Australia's biosecurity regime and the white spot
This chapter considers the key principles that underpin Australia's
biosecurity regime. It explores the relationship between the Commonwealth,
states and territories in managing Australia's biosecurity and considers the
application of Australia's biosecurity regime to the outbreak of WSD in the
Logan River area.
Australia's biosecurity regime
According to DAWR:
Biosecurity is the management of risks to the economy, the
environment and the community, of animal and plant pests and diseases entering,
emerging, establishing or spreading.
DAWR noted that an effective biosecurity system is critical to
sustaining a productive agricultural sector, protecting the environment and
maintaining export markets.
According to a 2008 independent review, Australia's biosecurity regime:
...seeks, through careful management, to minimise the risk of
the entry, establishment or spread of exotic pests and diseases that have the
potential to cause significant harm to people, animals, plants and other
aspects of Australia's unique environment.
Managing Australia's biosecurity is a responsibility that is shared
between the Australian, state and territory governments. To coordinate and
implement national action on biosecurity issues, DAWR noted that:
...well-established relationships and national arrangements are
in place between the Australian, state and territory governments, relevant
industry associations and members and other stakeholders.
The Australian Government manages biosecurity risks and emergencies
under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Biosecurity Act). The Act provides the
legislative framework to manage Australia's biosecurity and sets out the powers
that can be exercised by officials and the requirements of those subject to
regulation. According to DAWR, the Biosecurity Act enables the targeting of
non-compliant behaviour or activities while also reducing the burden on those
that are compliant. It contains a range of enforcement options including
infringement notices, civil penalties, enforceable undertakings and criminal
The Biosecurity Act also contains a range of measures to manage the
public health risk posed by serious communicable diseases and allows for the
management of biosecurity risks in a manner that is consistent with Australia's
This includes obligations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement
on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures 1994 (SPS
Agreement), the World Health Organization International Health Regulations
2005 (International Health Regulations), and the Convention on
Biological Diversity 1992 (Biodiversity Convention).
The Biosecurity Act provides powers to manage unacceptable levels of
biosecurity risk. It defines an appropriate level of protection against
biosecurity risks as a 'high level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection
aimed at reducing biosecurity risks to a very low level, but not to zero'. Provisions
of the Act deal with managing biosecurity risks regarding goods brought into
Australian territory. This includes assessing the level of biosecurity risk
through Biosecurity Import Risk Analysis (BIRA) pre-border and at-border.
DAWR is the agency responsible to conduct BIRAs and other risk analyses
in accordance with the Act and the Biosecurity Regulations 2016. Under a BIRA,
risk is determined by combining the likelihood of the entry, establishment and
spread of a disease or pest with the consequence. A BIRA will consider the
whole of the risk pathway from the identified hazard to the unwanted outcome or
According to DAWR:
BIRAs assist the department in considering the level of
biosecurity risk that may be associated with the importation of goods into
Australia. If the biosecurity risks do not achieve the appropriate level of
protection (ALOP) for Australia, risk management measures are proposed to
reduce the risks to an acceptable level. If the risks cannot be reduced to an
acceptable level, the goods will not be imported into Australia, until suitable
measures are identified.
The outcome of a BIRA or IRA may result in particular goods, or a class
of goods being prohibited from entry, suspended from entry, or permitted to
enter with or without conditions. In accordance with the 2009 prawn IRA, risk
management measures, including a range of import conditions, were imposed to
reduce the risks associated with WSSV.
On 6 January 2017, the Director of Biosecurity issued a determination
to suspend the importation of uncooked prawns for a period of six months. The
determination was made in accordance with subsection 182(1) of the Biosecurity
Act, which provides that specific goods, or a class of goods, must not be
imported into Australia for a specific period of time.
The Biosecurity Act also provides for a statutory role of an
Inspector-General of Biosecurity (IGB) who reviews the performance of functions
and exercise of power by biosecurity officials under the Act. The IGB is
responsible to provide independent assessment of Australia's biosecurity
arrangements through evaluation and verification. As part of this role, the IGB
may review the performance of functions and exercise of powers by the Director
of Biosecurity and make recommendations for overall system improvement.
On 17 February 2017, the IGB, Dr Helen Scott-Orr commenced a review into
biosecurity issues surrounding the WSD outbreak. The review will focus on the
circumstances leading to the 6 January 2017 suspension of uncooked prawn
imports into Australia and the biosecurity considerations relevant to future
trade in uncooked prawns.
Core principles of the Act and
While Australia's biosecurity system is complex, a 2008 independent
review of Australia's quarantine and biosecurity arrangements (the Beale
review) noted that there were three core principles that underpinned Australia's
an integrated biosecurity continuum involving risk assessment and
monitoring, surveillance and response pre-border, at the border and post‑border;
risk assessment reflecting scientific evidence and rigorous
shared responsibility, between the Commonwealth and state governments,
and between businesses and the general community.
The 2008 Beale review found that Australia had historically protected
its shores from exotic pests and diseases through a quarantine system that used
isolation, segregation, disinfection and measures to kill insects once people
or products of concern were identified at the border.
It argued that a new approach was needed which shifted focus from quarantine
measures with a 'border preoccupation' to a broader concept of biosecurity encompassing
full pre-border and post-border measures, with an emphasis on managed risk.
The 2008 Beale review concluded that a zero risk biosecurity regime was
not desirable or possible. It noted in this regard that:
Australia cannot afford to search every passenger or every
container of cargo arriving in the country, nor can it prevent the arrival of
disease or vectors on air currents. Consequently, it is inevitable that there
will be pest and disease incursions. A strong coordinated post-border
capability minimises the chances of those pests and disease becoming
In December 2008, in response to the Beale review, the Australian
Government agreed in principle to the recommendations outlined in the report and
moved to a risk-based approach to biosecurity, supported by intelligence.
In 2012, DAWR noted that, as part of its reform program, it was moving to a
risk-based approach for biosecurity supported by 'intelligence, analysis, risk
profiling, operational changes and feedback capabilities'.
The risk-based approach was reaffirmed in the Biosecurity Act which
provides 'flexible and responsive powers that allow biosecurity officials to
best target risk based on the circumstances of each case'.
In his second reading speech on the bill, the Minister for Agriculture and
Water Resources, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP acknowledged that the development of
a risk-based biosecurity system helped DAWR to 'more effectively manage
biosecurity risks associated with ever-increasing volumes of trade and
passengers moving across our border'.
DAWR also highlighted the benefits of the approach:
Risk-based operations will reduce the administrative burden
on compliant clients, enabling faster clearance at the border through better
targeting and focus on higher risk commodities and stakeholder behaviours. It
will also reduce delays for industry and cut the costs for clients who actively
and conscientiously take account of biosecurity risks.
In its submission to the inquiry, DAWR reaffirmed that, as zero risk is
not achievable, biosecurity threats are effectively managed using a risk-based
Intergovernmental Agreement on
Under the Biosecurity Act, the Australian Government, through DAWR,
'manages biosecurity risks and emergencies and gives effect to Australia's
international rights and obligations, including the Agreement on the
Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement)'.
DAWR is the 'custodian' of federal biosecurity services. Its mission is
to 'sustain the way of life and prosperity of all Australians and help people
and goods move in and out of Australia while managing the risks to the
environment and animal, plant and human health'.
While DAWR's role in relation to biosecurity is set out in the Biosecurity
Act, responsibility for Australia's biosecurity is shared between the
Commonwealth, state and territory governments. To coordinate national action on
biosecurity issues, an Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) came into
effect in January 2012. It serves as an agreement between the Commonwealth and
all state and territory governments, with the exception of Tasmania:
The IGAB aims to strengthen the working partnership between
governments and to improve the national biosecurity system and minimise the
impact of pests and disease on Australia's economy, environment and the
A National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) was formally established under
the IGAB to provide advice to the Agriculture Senior Officials Committee and
Agriculture Ministers' Forum on national biosecurity, while also providing
advice on progress in implementing the IGAB.
Responding to an outbreak of pests or disease in Australia
In 2015, the NBC formed a National Biosecurity Emergency Preparedness
Expert Group to enhance Australia's biosecurity emergency preparedness,
response and initial recovery arrangements. This expert group administers the
Biosecurity Incident Management System (BIMS) which provides guidance on how to
manage and respond to a biosecurity incident. The BIMS contributes to achieving
a priority reform area of IGAB Schedule 7, namely to:
Maintain clearly defined and consistent emergency response
arrangements that are recognised and practiced by all jurisdictions across each
level of government.
In Australia, each state and territory has operational responsibility
for the surveillance, monitoring, control and eradication of aquatic animal
diseases within its borders, whether the diseases are endemic or exotic. Each
state and territory also administers its own emergency disease control
While there are a number of plans, groups and processes that can be utilised to
respond to an outbreak, the BIMS is intended to complement these established
arrangements by providing a nationally agreed system which can be applied in
response to an outbreak:
The Biosecurity Incident Management System is a uniform
approach for managing the response to biosecurity incidents and can be applied
to all biosecurity sectors. It is based on established incident management
systems, which are widely recognised and used throughout Australia.
In terms of the preferred approach to diseases that affect aquatic
animals, an Australian
Aquatic Veterinary Emergency Plan (AQUAVETPLAN) serves as a set of
technical response manuals focused on aquatic animal disease incursions. The
first AQUAVETPLAN disease strategy for WSD was published in June 2005 with the
current version (2.0) dated September 2013.
AQUAVETPLAN white spot disease strategy
The AQUAVETPLAN strategy
for WSD sets out the disease control principles for use in an aquatic
veterinary emergency incident caused by the suspicion or confirmation of WSD in
Australia. The basic principles for disease
eradication and control responses are contained in other manuals within the
AQUAVETPLAN including the Enterprise Manual which provides state and territory
legislation relating to disease control and eradication.
The white spot disease strategy identifies three preferred response
options and sets out strategies to appropriately control and eradicate WSD. The most appropriate strategy
must be chosen after epidemiological investigations have been conducted, while
the decision must be based on scientific effectiveness and financial
The three broad control
options for WSD identified by the strategy are:
Eradication—eradication of WSSV from Australia (highest
level control measure and may be the most cost-effective in the long term).
Containment, control and zoning—containment of WSSV to
areas in which infection has become endemic, and prevention of further spread
and protection of uninfected areas.
Control and mitigation of disease—implementation of
management practices that decrease the incidence and severity of clinical
disease outbreaks (lowest level control measure and likely to be the least
Each of the response options may involve the use of a combination of
strategies such as quarantine and movement controls on crustaceans within
declared areas to prevent infection spreading.
In terms of roles and responsibilities, the AQUAVETPLAN Control Centres
Management Manual sets out the notification arrangements, order of procedures,
management structures and roles of personnel following suspicion of the
presence of WSD in Australia.
In the first instance, the Director of Fisheries and/or the Chief
Veterinary Officer (CVO) in the state or territory in which the outbreak occurs
is responsible to develop an Emergency Animal Disease response plan (EAD response
plan). In turn, the EAD response plan is submitted to the Aquatic Consultative
Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases (Aquatic CCEAD) to ensure that it is
technically sound and consistent with the AQUAVETPLAN. Thereafter, the responsible
Director of Fisheries and/or CVO will implement the disease control measures as
agreed in the EAD response plan and in accordance with relevant legislation.
Managing the WSD outbreak
Role the Commonwealth Government
In terms of the Commonwealth, DAWR is responsible to provide technical
support to Biosecurity Queensland through the Aquatic CCEAD:
The AqCCEAD's role during the Logan River WSSV incursion is
to provide technical advice to Biosecurity Queensland on response activities
and objectives, facilitate Australia's international reporting obligations and
In addition, DAWR has responsibility for establishing an Incident
Management Team (IMT) to coordinate its own activities during the outbreak.
An investigation into the cause of the outbreak commenced on 13 December 2016
at the request of the IMT. Of the investigation, DAWR noted:
The investigation focussed on identifying the potential
pathways through which the virus may have been transmitted. The investigation
involved Departmental scientists who visited the affected farms with
investigators. The investigation did not identify the actual pathway.
Additional assistance provided by DAWR has included the secondment of
13 staff to assist Biosecurity Queensland with the eradication response.
Role of the Queensland Government
As the December 2016 WSD outbreak occurred in Queensland, Biosecurity
Queensland (within the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) took
the lead as the agency with primary responsibility for the containment and
eradication of WSD in that state.
However, the Australian and Queensland governments have affirmed a
shared commitment to support affected prawn farmers and work together to
eradicate the disease. In a joint statement with the Assistant Minister for
Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, the Hon Bill
Byrne MP, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland) advised:
From day one Biosecurity Queensland has worked in close
co-operation with the national committee and at every stage the response has
been approved and endorsed by national experts including the Australian Chief
Veterinary Officer, state and territory chief veterinary officers or directors
of fisheries, representatives of the Federal Department of Agriculture and
Water Resources, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the
CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory. 
Costs and funding
Queensland Government funding
On Friday, 17 February 2017, the Queensland Minister for Agriculture and
Fisheries, the Hon Bill Byrne MP, reaffirmed a commitment of the Queensland
Government to reimburse prawn farmers for the costs incurred under the
directions of Biosecurity Queensland.
As at 5 May 2017, the Queensland Government had spent more than
$11 million on the response to WSD. The Minister noted that by the end of
the current financial year, the response, surveillance and sampling activities
undertaken by the state government would amount to at least $17.6 million.
The Queensland Minister also noted that a total of $30 million in
concessional loans would be available to prawn farmers to assist them to return
to disease-free production as early as possible.
On 26 January 2017, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources,
the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP announced up to $1.74 million in emergency assistance
to Queensland and the industry in the response to the outbreak of WSD. This
funding included up to $400,000 in direct support for Queensland prawn farmers.
Additional funding was announced on 1 March 2017 in the form of grants
to the APFA and QSIA as follows:
$221,100 to the APFA to improve WSD management within the
Australian prawn farm industry; and
$220,000 to the QSIA to increase the preparedness of the wild
harvest seafood industry through the appointment of a Biosecurity and Industry
Liaison Officer and the implementation of biosecurity programs.
Further funding of up to $20 million for Queensland prawn farmers
affected by the outbreak was announced on 5 May 2017. Of the announcement, the
Minister noted that:
This additional funding of $20 million will be delivered
directly to the prawn industry, with $4 million to be repaid by prawn farmers
through an industry levy once affected producers are back on their feet.
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