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Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
Auditor-General's report No. 46 (2011-12)
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
CHAIR (Mr Oakeshott)
D'Ath, Yvette, MP
Smyth, Laura, MP
Smith, Sen Dean
Ruston, Sen Anne
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Content WindowJoint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit - 10/10/2012 - Auditor-General's report No. 46 (2011-12)
BAGOT, Ms Christina, Director, Performance Audit Services Group, Australian National Audit Office
KORFF, Mr Murray, Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy Program Manager, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
LANGLANDS, Mr Robert, Regional Manager, Northern Region, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
McPHEE, Mr Ian, Auditor-General, Australian National Audit Office
MELLOR, Ms Rona, Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
SIMPSON, Mr Mark, Executive Director, Performance Audit Services Group, Australian National Audit Office
Committee met at 12:24
CHAIR ( Mr Oakeshott ): I declare open today's public hearing, which examines the Auditor-General's Audit report No. 46 2011-12: Administration of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. I welcome representatives from the ANAO, again, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Participants are asked to remember that only members of the committee can put questions to witnesses if this hearing is to constitute formal proceedings of the parliament and attract parliamentary privilege. If other participants wish to raise issues for discussion, they should direct comments to the committee. Given the short time available, statements and comments by witnesses should be relevant and succinct. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. Before we proceed to questions, does anyone have a brief opening statement to the committee?
Mr McPhee : Thank you, Chair. I do have a statement, which I am happy to table. Just in summary terms, the Audit Office found that in general the department has implemented effective arrangements to administer the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy in line with the department's risk-based approach to biosecurity and that these arrangements support the delivery of the program's diverse scientific and broader operation activities. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thanks for that.
Ms Mellor : In the interests of time, we are happy just to take questions from the committee.
CHAIR: Okay. The other option is if you want to table some material.
Ms Mellor : No.
CHAIR: All right. I will ask the first question: how are DAFF going with implementing recommendations made?
Ms Mellor : Thanks for your question. Recommendations do rely on us looking at some business processes and some IT for data collection and data management. Certainly in the last budget the government made some initial investment in the department's IT. Obviously members would know that IT change takes time, so we will be building into our schedule of IT improvements data collection and support for analysis within the IT. More broadly, so far we have endorsed within the department some key performance indicators coming out of the recommendations of the report. We have continued to engage strongly with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and Australian Border Protection Command, part of the Customs agency, with a view to securing additional Torres Strait movements data. This is obviously necessary to start fleshing out the recommendations of the Audit Office. We have also commenced revised surveys of target audiences in our public awareness campaign so that we can do some baseline measurement around the success of those campaigns. So we have begun to implement. Some of the implementation will take some time, and it is subject to the department's normal budgetary processes around IT.
CHAIR: Okay. You mentioned time in your answer several times.
Ms Mellor : Yes.
CHAIR: Are we talking six months? Twelve months?
Ms Mellor : No, it will be some years. At the moment we are in the course of taking investment by government from the last budget to build some more modernised back-end for the department. To hold data, you need good places to hold it. In the interim we can do mini databases, spreadsheets and things like that, which is what the quarantine strategy staff do and use, and they will improve those. But the overall full implementation will be some years away.
Mrs D'ATH: I am interested more broadly in what the department would say are the biggest challenges in relation to biosecurity and quarantine issues in the Northern Territory.
Ms Mellor : I will start, and the Darwin and Cairns representatives may continue. I think some of the challenges relate to monitoring the quarantine risks. The north of Australia obviously is close to a number of areas of the world where there are movements of animals and plant material. It is 7,000 kilometres of coastline that we monitor up there. Another thing to bear in mind is it is not your normal Public Service environment; it is a different environment to what we are used to in capital cities and other places, even here. I think the challenges will remain the surveillance work, keeping our eye on the new things that are emerging offshore that present a risk onshore and continuing to respect the traditional movements in the Torres Strait and making sure we do not try to regulate those in a way that is not respectful of the traditional zones.
I do think that for the department there are the ongoing budgetary costs. The CPI increases you normally get in things are pretty tough to manage in the north when getting aviation fuel, getting access to helicopters and getting access to barges to move fuel when you are doing major surveillance activity. It is not just the price; it is the availability of infrastructure. These are normal challenges for any department but they are exacerbated when you are looking at the sort of zone we work in.
Recruitment remains challenging in the north for all agencies. We have about 67 staff involved in the management of the strategy in the north. That has been constant for a while. About 45 per cent are Indigenous staff, which is quite useful for us because we have about 35 contracts with community groups. We contract out to community groups to manage a lot of the survey work for us.
Technology in the north is always interesting, especially getting remote access to upload data from the survey. There is a range of challenges there that all start with keeping an eye offshore on what might be heading our way.
Mr Langlands : The program has been in existence for over 22 years. One of the things we see as predominantly important is maintaining public and community awareness around what we do, so we put a lot of effort into maintaining that. Population levels are very low across the top, not like the southern states, whereby we will get reports. So we need to maintain that strong community and public awareness around what we do and the target pests and diseases we are looking for.
Mr Korff : One of the drivers for the program in the first instance was a recognition at a government level around the variety of unregulated pathways that are unique to Northern Australia. That has really been part of the rationale for the program itself. That will remain for as long as we have things like migration of animals. We have a treaty with Papua New Guinea that allows traditional movements from treaty villages in southern Papua New Guinea into the Torres Strait. The amount of those movements is increasing and the amount of general activity through that Torres Strait pathway is increasing. The unregulated environment that we work in and the increasing activity are a couple of things that provide challenges for our service delivery.
Mrs D'ATH: I assume there is close cooperation with other departments as well. From wearing one of my previous hats on the migration committee I know how closely your department works with border security, Immigration and so forth. We heard about illegal fishers using those unregulated pathways and their boats making it to very remote areas in mangroves and so forth on the mainland and about what might be attached to those boats. Are we monitoring the numbers and the risks associated there?
Mr Langlands : We work closely with border command. We know where the traditional landing sites of these fishing vessels are. We conduct our surveys around where they are more likely to land and we continue to do so. That activity can vary from time to time. At the moment it is probably at a lower level, but the areas we target for the surveys are based on risk and that is one of the risks, as well as wind movement with migratory birds and a number of other things, even commercial shipping to a certain degree. Yes, we know where they land and we do target our surveys around those areas.
Ms Mellor : It is fair to say that the community groups that we contract to know where fresh water is and their experience shows that the illegal fishers know where fresh water is, too. They know where to look. The department has a broad role in managing fishing and doing that in concert with others, such as AFMA. But on the biosecurity side, our role is to get the notification of the boat if it is washed up on the shore or hidden in mangroves. We are interested in whether it has material on it that is a biosecurity risk or whether the boat has woodworms or termites and things. We get notification and send people out to deal with that in concert with AFMA.
Mr Korff : We utilise information from a variety of sources to determine where we need to look under our surveillance arrangements. As Robert mentioned, Border Protection Command is one source of that information. Another source of information is the community. That is a product of the fairly good relationships that we have with the remote communities in terms of seeking information about known landing sites. We take all that into account when we work out our risk based surveillance. We also utilise contractual arrangements with Indigenous communities to help with some ongoing monitoring activities. That is in between periods when our scientific teams are on the ground conducting scientific survey activities.
Mrs D'ATH: Are these areas that need improvement in terms of that data collection and quality assurance? Did that come out of the audit report that was conducted? Maybe the Auditor-General could comment on that. Are you finding that there is good data collection in these areas?
Mr Simpson : In relation to the audit, the audit found that the risk framework that was in place was a sound one. There are risk areas that are risk rated and target species are identified. That was a positive aspect from the audit. In relation to some of the data collection, as you will see from the recommendations, there were some areas—border operations areas, mostly—where we believe that some quality control and some strengthening around the data and other improvements would help inform management decisions and help target activities on a risk basis.
Ms SMYTH: I have a question in relation to the comments on the reliance on community information from organisations and representatives. In view of that, are you putting in place or actively contemplating succession arrangements in relation to some of those community organisations? Are you conscious of that in the way that you carry out your own roles? Clearly, the information that is held in the collective consciousness of community representatives is not always going to be there. I presume that you are alive to that and are taking steps to try and capture that information.
Ms Mellor : It is more than community consciousness. The people in the community groups that we contract with are trained. They use PDAs or other data input tools in survey and management work to provide us with data. We have officers who go out to the community groups on a regular basis with the activity plan for the surveys and activities that need to be done. These officers also provide training and sometimes work directly with the community groups when they are doing the work. When I talk about things like fresh water, border command does a whole bunch of mapping around what is where up north. We also need to know some of that information. For example, migratory birds tend to head for water, so if we are doing surveys on migratory birds we need to know where to go and what the risk profile is. It is more than community information; it is direct data input to is. It is also work that is shared with the department of the environment. They do survey work and we share tools. We get direct data as well as that local land knowledge.
One of the benefits, though, is the local land knowledge. Robert and I did a trip up to Elcho Island the year before last and I was particularly impressed because the local landowners and traditional landholders know their lands so well. When we talk to them about what we are looking for and give them training on species identification and weed identification et cetera, they know what is on their land. It is quite a useful coming together of normal public service tools—data collection, rules and training—and local knowledge. That is handed through their community. They are quite organised in terms of how they manage the community like that.
Mr Langlands : And we have many generations now of that involvement, certainly through the Torres Strait. The work we do with schools also assists with the next generation in relation to their knowledge around biosecurity. And they are very keen: I have been to a number of the presentations to the schools in the north, and they are very keen and interested in knowing about how they can help their land.
Senator SMITH: Just to be clear, the recommendations around data and data entry are being given a high priority by the department—is that correct?
Ms Mellor : They are given a high priority in the context of the department's plans. This is certainly one of our key biosecurity programs, because of the position of it in the geography of the country and the risks that are to our north.
Senator SMITH: And the adherence to a risk management approach can only be successful if you are using up-to-date, quality data.
Ms Mellor : That is right. Certainly the recommendations stand to the program, but they are similar to business improvement work that we are doing right across the department in terms of having better data to analyse so that we can target risk more effectively. We already target risk, and this report on the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy acknowledges that. As I would read these recommendations, it is a matter of 'keep doing what you're doing, but do better, with better tools'. It is the tool space that is going to take some time; it is not the will. Anything we can do manually in the meantime we will do, but if you asked me, 'Will we have some glorious push-button, fantastic whizz bang tool very quickly?' my answer would be no; it is spaced in the investment strategy of the department.
Senator SMITH: I agree with your analysis in terms of what the report says. More generally, though, what new or emerging risks are you beginning to identify? What sorts of anticipated risks are on the department's radar?
Ms Mellor : Do you mean just for the north?
Senator SMITH: Yes.
Ms Mellor : From an animal health perspective, we always start with the worst risk, that being foot-and-mouth disease. We have separately the Northern Australian Quarantine Strategy, in which we have veterinary staff. We do have people in the department—epidemiologists and veterinary scientists—who are monitoring, right around the world all the time, the movement of diseases. Foot-and-mouth disease, because of its economic and social consequences to Australia, remains the highest animal risk. And there are pockets of that not too far to our north. But it is very hard for cloven-footed animals to get here, other than commercially, except in the movement across the Torres Strait, and that is a key risk that is monitored there. We do watch very closely for avian influenza and swine flu, also because they are zoonotic, and so they cross over into people. So bird monitoring is very high. You may have seen articles recently about rabies in Indonesia. That is something we monitor for onshore here. But, again, the movement of people or animals with rabies is very heavily regulated through the normal pathways and through the traditional pathway.
The plant diseases are a little different, mostly because they can be windborne—spores and seeds—and they can come with birds. They tend to be more unregulated. Right around the world we have monitoring systems on what is where and what we should be watching for. The unregulated pathways are the hardest to watch for, because they are climatic. Basically we rely on the surveys here as well as understanding what the processes are in the offshore countries—what are they doing to monitor and manage? And we do provide—for example, into Indonesia—quite a bit of infectious animal disease aid from Australia to help monitor some of the more difficult diseases. It is not so much done in the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy; it is done out of our chief veterinary office and our chief plant protection office. They will give a list of priority risks to the surveillance staff for them to start looking for.
Mr Langlands : As far as emerging risks go, Murray mentioned the increased number of traditional movements through the Torres Strait, so obviously we are monitoring that and making sure we have our resources matching where the movements are. We have Indigenous officers on every inhabited island in the Torres Strait, so from time to time we revisit where the movements are occurring. But they are traditional; they have not changed a great deal over time. We keep an eye on the fact that they are increasing, and obviously the risk can increase with that.
Senator SMITH: With regard to the last comment about the Indigenous ranger groups, perhaps you could share with us where you are up to in putting in place monitoring arrangements for their activities.
Mr Langlands : I will start. We have three sentinel herd arrangements that are in place and have been in place for some time: cattle at Bamaga-Seisa ; cattle at Garrathiya, which is north of Nhulunbuy. There is also a sentinel herd at Kalumburu. So they are three things that we have in place. Also, Murray mentioned the 37 individual contracts that we have—a fee-for-service—around varying things, depending on the risk pathways across that nearly 10,000 kilometres of coastline. But we also have full-time employees through the Torres Strait who contribute to not only the border movements but also the awareness, monitoring and surveillance activities that we have through the Torres Strait, which is a critical pathway issue for us as well.
Ms Mellor : The contacts that we manage have outcomes in them: this survey by this time, this kind of data by this time. They are managed out of the region by regional offices in the department.
Mr Korff : Invariably we have our community liaison officers, as we refer to them. They are generally staff who are located in the remote communities, and their primary role is to assist the Indigenous community ranger groups to undertake the monitoring. That includes an element of provision of training and also oversight of delivery of the services under the contracts and the general support networks that go with ensuring that the activities are focused on the risks that we want them to focus on.
Ms Mellor : My experience in this program is that the community groups are very proud to be involved. They take these contracts extremely seriously, not just as a source of revenue but also as a recognition of the importance of their land. So, in terms of service providers to us, they are extremely good because they are motivated not just by the contract itself but by the contribution that they are making because of the importance of their land.
The officers go out on the road for some time sometimes to community groups to work with the people, to train them and to explain parts of the contract. The engagement is quite high. I think we went to one the year before last where nearly the whole town turned up to work through the thing with us, and people were interested in asking questions. So it is a very high level of engagement and a very high level of belief in the contribution. I think it is advantageous to the Australian government to have such a mechanism to do this through.
Senator SMITH: For $280,000 it looks like tremendous value for money.
Ms Mellor : Yes, it is. As I say, I think it is because it comes with a strong belief system in the land itself.
CHAIR: Can I go back to the comment you made in your opening remarks about new tools being built and that you expected it to take years rather than months. Some of what I read in the audit report seemed to indicate some issues around existing tools and better use of existing tools. Do you want to provide comment in regard to those issues around things like seizure rates and why there has not been better use of that in the past and why they cannot be pretty quickly collated as a data source for better use now?
Ms Mellor : It is a good point. Just contextually, the whole strategy around biosecurity, including the North, has shifted over the last few years. Going back to the early 2000s, the previous government's intent—and this was based on big outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease overseas—was mandatory intervention in everything. You may recall this from your own trips in and out of airports and feedback from others in the community: we inspected over 80 per cent of bags coming through the airports around the country and many, many times we found nothing. We had no targeting, if you like. And so over a number of years we collected no data because we just stopped everything and checked everything.
I think one of the things—and this report is similar to, as I say, other business improvement work that we are doing—is to enhance our data collection to enable us to go heavier on what we need to and go lighter on what we do not need to. I would say it is a catching-up time period. We do have a database called an 'interceptions database'. It is old; it is clunky. People cannot access it easily and the motivation is not always there to do double-entry data and things like that. But it will help us to understand seizures and help us then to target, particularly in education in the north, if we see people starting to move away from what we inform them about the risk material. At the extreme end, there are things like we had last year, where someone carried a pig between islands. We do not like pigs coming across, because of the nature of the diseases that they can carry.
CHAIR: They're clean animals, aren't they!
Ms Mellor : They are terrible! In that region, they are a particularly high risk for foot-and-mouth disease, amongst other things—swine flu being another classic. We need to collect more information, not just in the north but right around the country, on common mistakes people are making—leave aside illegal—so that we can say: 'We need to go in and give more education on this,' or 'We need to actively target this.'
CHAIR: My question is less about where you need to do more data collection and more about the use of existing data. For example, if I were to ask you what the current seizure rates are, am I right to assume that you could not answer that?
Mr Korff : We could provide information in terms of numbers of seizures of goods versus ones that have been inspected. Our experience is that there is a fairly low level of prohibited items being moved. We would point to some of the good community education activities that take place in the Torres Strait as helping to keep those numbers low. If there is a question on how effective the program is in intervening in the total quantum of risk movements, that is an example of some of the data that is not currently available to the program and that we are actively trying to seek through different arrangements. In relation to your question in terms of the existing quality assurance systems, we do have various checks associated with inspection and seizure data that is collected, but, because they are in the main reliant on manual collection—use of spreadsheets, handing on data from our remote based officers to our central offices where the data is collated—the ANAO have rightly identified some areas where there are some improvements that can be made in that transfer of data. As Ms Mellor would say, the endgame of those solutions is to have some efficient electronic systems where the opportunity for data transposition errors and things of that nature is just written out of the system. But, in the current manual based systems that we have, there are some areas for improvement, and that is the area that we are focusing on at a program level, because those quality assurance elements are within the direct capacity of the program to address. Some of the longer term issues that are highly dependent on IT efficiencies will be rolled out according to the department's wider IT improvement strategies.
CHAIR: So, in layman's terms, you are putting all your eggs in the 'better IT' basket rather than trying to maximise the use of the data collection—as poor, in some cases, as that is—you have got now from something that is pretty clunky?
Ms Mellor : No. I would not quite characterise it that way. I would probably say that, where we are able to improve the manual collection of data without weighty cost, we will do it. We are running a program with 67 FTE covering that amount of space. The first investment set for the IT is to get accessibility and availability of IT. The reality is that, in the Torres Strait and even sometimes in Darwin, it goes down. In Nhulunbuy, up until recently, we were copper wired. So the investments that we are making in IT at the moment are to get stability and access so that we can actually build the tools into that, rather than build tools that no-one can use. The strategy for these guys at the moment will be to enhance the manual work as we move towards more reliable and accessible IT—so not walking away from the challenge that is here at all.
CHAIR: I am getting consistent feedback that you are going to collect more. I am trying to explore the use of that information.
Ms Mellor : That is an analysis.
CHAIR: That is a management decision, I would have thought, as to why you have not done it in the past. I have got in front of me that the calculation of inspection and seizure rates from retained data has not been done.
Ms Mellor : Yes.
CHAIR: The question is: why hasn't that been done and why can't that be done pretty quickly with what you have got, rather than putting that in a 'new IT is going to fix all'?
Ms Mellor : I understand. If I go back—not to labour the journey of this—
CHAIR: And I might have missed it.
Ms Mellor : there was not a point in collecting seizure data in the past, because that was our job—seize everything. Now we are moving to a much more nuanced world where what we need to do is exactly what is being pointed to in here, to use the seizure data to help us target risk. That is common across our business, not just in the north, to enhance the data collection to enable analysis. One of the decisions the department have taken is to increase the backend analytical skill. The reason we have not done it in the past is that it has been irrelevant, if you like, in the management because the task was to seize everything. So it did not really enhance the business strategy to keep the data and use it in a way that says seize everything and keep seizing everything. Now the strategy is seize, understand and use that in your compliance approach. In that sense, yes, we acknowledge we do need to do more in terms of the analytics of the data we collect. So we need to collect more and to have capability to analyse it. We do have the capability and it will mean shifting people around within the department to do that work.
CHAIR: Okay, and the understand bit, tell me that is not going to take years?
Ms Mellor : No, that is not going to take years. You are absolutely right. There are two separate things running: there is the business strategy and then there are the tools that underpin that. You can move on the business strategy with clunkier tools and develop the capabilities around the analytic, so that when you have the IT tools you can move it into there and in a much savvier way.
CHAIR: Are we months away?
Ms Mellor : You guys have already started some of that work.
Mr Langlands : I think Murray just mentioned the quality assurance around the checks in the system, around the accuracy in the data, is happening now. We obviously need to see how that runs over time in relation to the accuracy and the quality assurance, but we are pretty well there.
Ms Mellor : I think the short answer is yes, it is starting and, not to put too fine a point on it, it will be a learning journey because staff in the field will need to provide information differently. At the moment they cannot just go, like we can. They will have to be supported with that and there will be time lags depending on from where in the field it is coming. Then the staff in the office environment will be analysing that. They do that already on a whole bunch of data that comes in but the seizure data will be new import or growing import.
CHAIR: Does anyone have any other questions, as we are running out of time?
Senator RUSTON: Please humour me. I am brand new and I may be asking you a question outside the scope out of the briefing. We have talked about the massive exercise in data collection and analysis and what have you, but in terms of response mechanisms for detection, do we have adequate resources and adequate capability? Once you detect we have a problem, are we able to respond to it?
Ms Mellor : Onshore the response is usually a state or territory issue. So the Commonwealth responsibility is border and offshore and we do have some powers onshore. If we found a pest or disease of concern—I will not go to foot and mouth disease because that would be extreme and we would move into a national crisis management arrangement for that—if we found a fungus or rust in plants, we would be notified through the NAQS program. We have a framework in Australia of two quite important deeds between the states, territories and the Commonwealth. They have cost-sharing arrangements in them for certain categories of pests. For example, at the moment there is a fungus in Victoria called chestnut blight, which is destroying chestnut farms and orchards. The states, territories and the Commonwealth are cost-sharing an eradication program. It is not the physical resources of the Commonwealth that go in and do this; it is the physical resources of the states and territories in a cost-shared arrangement under two legal arrangements that we have.
Do we have enough resources? It would depend on the nature of the incursion or the finding. If you assume it was something that this country would want to eradicate, mostly we do. We like our safeguarded status. It helps us with trade, it makes for our environment and it helps with our social amenity. It would depend on the nature of the finding. Where is it? I am loath to mention myrtle rust because it causes so much concern, but it is a sporulating fungus which moves on the wind and we cannot eradicate it. It is impossible technically to eradicate it. In New South Wales, where it was first found, New South Wales applied a huge number of resources, before it moved into national parks, to suppressing it in orchards and things like that. It will depend on what it is and where it is but it really comes down to making decisions at a national level as a community to put cost into eradication. The risk in the north, of course, is that it is so big if it were a severe animal disease. There is also quite a lot of wildlife up there—quite a lot of buffalo, feral pigs and all sorts of things. Our ability as a country to resource eradication will always be a difficult task, and it is not just the money; it is the size.
Senator RUSTON: Regarding the response that you need, is there a risk analysis that deals with the myrtle rust, for instance, and what the implications of that might be on Australia's clean and green? There is the old saying that it costs you a 100th of the amount to deal with it in the first place than it would cost you to try to fix it if you let it get away. Do you have a risk mechanism that recognises that this issue is something that will wipe out cattle in Australia, so therefore we will put whatever resources we need into it, whereas another issue is not so important, so we are probably going to be less inclined to spend a huge amount of money?
Ms Mellor : There is an animal deed and a plant deed, for plant pests and animal pests, and there are emergency deeds. The pests are categorised, so there are category 1 pests, category 2 pests and category 3 pests. They are prioritised around the severity of the management of them. That takes into account the severity of the production losses and economic losses. More and more, now that the governments have a deed—an agreement called the NEBRA, the National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement, which goes into the environmental side of things as well—the deeds themselves have emerged out of production. There are priority pests and plans in there. There is the AUSVETPLAN, the Australian veterinary response plan, which talks about how you would manage those things, and there are cost-benefit analyses done. For example, a cost-benefit analysis in 2001 by the Productivity Commission on foot and mouth disease, which we have recently refreshed through the department's bureau of agricultural economics, shows what the financial consequences are, as well as economic, social, reputation and a whole range of trade consequences—of, for example, foot and mouth disease—and therefore what the cost-benefit is for eradication.
It is much more that way these days. When the equine influenza outbreak occurred in Australia, governments collectively spent over $300 million eradicating it, which was a successful eradication. The deeds bring with them a responsibility for industry to contribute as well, and at that time the horse industries were not parties to those deeds and so the governments did this. Since then, there has been a lot more work done around what we will fight. The biosecurity policy is to eradicate, and so all states, territories and the Commonwealth will go into eradication mode first. Cost-benefit will be one of the things that is taken into account. It is taken into account in the deeds, so we do have cost-benefit analysis processes that go on all the time. At the end of the day, though, technically some things will get away from us. Asian honey bees have gotten away from Queensland. Myrtle rust has gotten away from New South Wales. Then the question is a very difficult one: how much more should governments and industry contribute to managing those pests? There is no framework for that at the moment; it is something that the collective governments are working on right now. But there certainly is quite a lot of cost-benefit analysis work done, more and more picking up the environment side.
Senator RUSTON: How much priority is given to the research and development of effective and innovative ways to deal with some of these pests and diseases? Obviously there is more than one way to kill Kitty.
Ms Mellor : Certainly across agriculture, forestry and fisheries, quite a lot of R&D takes place, and there was a statement made by the government recently on R&D. On the biosecurity side, there are a range of different research bodies. I do not have a number in my head; I can remember 15 or 16 months ago more than $40 million going in by government on research—all governments; not just the Commonwealth, remembering that onshore pests are state governments' responsibility. There is quite a lot of research that goes into that. I will give you an example: the Queensland government about 15 months ago bought in some defence force technology from the US to heat-sensor red imported fire ant nests in the exclusion zone for red imported fire ants. There had been a lot of research done in the US about identifying hotspots, if you like, and it appeared that it would work for hot spots of ant nests. So the Queensland government brought in on a trial basis new technology to do that. We as a biosecurity community are always researching chemical technology, certainly looking at chemical technology through the South Pacific, but that has to be weighed up against the human cost as well—we do not just go in and blast things. Methyl bromide, for example, is a very tried and tested fumigation tool for many, many insect and larvae pests around the world. We see it coming through the border—a lot of wood is treated that way, for example.
There is a lot of R&D investment across agriculture, including in biosecurity, forestry and fisheries. There are specific research areas that work on it and then the agencies themselves look around the world for what is working where. There is quite a lot of work going on in the United States at the moment on vaccination for foot and mouth disease. We are looking very closely at that. We have just developed a vaccination policy for Australia: if it got here would we vaccinate, is the question. And then the question is: with what? There are live viruses—not so keen on those—and there are synthetics. We are looking at the synthetics at the moment. So there is quite a lot going on.
CHAIR: Thank you. We have run a little bit over time, so thank you for staying engaged. I do not think there were any questions on notice while I was here. If there are any other questions that come in from committee members would you get those back through the secretariat as quickly as possible.
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 13 : 06