly
with PNG's National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Agency (NAQIA)
provide 'invaluable intelligence on these countries' animal health status,
thereby forewarning Australia of new or emerging threats in our northern region'.
DAFF explained further:
Early warning enables timely implementation of risk
mitigation measures where appropriate, and greatly improves the success of
subsequent control and eradication programs. In addition, the strong support
gained from the neighbouring countries through these activities strengthens relationships
and facilitates the exchange of pest and disease information between these
countries and with Australia.
Avian influenza (AI) provides a case study of the type of monitoring
that Australia undertakes. As noted in the previous chapter, the movement of
nomadic waterfowl between northern Australia and PNG provides a potential route
for the introduction of AI and other disease agents into Australia. The
Northern Connections project, which studied the movement of birds between
Australia and its northern neighbours, involved satellite tracking of birds in PNG
and DNA sampling of birds on both sides of the Torres Strait.
According to Animal Health Australia, wild-bird surveillance and laboratory
programs, which enhance Australia's diagnostic and surveillance capacity for
detecting AI, would continue in 2009.
Dr Carroll also cited DAFF's investment of 'quite a lot of resource' in helping
PNG control and eradicate an outbreak of a very virulent form of Newcastle
disease that occurred at the top of the country.
Any type of monitoring or surveillance activity in PNG or Indonesia
intended to identify potential threats to Australia's northern area requires
the cooperation of the relevant country. For example, DAFF noted that access to
Indonesia for surveillance activities can be erratic due to political
Based on previous inquiries, the committee appreciates the importance of the
Australian Government and research institutions maintaining close links through
joint endeavours and people-to-people contacts as a means of overcoming
political difficulties that could otherwise disrupt worthwhile projects.
The committee recognises and supports the work of people such as the Chief
Veterinary Officer and the Chief Plant Protection Officer that helps to build
these necessary institutional networks.
Understanding and identifying a biosecurity risk off-shore is only the
first step to minimising its potential to cause harm in Australia. The next stage
is to contain or eradicate the threat. Indeed, as noted by Dr Carroll, the more
diseases there are in Australia's northern neighbours and 'the less they are
controlled the more pressure is put on diseases to jump across and then
island-hop or even move directly to the mainland'.
Off-shore capacity building—PNG
The capacity or political willingness of Australia's nearest neighbours
to contribute to activities designed to contain or eliminate biosecurity
threats affects the success of Australia's quarantine programs. For example,
DAFF noted that PNG's quarantine service, NAQIA, has major capacity constraints
delivering its core functions in animal health and quarantine. Most notably,
PNG has a critical shortage of qualified personnel, especially veterinarians,
as well as poor infrastructure.
Dr Carroll similarly noted that the resources for capacity building in these
areas are always stretched in PNG.
DAFF's relationships with NAQIA and PNG's Ministry of Agriculture and
the quarantine service in Indonesia are intended to build capacity. Mr Paul
Morris, DAFF, noted that in addition to the animal and plant health
surveillance conducted in PNG, the department also:
...engages in collaborative activities with the PNG government
with the objective of enhancing its capacity to monitor and manage existing and
emerging quarantine risks of potential impact to PNG and Australian
territories, including the Torres Strait.
DAFF outlined the work that the OCPPO and OCVO undertake with NAQIA and
Indonesia's MOA (Directorate General of Horticulture) to strengthen regional
biosecurity and quarantine capacity and reduce the risk of pest and disease
incursions into Australia. The surveillance and biosecurity capacity-building
activities undertaken in those countries include animal disease surveys, public
awareness programs and training. Their aim is to enhance PNG's capacity to
monitor and manage existing and emerging quarantine risks to PNG and Australian
territories, including the Torres Strait. 
According to DAFF, collaboration between Australia and PNG is supported by both
departmental and AusAID funding.
AusAID provides funding for DAFF for a range of activities in both PNG
and Indonesia. For example, Dr Carroll explained:
We are trying to investigate various things with AusAID, particularly
under the Strongim Gavman Program, to try to get veterinarians over there and
to train locals through universities here. It is a long and difficult process.
OCPPO manages the AusAID Papua New Guinea Australian Quarantine Twinning
Scheme (PAQTS). This scheme commenced in March 2007 and was to continue to 30
June 2010. Its objective was to strengthen regional biosecurity and quarantine
capacity and assist NAQIA to address some of its capacity constraints. Funding
for the period was $1.5 million. Some of PAQTS activities included:
- addressing PNG's need for more veterinarians through veterinary
- training in plant and animal pest and disease surveillance; and
- implementing a surveillance and control program in the Eastern
Highlands of PNG in response to a new pathogenic form of the honeybee mite,
Varroa Jacobsoni. The pest was identified in an AQIS survey of PNG and
Indonesian Papua in July 2008.
The Queensland Government is also developing projects to improve
biosecurity capability in PNG to reduce the risk to Torres Strait.
Research institutes provide important linkages and networks that assist
in gaining a better understanding and early knowledge of emerging and
continuing threats to Australia's biosecurity as well as in building capacity
off-shore. Professor John Mackenzie noted in particular the importance of
developing informal person-to-person linkages with colleagues overseas, perhaps
through joint research programmes. He suggested that important early knowledge
may be gained:
...through better international linkages at the
person-to-person level, particularly through common research interests but also
through increased capacity building and training in regional laboratories to
better detect, diagnose and respond to new, potential threats.
In his view, if Australia were 'much more proactive through AusAID, the
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and other
aid-funding mechanisms', they could 'help provide a basis for building these
different networks and other linkages which are going to be so important...in the
This observation reinforces similar observations by the committee in previous
reports about the value in strengthening people-to-people links with PNG and
assisting it build local capacity across a range of sectors.
One of the dominant themes to emerge from this inquiry so far is that in
many cases, when dealing with problems facing the Torres Strait, PNG must be
involved as a cooperative and active partner. Furthermore, while cooperation
and collaboration with PNG is important in meeting challenges, PNG is often
constrained in making a contribution by its lack of resources. Thus, in areas
such as biosecurity, one of Australia's key priorities is to promote greater
awareness of threats and garner PNG's support to help control or eradicate
them. Australia must also help PNG build capacity so that it can effectively
work with Australia in combating threats to the region.
The committee's recommendations in chapter 10 designed to encourage
greater involvement of PNG villagers in local conservation activities are also
relevant to strengthening biosecurity in the region.
Education and awareness
Another precaution against the spread of unwanted pests or disease is to
use education to discourage people from bringing prohibited goods into the
Torres Strait. The Treaty recognises Australia's and PNG's right to apply such
immigration, customs, health and quarantine measures, temporary or otherwise,
as they consider necessary to meet problems that may arise.
In particular each Party may apply measures to limit or
prevent free movement, or the carriage of goods, plants or animals in the
course thereof, in the case of an outbreak or spread of an epidemic, epizootic
or epiphytotic in or in the vicinity of the Protected Zone.
Both countries, however, are required by Article 16 to apply these procedures
'in such a way as not to prevent or hinder free movement or the performance of
traditional activities by traditional inhabitants'. The Treaty stipulates that
'otherwise, normal customs and quarantine safeguards apply in the Torres
Quarantine zones and prohibited
In this regard, Australia has imposed restrictions on the movement of
goods and animals deemed to be a threat to Australia's biosecurity. Certain
animals, plants and products are not allowed to be brought into the quarantine
zones. Mr Chapman, DAFF, noted that the structure of the Torres Strait
Protected Zone and the quarantine zones provides a series of filters designed
to prevent the southward movement of any problem items. The following
illustration shows the quarantine zones that operate in the Torres Strait.
Figure 12.1: Quarantine zones in the Torres Strait
Traditional inhabitants are allowed to trade fish, crab, clean feathers
(no skin), pandanus mats, baskets and skirts, carved wood, shells, beads,
processed sago and coconut without the husk.
Mr Murphy explained to a House of Representatives committee:
Fresh meat cannot be brought across but seafood can. There
are magpie geese that fly back and forth between the swamps of Saibai and the
mainland of New Guinea. If you shoot one in Saibai you are allowed to eat it
but if you shoot it over there you are not allowed to bring it across to eat in
To comply with these regulations, traditional visitors from PNG need to
be fully aware of them. Mr Chapman noted that over a number of years, there has
been 'a very strong community education program dealing with quarantine matters
in the Torres Strait'. As part of this important education program, AQIS
publishes pamphlets that explain clearly Australia's quarantine laws and
provide illustrations of items that are not permitted into Australia without
Figure 12.2: Quarantine poster—products that cannot be moved around the
(Images courtesy of Department of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Forestry)
Treaty awareness visits
Quarantine officers in the Torres Strait also participate regularly in
Treaty awareness visits to PNG Treaty villages that are designed, inter alia,
to promote understanding of, and compliance with, Australian quarantine
requirements. Mr Young informed the committee that these visits, which
have been running since the 1980s, were bilateral, multi-agency delegations,
coordinated by DFAT.
Representatives from DIAC, AQIS, TSRA, AFP, QPS, AFMA, DoHA, DEWHA, DAFF,
Queensland Health, ADF, and their PNG counterparts may accompany the Australian
and PNG Liaison Officers on these visits.
This outreach program to communities on both sides of the border is
intended to make sure that the requirements, obligations and responsibilities
of people under the Treaty are well understood.
Mr Young explained that, because quarantine and customs regulations change over
time, part of the Treaty awareness visits is to talk about the requirements
that visitors to Australia need to satisfy.
The delegations seek to visit all Treaty communities annually to convey
information about the Treaty provisions, receive enquiries on technical Treaty
matters, and resolve issues arising from the Treaty.
Mr Young noted, however, that while the intention was to visit each village
once a year, visits were 'fairly sporadic rather than regular' due to
remoteness, coupled with unsurveyed waters, dangerous seas, reefs and so forth'.
He explained that it could take two or three years, for instance, to get back
to a community.
The Guidelines for Traditional Visitors, which inform PNG villagers
about prohibited items, are distributed among the villagers.
According to Mr Chapman, the education programs have helped to achieve a
high degree of awareness on both sides of the border, which has led to 'very
high levels of compliance'. He also drew attention to the valuable contribution
that quarantine officers, who are local people on the islands, make to securing
the integrity of the border. In his view, they are respected members of these
small communities who understand the importance of quarantine measures, 'so
there are very high levels of awareness'.
At the border—enforcement
If pre-border measures fail to contain a biosecurity threat, the next
line of defence is at the border crossing where Australia enforces its
quarantine regulations. According to Mr Morris, DAFF dedicates significant
resources to the identification and management of quarantine risks in and to
the Torres Strait region.
DAFF runs a program called the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy
(NAQS) which is based primarily in Darwin and Cairns. A component of this
program operates from a base on Thursday Island with seven staff and at least
one person based permanently on each of the inhabited outer islands.
They are permanent employees, with all but one locally engaged which, according
to Mr Chapman, is 'a key issue for the success of our operations up there'.
The department's 2008–09 Annual Report stated that AQIS has five officers
stationed permanently on the three most northerly islands—Boigu, Saibai and
Dauan—and around 20 officers on the remaining 12 islands. One of their key
tasks is to clear passengers and cargo boarding boats and aircraft travelling
Quarantine officials inspect every vessel that arrives at one of the
designated entry points and the goods carried by people disembarking. Even
traditional visitors have their goods checked by quarantine officers before
bringing them ashore. They are required to 'arrive at designated entry points, within
specified entry times and present themselves for clearance' by Immigration and AQIS
Signs are located at the designated entry points on Boigu and Saibai that
clearly illustrate items that cannot be brought ashore.
The entry checks are intended to ensure that items likely to carry
unwanted pests and diseases are free of them.
Similarly, people leaving one of the outer islands to go to Thursday Island are
inspected to ensure they do not bring with them material not permitted to be
carried between the zones.
The freedom of movement of traditional inhabitants creates some
difficulties for quarantine officials. As noted in previous chapters,
traditional inhabitants do not always land at the designated entry point nor
arrive during set business hours. Mr Chapman noted that while AQIS officers
work a normal day, the arrival of traditional inhabitants is 'sporadic and
uncertain' with no estimated time of arrival for the boats provided. He
explained that with unexpected arrivals one of two things occurs:
...either the people arrive and say, ‘We are here,’ or people
in the local community will say that a boat has just arrived. The small
community and the high level of understanding of our requirements mean that
invariably happens. But in most cases, especially on the islands that are
closer to PNG, people know when the boat is going to come across each day. There
are always going to be exceptions to that, but patterns of behaviour and high
levels of understanding mean that, as far as I am aware, there are very few
instances where a boat would arrive without our officers being aware of it.
Mr Chapman also reported that immigration and border protection
personnel have a good and close working relationship—that, even though each
agency is pursuing its own responsibilities, they look out for each other and
provide support when necessary.
So while Immigration would carry out their functions when a
traditional vessel turns up, our officer will be there and will have a look at
any artefacts they might be carrying to make sure they do not have pests in
them and they will make sure that they are not carrying with them goods which
cannot move either from PNG into the Torres Strait protected zone or from the
Torres Strait protected zone into the special quarantine zone.
Mr Allen, DIAC, noted similarly that their monitoring officers do some
sharing of responsibilities with AQIS officers in the region.
Indeed, the Guidelines for Traditional Visitors advise that should AQIS
officers not be present, 'the Immigration MMOs can check you and your dinghy
for quarantine purposes'.
AQIS officers inspecting goods brought ashore on
Saibai by traditional visitors from PNG
While Australian officials were relatively confident that the screening
process for visiting PNG nationals worked well, evidence from local leaders
conveyed a different picture about the effectiveness of immigration and
quarantine checks at the border on the islands close to PNG. At the community
meeting on Saibai, local leaders told the committee of the 'influx of people
coming over from PNG, sometime under cover of darkness and hard to detect'.
They wanted more local enforcement on the ground and asked 'why not treat this
border like other international borders'.
Mr Ned David, Director, Magani Lagaugal, Registered Native Title Body Corporate
stated that many people could speak about PNG people walking 'in and out of the
Torres Strait any time they like'.
He informed the committee that he had visited Saibai many times and had seen no
one policing arrivals. In his experience:
People are quite free to come across and sell anything. So if
we are interested in ensuring that this treaty is working as it should then
these sorts of things should be reviewed and some real changes made.
In the chapter on law and order, the committee considered the undetected
entry and unauthorised visits of PNG nationals. It found that there was a
definite difference in perceptions about the effectiveness of Australia's
border screening process in the Torres Strait. The same difference is apparent
when it comes to quarantine checks—some traditional leaders clearly believe
that PNG visitors can come ashore anytime unnoticed by authorities and remain
on islands in the Torres Strait. On the other hand, government officials
expressed faith in the effectiveness of the quarantine regime.
Illegal fishers or poachers in the Torres Strait pose a significant
biosecurity threat because they successfully breach the border crossing without
undergoing any checks and are determined to avoid detection. As noted in the
previous chapter, illegal fishing goes beyond the activities of traditional
inhabitants from PNG carrying out illegal or unauthorised activities in the
Torres Strait region. Vessels, some from Indonesia, also enter the strait to
fish on a more commercial scale.
According to DAFF, the Australian Government has set about establishing
a strong deterrence regime against illegal foreign fishing in Australia's
northern waters. It has two main prongs: addressing the illegal fishing problem
at source, through education and awareness-raising; and direct enforcement, through
vessel detection, apprehension, and the prosecution of illegal fishers.
The committee has considered the education programs and now looks at the
detection and apprehension of suspicious vessels.
Animal Health Australia noted that since 2006, the Australian Government
had placed a high priority on quarantine surveillance associated with illegal
foreign fishing activity.
Evidence suggests that these deterrent activities have 'made a significant
impact on the level of that activity'.
Customs' 2008–09 Annual Report confirmed the trend:
The deterrent effect of enforcement efforts over the last two
years has seen a reduction in illegal fishing activity in Australia's northern
waters to the point where large concentrations of vessels sit just beyond the Australian
Exclusive Economic Zone boundary, undertaking frequent shallow incursions into
While the decrease in the number of foreign fishing boats in the Torres
Strait region reduces the biosecurity threat, the observation that 'large
concentrations of vessels' sit just beyond Australia's boundaries underlines
the importance of Australia maintaining a high level of vigilance.
As noted in chapter 9, Australia's maritime surveillance activities are
not confined to illegal fishers; they are used to detect and deter people
engaged in a range of activities, including people smuggling and drug or gun
running. These matters and the deterrence regime for organised crime are
discussed later in greater detail when considering the work of the Australian
Customs and Border Protection Service.
The committee notes the potential harm that could result from any
weakness or breakdown in quarantine processes at the border in the Torres
Strait. Australian border protection agencies have a multi-pronged approach to
prevent the introduction of harmful weeds, pests or diseases. These include
surveillance and monitoring activities in PNG and Indonesia; programs to build
capacity on the PNG side so that it can better manage biosecurity threats;
education programs to raise awareness of the importance of observing quarantine
regulations; and screening processes at the border to stop the importation of
any weeds, pests or diseases.
Despite pre-border and border efforts to prevent the entry of noxious
weeds, pests or disease, incursions do occur. Should such an incident happen in
the Torres Strait, a prompt and effective response is required.
The post-border biosecurity risks in the Torres Strait are exacerbated
by the remoteness of the region, lack of extensive infrastructure and difficulties
putting in place sophisticated quarantine treatments. Both in the Torres Strait
and in the Cape York region, there are very low population densities, which
mean that if something harmful does gain a foothold, it has the opportunity to develop
and multiply before being identified. Also some pests, such as papaya fruit
fly, are hard to detect, especially during the early stages of their
development, and may not be discovered at border inspection.
They increase in numbers rapidly and can disperse quickly over large distances.
As noted in the previous chapter, pest infestations can result in
substantial losses in production, restrict market access and damage the
Moreover, destroying an infestation of harmful exotic pests can be expensive.
For example, the eradication costs dealing with the 1995 outbreak of papaya
fruit fly in Queensland was estimated to be 'roughly AU$43 million'.
Thus, timely detection remains the best protection against damaging incursions.
While DAFF staff on Thursday Island look after border management
matters, scientific staff in either Darwin or Cairns undertake specific survey
work in the Torres Strait for particular pests or diseases in conjunction with
the operational border-management staff in the Torres Strait.
For example, DAFF has quite extensive insect trapping regimes on the islands
closest to PNG to identify the prevalence of insect pests. Mr Chapman informed
the committee that 'potential risks are well recognised and there are quite
extensive surveillance activities, border management activities and community
education activities which are all designed to minimise that risk'.
For example, in 2009, surveillance relating to AI included 'sample collection
and testing of more than 1,000 migratory waders and waterfowl across northern
Australia and domestic poultry in the Torres Strait'.
The Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) division continues to
undertake limited monitoring for transmission of JE in the Torres Strait and
Surveillance for SWF and fruit fly provides an example of Australia's early-warning
approach to identifying incursions. Sentinel animals/herds and extensive and
targeted adult trapping are used as key detection tools.
One of the duties of AQIS officers on the northern-most islands in the Torres
Strait includes clearing fruit fly and SWF traps and spraying any detected
fruit flies. With regard to the sentinel herd, Mr Chapman explained that usually
it consists of about three pigs that are tested every week to determine if
anything is happening to the animal population and whether any infestations are
Referring to SWF, Animal Health Australia provided advice that:
Although long and intensive monitoring has confirmed that
there is not a major risk (except for the possibility of an infested animal
being illegally transported from countries to Australia’s north), vigilance
needs to be maintained.
This observation applies to all surveillance activity in the northern
part of Australia.
Working with Queensland quarantine
The Biosecurity Queensland group of the Queensland Department of Primary
Industry and Fisheries (QDPIF) administers animal biosecurity in the Queensland
tropics. It conducts surveillance activities for exotic pests and diseases
across tropical north Queensland, which includes Cape York Peninsula, the
Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria. It also conducts targeted
surveillance for high-risk pests and diseases through seasonal surveys at
specific locations through Cape York.
Research institutions contribute to this surveillance activity. Ms
Morris, MTSRF, explained that they are doing better monitoring and assisting
Biosecurity Queensland with this type of activity in the Torres Strait. She
It is very expensive to put researchers in the field so if
researchers are there they do collect data for other players, with the joined
up government happening there. That is excellent.
The Queensland Government also works with NAQS on surveillance and
response programs in the Torres Strait and investigates unusual pest disease
According to DAFF, the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development
and Innovation (DEEDI) and AQIS are maintaining a watching brief on detected
outbreaks of the Mango Leaf Gall Midge, Red Banded Mango Caterpillar, Vegetable
Leafminer and Spider Mite. The activities complement those of other programs,
such as border security and quarantine barrier activities undertaken by AQIS. Queensland
Health continues to work closely with AQIS in relation to the risks of JE in
In its submission, the Queensland Government strongly supported a more
collaborative approach to national biosecurity issues, as recommended in the
Beale Report, including activities in the Torres Strait.
In this regard, it welcomed the Australian Government’s re-establishment of the
NAQS Steering Committee with representation from relevant agencies.
Australia also has an Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed that was
established in 2006. It underpins national decision making regarding emergency
plant pest responses in Australia. The Australian Government and Queensland
biosecurity authorities join forces to coordinate response actions for such an
emergency in the Torres Strait area through to the north of Cape York.
Public awareness and community
Whether the threat comes from the introduction of a weed, pest or
disease through human activity or through natural migration, local knowledge
and engagement is vital to identifying and containing unwanted incursions.
In addition to its education programs designed to stop people bringing
prohibited goods or products into Australia, AQIS also engages with local
communities in the Torres Strait to inform them about post-border biosecurity
measures. Animal Health Australia noted that a significant proportion of NAQS
activities associated with quarantine risks were undertaken in collaboration
with Indigenous communities. It cited their involvement in brokering access for
NAQS survey teams to Indigenous land, sampling feral animals, pest trapping and
coastal patrol activities.
The Queensland Government also conducts education and awareness-raising activities
with producers and landholders to encourage them to report unusual pest or
For example, Biosecurity Queensland uses its expertise to educate and provide
training to government and non-government personnel in areas such as the management
and minimisation of zoonotic disease, emergency pest and disease incident
management, decontamination, movement controls, sample collection, and identification
and reporting of suspect animal pests or diseases.
While education is important, it does not necessarily mean people act on
One study noted that public awareness campaigns on SWF resulted in an initial
increase in submissions of larvae of SWF, which declined over time, 'suggesting
that community members become complacent unless the awareness is continually
This observation relates back to the observation by Animal Health Australia
about the need for constant vigilance (paragraph 12.49–12.50). Ms Morris
reinforced this message, stating that Australia needs to 'be increasingly alert
in that region' which requires 'more monitoring, more awareness of what is
moving and how and more education' in the communities about biosecurity'.
The committee has highlighted the important role of community management
plans in conservation. These plans also recognise the threat that incursions of
exotic weeds, feral animals and disease organisms pose to the health of native
plant and animal populations. Thus, local community participation in these
management plans is also of benefit to biosecurity in the Torres Strait and
could provide another means of strengthening the capacity on the PNG side to
manage biosecurity threats. The committee's recommendations regarding
government support for the community management plans and for involving PNG
villagers in their development and implementation also apply to biosecurity.
Minimising the risk of infestation
in local communities
An area where awareness raising and education appear to have fallen down
is in regard to the restrictions placed on the farming activities of local
communities in the Torres Strait. The TSIRC informed the committee that environmental
laws and regulatory bodies are preventing local inhabitants from sourcing their
own food locally. It indicated that communities were not able to farm pigs,
chickens and so forth: that they were being deprived of 'the right to stay
alive and to create economic wealth'.
Dr Carroll did not think there were any complete prohibitions on the
holding of animals but that certain practices were encouraged in the Torres
Strait. He explained that people have to comply with quarantine requirements
when moving from one zone to another; and that a product 'not allowed to move
into the mainland is not allowed to move around Torres Strait either'.
He did note, however:
One of the risks can be if there are susceptible species on
the island. Particularly for pests that can move naturally and island hop even
having a species there can create a quarantine risk. If you were to establish a
large pig herd on an island they could act as a spot where diseases such as
classical swine fever if it were to get into Papua New Guinea...could move across
and infest. That is why we pay particular attention to what is held on the
islands because they can pose a quarantine risk by posing a susceptible population
that could become infected.
In light of the concerns raised by the TSIRC about certain farming
restrictions in the region, the committee suggests that DAFF should look
closely at the information and education programs it delivers in the Torres
There is little doubt that early knowledge and detection of the presence
of biosecurity threats is crucial to eradicating or minimising their damaging
effects. Building capacity in local communities to detect and contain the
spread of such pests or diseases should be an important component in
Australia's quarantine regime. In this regard, the committee recognises the valuable
work of committed Indigenous quarantine officers who have the knowledge and
training required to effectively police the movement of people and goods across
the border, and to engage in public education on quarantine restrictions. It
also notes the potential that the community management plans have for
strengthening the local contribution to biosecurity. In this regard, the
committee refers to recommendations in chapter 10 which place a heavy emphasis
on involving local communities in research projects. These recommendations
apply with equal force to strengthening the capacity of local communities to
detect and prevent the spread of unwanted weeds, pests or diseases in their
The committee recommends that the Australian Government assist Torres
Strait Islanders to assume a central role in biosecurity-relevant studies,
including research into management of indigenous flora and fauna, and surveying
and monitoring threats to their localities, such as illegal fishing or the
introduction of harmful weeds or pests.
Climate change and biosecurity
In the previous chapter, the committee noted the challenges that changes
in climate in the Torres Strait present for Australia's biosecurity––for
example, the possible increase in the incidence and distribution of infectious
diseases already in Australia and the spread of diseases not currently present.
Vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, are of concern because changes in
climate are predicted to increase the range of the vector Aedes aegypti. A
second vector, Aedes albopictus now occurs in the Torres Strait.
The CSIRO is undertaking significant biosecurity research associated with
the risk from mosquitoes as vectors of human diseases.
The committee has already highlighted the need for greater understanding
of changes in habitats and the life cycle of insects and animals due to
variations in climate and their likely effects on the environment. Changes in
climate could have serious implications for Australia's biosecurity in the
Torres Strait region and, ultimately, for Australia as a whole. This potential
underlines the importance of having a sound understanding of what is happening
and is likely to happen in the Torres Strait because of climate change. The committee
discusses such matters in greater detail and makes recommendations about
dealing with the effects of climate change in chapter 14.
Pollution from vessels
The Torres Strait qualifies as an international strait under Chapter III
of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The international
route passes just to the north of Thursday Island and then turns northeast
through what is called the Great North East Channel. During the 2008–09
financial year, 1,332 ships made 3,281 voyages through the Prince of Wales
With its shallow water, many reefs, shoals and bars strewn across the
area, the Torres Strait poses significant challenges for large vessels
travelling through the region. The strong tidal streams and currents and, at
times, poor visibility due to flash squalls and storms make navigation even
As such, the sea route through the strait presents a significant biosecurity
risk from ships damaged during transit or from vessels discharging harmful substances.
Since Australia has sovereignty over the islands in the vicinity of the
sea route, it has specific obligations and is responsible for the safety and control
of ships using the route. Under Article 13 of the Treaty, Australia and PNG are
'to take legislative and other measures necessary to protect and preserve the
marine environment in and in the vicinity of the Protected Zone'. They are to
include measures for the prevention and control of pollution or other damage to
the marine environment from the release of harmful substances from land-based
sources, rivers, through the atmosphere, or by dumping at sea; and from vessels
or installations and devices used in exploring and exploiting the seabed and
In 2003, Australia and PNG lodged a proposal with the International
Maritime Organization (IMO) to designate the Torres Strait as a Particularly
Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). This initiative was intended as a means to protect
the area's vulnerability from damage caused by international shipping and to
increase marine safety.
In 2005, the IMO designated the Torres Strait as PSSA.
As another protective measure, Australia and PNG also proposed an extension
of the existing Great Barrier Reef compulsory pilotage system to the Torres Strait.
In their submission to the Marine Environment Protection Committee, they spelt
out the potential damage that could result from an oil spill in this fragile
In Torres Strait there is an extremely high rate of water
movement due to currents, tidal streams and surface winds. In the event of an
oil or chemical spill, this would result in the rapid movement of oil or
chemical plumes, possibly to even more remote areas. Logistical problems
associated with moving response personnel and equipment to remote areas and the
fact that much of Torres Strait is unsurveyed may cause considerable
difficulties in mounting an on-water response to an oil or chemical spill.
The extremely high cultural, social and economic significance
of marine resources to the people of Torres Strait could lead, in the event of
an oil or chemical spill, to a total failure of their subsistence fisheries and
abandonment of affected islands, or a completely imported diet, until the
marine ecosystem re-established itself.
Map of the international sea route through the Torres Strait
courtesy of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority)
In 2004, Australia submitted a waterway safety assessment and waterway
risk assessment to the IMO's Sub-committee on Safety and Navigation. The risk
assessment found that 'compulsory pilotage would significantly improve
navigational safety of transiting ships throughout the Torres Strait'. It
...compulsory pilotage reduces the risk of groundings by 45%
and collisions by 57%. In specific areas such as the Prince of Wales Channel,
mandatory pilotage would reduce the risk of groundings by 54% and collisions by
Some countries and international shipping organisations argued that this
measure requiring a pilot would contravene Article 42 of UNCLOS in relation to
international straits. Their main concern was the restraint that compulsory
pilotage may place on the right of transit passage through the straits. For
example, before the General Assembly in 2007, Singapore disagreed with
Australia's actions: it was of the view that Australia had no authority under
the convention to legislate a regime of compulsory pilotage on ships passing
through the straits.
It believed that:
The requirement to take a pilot on board, which Australia
will enforce using its criminal laws, seriously undermines the right of transit
passage, which all States enjoy under the Convention.
Concerned that other coastal states may 'use any new entitlement to
interfere with freedom of navigation within their EEZ for less benign motives',
the International Chamber of Shipping was disappointed that Australia had
chosen to introduce compulsory pilotage in the Torres Strait.
In his March 2008 report, the UN Secretary-General noted the concerns
expressed, including in the General Assembly, regarding the introduction of
compulsory pilotage in the Torres Strait. He explained that 'views differ on
whether the compulsory pilotage scheme is in conformity with UNCLOS'.
In December 2008, the Australian representative informed the General
Assembly that of the 3,000 vessels or so that transited the Strait each year,
only 35 per cent carried a pilot in 2003 which, since the introduction of
system of pilotage, had increased to 100 per cent. He reiterated Australia's belief
in the need for the system and of its consistency with international law.
The committee notes that the Australian Government's 2010 Budget Papers
indicated that AMSA's operating environment would be influenced by a number of
external factors, including 'progressing pilotage issues associated with the
Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef, and implementation of under keel
clearance management arrangements in the Torres Strait'.
Mining and drilling
It should also be noted that a ten-year prohibition on mining and
drilling in the TSPZ was agreed under Article 15 of the Treaty in 1985, and has
been extended on a number of occasions by an exchange of letters between the
Australian and PNG governments. In February 2008, Australia and PNG agreed to extend
the moratorium indefinitely.
The TSRA supported this move 'as a positive and significant outcome in
the battle to preserve the delicate marine environment in the Torres Strait and
consequently, the way of life of its traditional seafaring people'.
The committee notes, however, that traditional owners or inhabitants had 'no
prior and informed consent in terms of negotiating for the tenure' of the more
recent extension of the Torres Strait mining moratorium. During the committee's
open forum on Thursday Island, Mr Stephen, chair of the registered native title
body for Stephen Island, stated his belief 'that traditional owners and
traditional inhabitants should have a say in the review in terms of the tenure of
The committee draws DFAT's attention to this situation.
There is no doubt that all government agencies associated with
protecting Australia from unwanted incursions of weeds, pests or diseases are
active on a number of fronts to prevent such incursions. Nonetheless, the
potential harm that could flow from breaches of, or lapses in, enforcing
quarantine regulations or failure to detect and control the presence of an
exotic weed or pest could be serious. The committee made a number of
recommendations primarily aimed at increasing the involvement of local
communities in protecting their environment from invasive weeds, pests and
diseases and strengthening their capacity to prevent or contain their spread.
The committee also stressed the need to take account of what is happening on
the other side of the border and through Australia's aid program to work toward
achieving greater cooperation and collaboration in tackling biosecurity threats
to the region. The overriding message was the need for all working and living
in the region to remain vigilant before, at or behind the border to ensure that
harmful weeds, pests or diseases do not gain a foothold in the region.
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