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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8654


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (11:22): Like the member for Canning I have an electorate that has a similar spread of equine activities. We who breed, train and race a few thoroughbreds were, like so many around Australia, directly affected by the EI outbreak. We had a mare in New South Wales at that time and were unable to move her so, like for a lot of other people, that incurred a lot of additional costs and a number of challenges. That was replicated right around Australia. There is a very strong equine industry in my part of the world and it very much reflects that of the member for Canning. I commend him on his speech because he talks from very direct personal experience. It is the practical nature of his and Senator Chris Back's experience that is very important in this debate.

This Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 was really brought about by the outbreak of equine influenza in 2007. It is by way of negotiation that we have got to this point and I commend the government on getting here and getting consensus, which has not been easy and has been quite protracted. However, the various species related influenza viruses have long been known as relatively host-specific but highly contagious pathogens. It is also well known that mutation of the virus is common—and that has been the concern with this—and has resulted in the development of cross-species infection and increases in morbidity and mortality.

Mutated influenza viruses are the ones that are likely to produce the pandemics. Those we have seen in human history—such as the Asiatic flu, the Spanish flu, the Hong Kong flu and even the swine flu—have killed millions. Influenza is also a concern for the threat of avian flu, known as bird flu. So it is a very real threat. This is a genuine threat. It is easily transmitted. It is transmitted through respiratory aerosol. It is also impossible to control where hosts are within range of exhaled air. That is the issue. It can spread so quickly and so easily.

The virus will survive in the environment long enough to be spread by other vectors, including humans, as we know from the EI outbreak which moved from one animal to another. I would think members in this place who have attempted to avoid the flu in here, out in the community or even with their children at school know that it is almost impossible to avoid, as we just heard. In any form, influenza is almost impossible to control once it arrives. It is very difficult.

That was so in 2007 with the outbreak which started at the Eastern Creek quarantine station. Four racehorses were imported from a country that had just experienced the equine flu outbreak from the quarantine station. This is something that does concern us all. It is an ongoing concern for me how we manage this quarantine issue.

I know that former judge Ian Callinan was asked to investigate and his response noted that:

The objective of biosecurity measures at a post-arrival quarantine station for animals, such as Eastern Creek, is to prevent the escape of disease that might be present in the station. It is therefore essential that people and equipment having contact with the animals are adequately decontaminated before leaving the station. That was not happening at Eastern Creek in August 2007. Had such biosecurity measures been in place, it is most unlikely that there could have been any escape of equine influenza from the Quarantine Station.

He said that was a consequence of a number of acts and omissions and that fundamental biosecurity measures were not being implemented in what was the largest government operated animal quarantine station in Australia at that time. It was a very serious breach. He also noted that there were people who needed to take responsibility—the Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine and the person who, under the minister, was charged with the Quarantine Act 1908.

Ian Callinan described Australia's quarantine system as inefficient, underfunded and lacking diligence. It really does concern me. I share the views of the member for Maranoa, of those expressed right throughout the parliament, on our side particularly, and of the member who commented:

This comprehensive report is a disturbing commentary on Australia's quarantine and biosecurity arrangements for horse imports before August last year.

That was said by the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Watson. He said that, while changes have been made, the commissioner has highlighted serious and systemic failures in the system and that the government is acting urgently to fix them.

The review of biosecurity by Roger Beale was well underway at that time. I am really concerned that the equine influenza outbreak was caused by a failure of quarantine protocols and that the government's response at that time was to basically just focus on the Beale quarantine and biosecurity review. But, by and large, the response has been to ignore the majority of that. There is real concern and not a lot of confidence in the government being able to maintain Australia's biosecurity to keep out pests and diseases in the future. There is no wonder when we address the bill that we see that we will be paying for an inevitable failure when it occurs. I will talk later about the risks to Australian apples and biosecurity beyond this.

The bill apportions the clean-up costs beyond the actual outbreak to various sections of the horse industry by relying on levying feed and worm treatments on the basis that all horse owners need them and use both. Whilst this might not always be necessarily considered a perfect method—and I do not know that there is one—it is a solution that has been accepted by equine enthusiasts and industry bodies, which is very important. The bill is neither groundbreaking nor unique. Many animal and plant industries in Australia already have legislation and schemes in place that have the industry pay for border protection failures. I note that, under the Constitution, particularly in section 69, the federal government and the parliament are responsible in relation to quarantine.

I am very concerned, as is the member for Maranoa, about how seriously the government takes its responsibility. Too often we have seen the breakdown of Australian biosecurity and the incursion of pests and diseases. We have seen government tell Australian businesses, producers and the community, 'We have failed you again at the border and, again, you will have to pay for that failure.' The dereliction of biosecurity duty will be exacerbated into the future as our quarantine policy continues to give ground, and that is what we saw yesterday by way of the recent decision to import New Zealand apples, in spite of the risks of fire blight, leaf curling midge and European canker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Forrest will stick to the legislation before her, which is about horses.

Ms MARINO: Yes, it is, Madam Deputy Speaker. But it is also about biosecurity and the very great need to protect that and how important that is right across the board. It touches on a range of issues. As we know, the quarantine policy of Australia should not just be about preventing the incursion of diseases and pests; it should not allow, as we saw following the Prime Minister's announcement, what occurred yesterday.

Our policy has been watered down to reduce the risks of incursion and, as we saw unfortunately yesterday— and I take the Deputy Speaker's comments on board—it will not eliminate the bacteria at all. That is an issue for biosecurity and that is what this bill is about. It is about maintaining our biosecurity and maintaining our disease- and pest-free reputation—our so-called clean, green, competitive advantage in a frequently tainted world. That is one of the opportunities we have, but we have to protect it at all costs. We certainly need the types of legislation and support from the government of the day to do so. We must reduce the risk.

Unfortunately, I have seen too much funding removed from our quarantine, Biosecurity and Customs budgets over the last few years. That really concerns me. It was $58 million one year and $38 million prior to that. That really allows me to pause and to think: how can that provide the government and the agencies we charge with the responsibility of managing our border security and issues such as equine influenza and other pests and diseases the capacity to do so? I say to the government: we must value Australia's agricultural and food production, and our biosecurity is a critical part of that.

Again, the government is responsible for quarantine and in this bill we have seen a way through in managing the expectations and the issues facing the industry across the board. While we are talking about equine matters, as the previous speaker, the member for Canning, said, we do have very vibrant industries in our parts of the world. Any outbreak of pests and diseases in the equine sector would and did have a major financial and economic impact.

By way of a final comment, I encourage the Yalyalup Pony Club, which is doing its best to make a bid to run the Quilty endurance event in my part of the world. That would be wonderful encouragement. On the basis of encouraging equine activity and the biosecurity measures to ensure that that can still happen, I support the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Forrest for her ingenious coming together to be relevant to the bill! The question is that this bill be now read a second time.