Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 125


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (18:23): Australia has an enviable reputation around the globe as a place which is free of many of the most harmful agricultural diseases. We do have our own range of unique circumstances but, as history has shown, the worst threats to Australia have been introduced. Rabbits, cane toads, foxes and feral pigs are obvious examples. Other introduced plant species are prickly pear cactus, bridal creeper and Paterson's curse. And in Queensland, particularly the Brisbane and Gladstone areas, we have the ongoing problem of fire ants. That is why biosecurity is so important to Australia. We must remain vigilant to keep our country free of harmful diseases and pests. A report by the CSIRO released on 25 November last year says we are fortunate to be free of many pests and diseases. However I share the view of Minister Joyce, who says:

In biosecurity luck only happens to those who plan and work hard and with effect.

If we were indeed truly lucky in terms of biosecurity there would be no rabbits in Australia. National biosecurity is the responsibility of every Australian and every person who visits Australia. Instead of being worried about being caught for a few copied DVDs you bring back from Bali, be more concerned with the parasites that might be hidden in those carved wooden statues you have in your bag. Those DVDs might be seized and you might lose a few dollars but if a harmful parasite sneaks in in your luggage it could potentially cost the country billions of dollars. The men, women and indeed dogs of Customs and Border Protection and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service have done a magnificent job since 1901 and 1908 respectively to keep Australia a clean and healthy place for agriculture. I would like to acknowledge their efforts here today.

The Biosecurity Bill 2014 and the three accompanying bills will replace the 106-year-old Quarantine Act 1908. While the act has obviously done well in protecting Australia to this point, the 50 amendments to it are starting to create confusion and unnecessary duplication. When it comes to biosecurity we do not need a complicated system. We need one that is easy to understand and easy to administer, from government to end user. While the administration of this bill is important, the number one outcome must be a biosecurity system that is strong but fair, rigid in intent but flexible to use. This bill will allow our hardworking border force to continue to defend our borders from biosecurity threats in the effective way they have done for over a century, but it has to allow for the development of new technologies we cannot imagine.

To those who wrote the Quarantine Act 1908, manned flight on the scale we see today was unheard of or imagined, as was the size of container ships. This is why we need to update the laws relating to biosecurity now and not later. More amendments to the existing act will just add to the current jumble of regulations that are making the system harder to administer and confusing for importers and travellers.

This bill gives the Governor-General, on advice from the minister for agriculture, the power to declare a biosecurity emergency. This applies when the minister is certain there is a nationally significant risk. A biosecurity or a human biosecurity emergency can be declared for a period of three months or less. These emergency declarations will allow the minister to best direct resources to emergency areas and place requirements on certain goods such as specifying how people, goods and conveyances enter or leave a specified area, restriction of movement, evacuation or removal of goods from specified places and the treatment or destruction of goods. This may mean that hazardous material suits need to be worn or that shoes need to be washed after an emergency area has been entered. In the case of a human biosecurity emergency, it may mean a period of quarantine for individuals or groups suspected of carrying a disease. This will allow the minister and the departments the power they need to stop the spread of potentially devastating biosecurity risks.

Of course the bill also places limits on the powers that can be exercised and that is entirely appropriate. There are obligations to protect citizens from harm, and the use of these powers must be effective in achieving its purpose with individuals being inconvenienced no more than required and only for as long as is necessary. These are reasonable measures in the circumstances of a national emergency. This bill makes it legal for restriction of movement to be imposed on individuals and it is important that such restrictions be kept to the minimum time needed to make a determination on the status of someone suspected of carrying a harmful disease. This is where advice will be taken from specialists in the area to determine those periods of restriction.

This bill also seeks to address the ways in which harmful biosecurity risks can enter the country. As I said earlier, the original framers of the Quarantine Act 1908 could not have envisaged the ways in which people and goods travel today so it is important this bill reflects the current situation. Ships will be under strict observation when it comes to the discharge and recharge of their ballast water. Ballast water performs a necessary role. However, it can also provide an easy conveyance for unwanted diseases and organisms. This is especially important for ships travelling from country to country, loading and unloading, with the need to use ballast water. That is why ships coming to Australia will need to discharge ballast water in international waters before entering Australian waters. Ballast water can be, and has in the past been, responsible for the introduction of harmful species and organisms. It is essential we, as a responsible government, do all we can to prevent this happening again.

This bill also allows for the appointment of a Director of Biosecurity and a Director of Human Biosecurity, who will be appointments with appropriate seniority and experience to exercise the powers within this bill. It is envisaged that these directors will assist with the general administration of the bill and provide guidance for the introduction, transition and application of the legislation to staff and the public. The power of general administration is at all times governed by and subject to the principles of administrative law. The Director of Biosecurity will be, or will be acting as, the Agriculture secretary. This ensures an appropriate level of seniority and experience. Likewise, the Director of Human Biosecurity will be, or will be acting as, the Chief Medical Officer, for similar reasons. This is particularly important when the administration of human biosecurity could potentially involve the use of invasive testing measures.

Australia has an enviable reputation, as I said before, as a country which produces clean food, and that food is highly desirable in overseas markets. I am sure that every member of this parliament wishes to safeguard that reputation and to safeguard the people of Australia from harm. This bill will drive Australia's biosecurity for the next 100 years. What this bill seeks to achieve, and achieves, is the balance between the old and the new. The old regime has in large worked very well in keeping Australia free of biosecurity threats that are commonplace in some parts of the world. So this bill has conserved that which has worked so well but clarified the way forward for biosecurity in Australia. The Biosecurity Bill 2014 is the bill Australia needs to protect Australia's hard-won reputation as a producer of quality, disease-free produce and to protect Australians from pests and diseases which could seriously harm our way of life. I commend this bill to the House.